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The Sunshine Economy

Politics In The Sunshine Economy: The Race For Florida's 27th Congressional District

Miami Herald
Democrat Donna Shalala, left, and Republican Maria Elvira Salazar are running in Florida's 27th Congressional District. It is an open seat thanks to Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehitnen (R) not running for re-election.

In the battle over control of the U.S. House of Representatives, the race to replace the longest-serving member of the Florida Congressional delegation plays a big role. The campaign to succeed Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R) in Congress pits a veteran of Democratic politics and community leader against a political newcomer who is a former Spanish-language television news host.


Republican Maria Elvira Salazar and Democrat Donna Shalala are running in the 27th Congressional district in Miami-Dade County, but the outcome will echo across the region.


It is a district that leans Democratic but has sent a Republican to Capitol Hill for 30 years. Hillary Clinton won the district in 2016 by almost 20 percentage points. President Trump was not popular in this district two years ago. The Republican in the race is careful about aligning with him.


"I think that the route we Republicans need to take is to say that we need to pay attention to what Trump does not so much to what he says," Salazar says.


The president was a motivating factor for Shalala to get into the race.


"I turned on the television in February and I just got pissed off with what was happening in Washington. I'm usually a very rational person, but I got angry," Shalala says.


Salazar is a former news host on Spanish language television. Shalala was the president of the University of Miami. She also served as the Health and Human Services Secretary under President Clinton and was the CEO of the Clinton Foundation.


WLRN talked to the candidates separately about health care, transportation and international trade. You can listen/read their answers below.



Credit AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee
Republican Maria Elvira Salazar speaks to the press outside a polling station at the Coral Gables Branch Library, during the Florida primary election, Aug. 28, 2018.

Future of ACA

Salazar: I believe we should better it [the Affordable Care Act]. We need to get what's good in Obamacare, like the preexisting conditions, to stay there. And I like the fact that I can keep my kids on my insurance until they're 26. 

Shalala: I'm going to fight like mad for the Affordable Care Act. I also want to do everything I can to lower their costs. And the only way to do that is [to] take a hard look at pharmaceutical costs. 

Healthcare Costs

Salazar:  I think competition is the mother of good quality. What do we need to do? Let the forces of capitalism and free market forces get into the healthcare business. The health insurance companies are making too much money.

Shalala: [We need to] talk about the [individual] mandate because the whole purpose of insurance is for us to spread out the risk. If all of us aren't in then the risk becomes much higher, and we all end up paying a little more. Those that don't have insurance walk into Jackson [Memorial Hospital] emergency room or the UMH [University of Miami Health System] or Baptist and those costs come to those of us that have insurance. 

Salazar: I want to give choices to people. That's what I think. And you decide what type of insurance you need according to your needs. And if that person chooses not to have health insurance and they wind up at Jackson, then they will have to pay for those bills. If they have no ability to pay then it was not their choice the beginning.

Shalala: [Health insurance companies] need a settled market with clear rules and they need to be held accountable. A lot of people think why don't we just let capitalism takeover of health care. The problem with that is that it's an industry that needs some regulation. We have to hold them accountable for quality for outcomes and for access. 


SMART Plan and Rapid Buses

Shalala: We have a SMART plan. It's very expensive to implement. I [support it]. But I think as parts of it are re-debated, we ought to have an open mind.

Salazar: All of these authorities that have I-95 the 836 and the 826 expressways [need to] get together at one table and have a template -- something like a common goal or common plan and then take it to Washington. That hasn't happened. 

Shalala: What I would want to do is to do the things first that we can do quickly that will relieve the congestion, such as the bus lane. Obviously, the bus lanes are important.

Salazar: I would love to see more of the rapid buses. We have this culture of getting into our cars. I think we should go little by little and offer the citizenship different options that are pretty, that are good, that are fast, and then start changing that mentality. 

Credit AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee
Florida Democratic congressional candidate Donna Shalala speaks during a news conference against a Republican lawsuit that seeks to end protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions, at the Ryder Trauma Center at Jackson Memorial Hospital, Sept. 5, 2018, in Miami.

Finding the Money

Shalala: We have to bring back the federal funds. And, by the way, they're not federal funds, they're our tax money. The first thing I would do is just synchronize the lights. [The county is] doing it slowly because it doesn't have the resources to do it fast. I'm a big believer in taking the low-hanging fruit as quickly as you can. 

Salazar: We need to get our act together so we can go to Washington and ask for the big federal dollars that will come back here and be used in what we promised --  to fix the transportation problem. Whether it's the rapid bus system, whether it's rail, we need to find a solution to transportation, but it starts at home. 


Trump Tariffs

Salazar: I only support [Pres. Trump's trade tariffs] with China for a limited period of time until we can negotiate a better trade deal with China.

Shalala: I do not believe that a tariff war is in the interest of American business and American business doesn't either. 

Trading with China

Salazar: What [Pres. Trump] is doing is playing a hard hand on the table and it will be resolved. I  look at the national security issue before any other. We should explain to the American public the danger China represents for our future. That's national security and I see it the same way President Trump sees it. 

Shalala: I think there are serious problems with China on intellectual property. The question is did you have to get into a whole trade war to deal with that issue in particular? 

International Trade Relations

Salazar: I believe in sitting down like [Pres. Trump] is doing with Mexico and Canada and restructuring the free trade agreements. I think that is legitimate. I think we need to protect our industries. We need to protect our workers and sit down at the table and renegotiate.

Shalala: Are there some things that are wrong with our trade relations? You bet. But in the proces,s you're hurting Miami companies. You stick tariffs on steel and aluminum and on all of the finishes that take place inside a house and you're really going to run up housing prices.

In a journalism career covering news from high global finance to neighborhood infrastructure, Tom Hudson is the Vice President of News and Special Correspondent for WLRN. He hosts and produces the Sunshine Economy and anchors the Florida Roundup in addition to leading the organization's news engagement strategy.