After becoming Florida’s first LGBTQ politician elected to Tallahassee’s big leagues, State Rep. David Richardson – who is known as a stickler for details and a champion of civil rights – has entered the national ring, publicly announcing that he intends to go after the Congressional District 27 seat that is soon to be vacated by Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who unexpectedly revealed that she would be vacating the position before she was projected to bow out in 2020. The Miami-based seat she will likely vacate is an important one, as Richardson’s current district is virtually enclosed within Ros-Lehtinen’s congressional district.
“Whoever goes there and has a seat is going to have to work in a bipartisan way, which is something I’ve done in Tallahassee,” Richardson says on the phone from a special session in Tallahassee. “I think healthcare will continue to be an issue. Immigration will be a very big issue in South Florida. And criminal justice reform will be key.”
“I’ve been looking at the seat for a couple of years,” he adds. “All of my state representative seat sits in the congressional district. I had decided that I wasn’t going to run against [Ros-Lehtinen]. I really thought that she would have retired in 2020. I would be termed out in 2020.”
Richardson joins a cavalry of hopefuls that includes state Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez and Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, among others. Republicans have also dipped their feet in the water for the District 27 race with Miami-Dade mayoral candidate Raquel Regaldo and Miami-Dade County Commissioner Bruno Barreiro leading a crowding field.
“After much research and consideration, I feel like there’s a viable path for myself,” Richardson says. “I don’t think the environment and atmosphere in D.C. will be much different than it is here in Tallahassee. That environment is not new to me. I’ve been able to run this here. I think as time passes, I’ll be formulating and developing a much broader platform.”
The news broke in an exclusive chat with the Miami Herald on June 6.
“Yesterday, I wasn’t really planning on expressing where I am,” Richardson says. “A few weeks ago, I met with [former Democratic challenger and Miami businessman] Scott Fuhrman,” who was the first Democrat to announce.
“We had a really nice chat,” Richardson says. “He said, ‘I could see a situation where if you run, I wouldn’t run.’ He told me if I decide to run, he would withdraw. He told me then that he was going to drop out and support me. Yesterday, a reporter said he was suspending his campaign.”
Richardson promises to carry on his public service in the manner to which people have become accustomed: as a seasoned watchdog with an eye toward bipartisan action. In his previous career, Richardson spent 30 years as a forensic auditor, unearthing inconsistencies in both the corporate and the public worlds. He’s best known, the Herald reports, for his efforts to control gangs within the corrections system while at the same time monitoring the abusive behaviors of officers. He’s an expert on prison culture.
He’s also even-handed, he says. When Gov. Rick Scott was searching for a means to address last year’s Pulse massacre, Richardson was a vital bridge between the LGBTQ community and the conservative governor’s office.
Currently, Richardson is working toward moving forward with the medical marijuana law that has commanded a special session to figure out its enactment. His positions, he says, are evolving. He’s working on what is in front of him at the moment, namely dealing with an unhappy state senate and hospital industry that “wasn’t invited” to the backroom dealings of last week, he says. But that won’t deter him from pursuing a seat at the federal table. The Herald reports that he’s already intent on inspecting the federal corrections system in the same way he has blown whistles on Florida’s private and public prison conundrum, where he’s unveiled injustices between officers and inmates as well as general lapses in physical upkeep of the institutions. He’s not running on ideals, but on realities, he says.
“I’m not going to be a gay legislator, I’m just a legislator that happens to be gay,” he says. “Maybe that’s what happens when you get older. I can look back on 30 years and see where I’m most useful. The biggest compliment I’ve had is that I’m highly qualified.”