June 13, 2018

KEY LARGO — The race for the Florida House of Representatives District 120 seat drew an Islamorada Democrat, Steve Friedman, the same month that former Democratic candidate, Key Largo real estate attorney Pet Gessel, withdrew her candidacy.

Friedman, commodore of the Florida Keys Fishing Guides Association and an 18-year resident, seeks to unseat incumbent Holly Raschein, R-Key Largo, who has filed to run for her fourth two-year term in the Florida House, which by state law has a term limit of eight years.

Friedman, a board member of Florida Bay Forever, has lobbied state and federal lawmakers for water quality improvements to the Everglades and Florida Bay.

“I’m running for state representative of District 120 because of my frustration with politicians’ promises to fix our nearshore and offshore water problem, and we are running out of time for broken promises,” Friedman said of his choice to run for a House seat.

“We lack leadership at the state Capitol to fix it correctly. Our economy in the Keys and South Florida is tied to tourism, which relies on the water. If we don’t have quality water to support fish, healthy seagrass and coral reefs, then we have no economy and no future.”

Friedman has been critical of the South Florida Water Management District’s southern reservoir plan to store and clean excess fresh water from Lake Okeechobee before releasing it into the Everglades, saying the reservoir and filtration marshes weren’t large enough to do the job or benefit the Florida Bay.

According to the state Division of Elections website, he filed May 17 and has raised $1,000 in contributions to his campaign versus Raschein’s $187,140.

Friedman said that some of his other key issues are fully funding public schools, reducing the burden of flood insurance on homeowners, putting in place better hurricane evacuation plans and doing more for working-class constituents.

“I want to see the state House do more to help regular people. Growth, opportunity and a living wage are critical to a growing economy,” he said. “South Florida and the Keys struggle to provide affordable housing that meets the needs of a diverse, multicultural and dynamic community like District 120 constituents.”

He said he feels that state government has been self-serving its own interests and corporations and he wants to effect change.

Raschein said she has been a strong advocate for the environment and water quality.

“In the six years I have served as the state representative for District 120, I’ve fought hard for our environment, bringing home over $75 million in funding for environmental projects and initiatives in Monroe County,” she said.

“I also fought for funding to expedite the Tamiami Trail bridging project and complete the C-111 Spreader Canal project — two projects that are critical to bringing more fresh, clean water into Florida Bay.”

She also noted that she introduced Senate Bill 10 on the House floor, which was the original legislation calling for the establishment of a southern reservoir to increase storage and freshwater flow south from Lake Okeechobee.

“I am proud of my record when it comes to water quality and protecting our natural resources and I look forward to continuing those efforts during my final term,” she said.

The state elections website shows perennial political candidate Jose Peixoto, a Republican, listed as active in the House race. He previously told the Free Press that he seeks the House seat to serve as a liaison between District 120 residents and Tallahassee.

The deadline to file as a candidate is noon June 22.

tjava@keysnews.com