Top Florida Stories to Keep An Eye On In 2018

Jan 5, 2018

If you thought the first year of President Trump’s Administration was an unprecedented year in politics, just wait. 

2018 brings with it the midterm election, including the races for Florida governor, the U.S. Senate and House and the expiration of two federal immigration programs — Temporary Protected Status and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

Plus, a passenger train service is supposed to get rolling between Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. 

The first episode of The Florida Roundup this year features the editorial page editors from the Miami Herald, the Sun Sentinel and the Palm Beach Post — Nancy Ancrum, Rosemary O’Hara and Rick Christie. They sat down with WLRN's Tom Hudson to look ahead and discuss the upcoming year’s stories to watch.

U.S. Senate Race

For the last seven years, Rick Scott has been in the governor's office growing the state’s economy and lowering taxes. Despite President Donald Trump's encouragement to get Scott into the race, he hasn't formally filed to run against incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson or made any announcement just yet. 

O'Hara believes the race will come down to two candidates. 

Republican Gov. Rick Scott, left, and Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson could face each other in the 2018 Senate race.
Credit Miami Herald

“It's going to be Gov. Rick Scott against Bill Nelson.

“I think people support the president and will support the Republican candidate for the Senate because of a belief that they know what they'll get,” O’Hara said. “It's about the Supreme Court and it's about, you know, conservative values.”

A poll from October 2016 showed the de-facto nominee and incumbent Sen. Nelson virtually tied, even though only one person is currently in the race, according to the Miami Herald. 

U.S. House Races

Another competitive race in South Florida this year is the campaign to replace Republican U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who has been in the seat since 1989. The announcement of her retirement sent shockwaves through the political community in Miami.

“It's a wide open race,” Ancrum said. But a number of Republicans are already writing off the race and expect a Democrat to win. Nonetheless, she think it is going to be "a fascinating race to watch."

Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen was the first Latina and Cuban American in Congress.
Credit Miami Herald

Ros-Lehtinen’s district stretches into some of the more wealthy parts of Miami-Dade County including most of downtown Miami, Miami Beach as well as areas around Miami International Airport. It’s also one of the top three congressional districts where residents are enrollees in the Affordable Care Act.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, whose district is mainly in Broward County, faces a challenge within her own party. Tim Canova is coming back for round two despite losing by 14 points in the 2016 Democratic primary.

“Tim Canova [is] a smart guy who has a lot of energy, but he's kind of a poke in the eye kind of guy," O'Hara said, adding that he spends more time "criticizing her than talking about why he's different." 

The three editorial page editors doubt Wasserman Schultz is that vulnerable, despite her fall from leadership as chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.

“If you're my local congressman and you're bringing home what you're supposed to be bringing home, you're going to be returned to office,” Christie said. 

Florida governor’s race

This past May, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum became the state's first serious candidate in the gubernatorial race. Since then, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and state Sen. Jack Latvala, who recently resigned after being accused of sexual harassment, declared their intentions to run for governor.

“The stakes are very, very high here,” Ancrum said. “Money is going to pour in from across the country and no doubt from abroad. And people are going to have to take a look at what's all that money buying and and why.”

Joining Gillum in the Democratic primary are Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine,  former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham and Orlando-area businessman Chris King.

Another name up for consideration: Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a Republican. But if he announces a campaign, it likely won’t be until after the legislative session ends. 

Temporary Protected Status

Thousands of Haitians in South Florida could spend 2018 preparing to be forced to return to their homeland or find other legal means of staying here. Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haitians, first granted after a 2010 earthquake killed more than 200,000 people, is due to expire in July 2019. 

Since the Trump administration announced that the program would end, activists in the Haitian community, top religious leaders and South Florida lawmakers have urged Congress to extend the protection status beyond its expiration. 

Haitian immigrant activist Marleine Bastien urges lawmakers to renew TPS.
Credit Odalis Garcia / WLRN

“Haitians who are affected and Haitians who are not affected really need to reach out to the business community,” Ancrum said. It’s clear that this particular group, she added, is going to lose a large segment of their workforce.

“TPS is temporary protected status, however, if you've been here, in some cases for more than a decade, Congress or even the Trump administration really needs to show some bravery and create a path to citizenship for these people,” Christie said. 

Other immigrants who have been in South Florida under TPS face more immediate deadlines. TPS for El Salvador expires in March. For Hondurans, it’s July. And for Nicaraguans it ends next January.

Brightline

Last spring, the passenger rail service was expected to start rolling in July. By October, the launch was delayed. Now, in the new year, the train set to run between Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach is on the calendar.

“For those in the cities of Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm and Orlando, this is a good thing,” O’Hara said. “The people in the cities in between, not so much. In terms of traffic, it is going to interrupt traffic on east-west major roads.

The trip between Miami and Fort Lauderdale is expected to take 30 minutes. Same to go from Fort Lauderdale to West Palm Beach. At full service, the company promises to bring 32 trains a day. 

“Look, there is no magic wand that's going to unsnarl traffic in South Florida,” Ancrum said. “But this goes a great ways toward helping.”