In two Florida Senate seats, voters must evaluate challengers to experienced lawmakers who have earned reputations as determined, effective public servants. In Districts 17 and 25, we think the choices are clear.
By any measure, state Sen. Linda Stewart’s record of public service to Central Florida would be tough to beat. The Orlando Democrat has spent almost every month of the past 20 years serving voters, first on the Orange County Commission then in the state House, moving to the Senate in 2016.
Clearly, local voters trust Stewart to look out for their best interests. They have good reason. Stewart’s calm, informed approach has made her a remarkably effective advocate for this area, able to negotiate for budget allocations that meet some of this area’s most significant needs. She’s also won a seat at the table for discussions of legislative issues that are critical for Central Florida. Notably, she’s someone Republicans and Democrats alike look to as an authority on tourism-related issues, such as theme-park ride safety, which surged in importance following a recent death at an I-Drive attraction.
She scored a major legislative triumph in the recent legislative session with the passage of a law that boosts tenant-safety measures for hundreds of thousands of renters across the state — a law named for Miya Marcano, an Orlando student murdered by a maintenance worker who gained access to her apartment with his keys. She also successfully fought to increase local governments’ authority to regulate smoking on beaches and in public parks.
For the most part, Stewart is able to be effective without abandoning the principles she shares with the majority of voters in Senate District 17. She’s a strong proponent of public education — fighting to keep schools free of distracting culture-war nonsense while displaying a deep knowledge of funding policy. She’s pro-reproductive freedom and supports expanded access to health care, though we do regret her occasional nods to expediency, including votes to hide records of university presidential searches and the application of lethal injections.
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We credit her Republican opponent, local businessman Steve Dixon, for displaying something of an independent streak that sets him apart from this year’s flock of GOP candidates — few of whom cite “food insecurity” and “fighting homelessness” as priorities on their websites. But Dixon can speak only in generalities about the issues facing Florida. Stewart knows the specifics. Even better, she’s proven that she can work through considerable obstacles to make a difference. That’s why voters should keep her on the job.
When State Sen. Victor Torres tells his story, it’s steeped in the golden light of the American dream: Born in New York City, serving in Vietnam as a Marine and then returning home to spend 20-plus years in law enforcement before moving his family to Central Florida, where he dived into community service with gusto — and a growing interest in politics. He won a House seat in 2012 and moved to the Senate in 2016, winning re-election.
It’s not just a story. Torres is the real deal: A public servant who truly values service, with the common touch to understand the struggles of his Osceola County constituents and the determination to help them — as evidenced by his stalwart advocacy for Floridians caught in the broken maze of the state unemployment system. Time and again, he’s stood up to the powerful who would divert billions of dollars in funding away from the needs of low-income Floridians and toward tax cuts and other gifts for the rich and powerful. He’s defended government integrity (though, like Stewart, he occasionally wavers in his support for public records) and access to the ballot.
His opponent, Republican Peter Vivaldi, is also familiar to Central Floridians both as a candidate and a Spanish-language radio host. That puts him in touch with the issues that Osceola and Orange county residents face, with a keen grasp of their daily struggles. And while he embraces many of the distracting, culture-war issues (including so-called “don’t say gay” legislation that is already being used to harass and intimidate teachers and students) he does consider the implications of those positions — such as the need to care for children women will be forced to bear.
In another district, Vivaldi would be an appealing candidate. But voters of Osceola County have considered them both before, and chosen Torres, for good reason: Behind his grandfatherly exterior, he’s a warrior of a rare breed. Voters trust Torres to pick the right battles, and fight them well.
We will be posting our endorsements in local races over the next few weeks. However, we urge voters to not rely solely on our opinions in deciding how to cast a vote. Voters should check the candidates’ campaign websites and social media accounts (if they don’t have either, that should be a red flag). Ask friends and neighbors what they think. Google the candidates and go to dos.state.fl.us to see who’s giving money to their campaigns. In addition, we’ve recorded our interviews and posted them in full at OrlandoSentinel.com/opinion.
Election endorsements are the opinion of the Orlando Sentinel Editorial Board, which consists of Opinion Editor Krys Fluker, Insight Editor Jay Reddick and Editor-in-Chief Julie Anderson. Sentinel Columnist Scott Maxwell participates in interviews and deliberations. Send emails to [email protected].