By Alex Daugherty And Patricia Mazzei
The race to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen keeps getting bigger.
Former Doral Councilwoman Bettina Rodriguez Aguilera will run as a Republican for Ros-Lehtinen’s Miami-based seat in 2018, she told Miami Herald.
“When I saw that she was not going to be running again, I thought that was interesting, and I had several people from the community call me and ask me to consider running,” Rodriguez Aguilera said. “I have been involved in community activism, human rights, economic development and international affairs all my life, and I feel that this is a good fit for me.”
Rodriguez Aguilera, 59, works as an entrepreneur and teaches at Miami Dade College. She was a Doral councilwoman from 2012-2014 and served as the city’s first economic developer.
“Bureaucracy is needed but not to the point that they stall businesses,” she said.
Rodriguez Aguilera avoided the word “moderate” when describing her political leanings, describing herself instead as a “common-sense Republican.”
She said she voted for Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential election. That puts her at odds with one of the two announced Republican candidates: Raquel Regalado, the former school board member and Miami-Dade County mayoral candidate, who did not support Trump.
The other announced Republican candidate, Miami-Dade Commissioner Bruno Barreiro, voted for Trump.
“What he did on the Cuba situation with Obama rolling it back was laudable,” Rodriguez Aguilera said. “With my father being a Cuban political prisoner, we needed to get some pride back.”
She also supports the president’s sanctions and tough talk on Venezuela.
“I think that no one is perfect but I think that the president in general has done a good job, though I don’t agree with every single thing he’s done,” Rodriguez Aguilera said.
National Democrats see an opportunity to flip Ros-Lehtinen’s district, which includes most of Miami and Miami Beach. The district voted for Hillary Clinton by nearly 20 percentage points over Trump, making it the most Democratic-leaning district in the country currently held by a Republican in Congress.
Seven Democrats are vying for the party’s nomination to the rare open seat: former state Judge Mary Barzee Flores, state Rep. David Richardson of Miami Beach, state Sen. José Javier Rodríguez of Miami, Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, former Knight Foundation director Matt Haggman, University of Miami academic adviser Michael Hepburn and Mark Anthony Person. Miami Commissioner Ken Russell is also mulling a run.
Most of Rodriguez Aguilera’s political work was in Doral, which is outside Ros-Lehtinen’s district. But she said she’s recently moved to Brickell and lived in the district for 20 years prior to moving west.
“I have been in Miami since I was seven years old,” Rodriguez Aguilera said. “I have been a Republican since I was 18 years old.”
While Regalado and Barreiro may have a leg up on name recognition due to their past campaigns in the district, Rodriguez Aguilera said her past leadership and private sector experience will help her stand out with voters.
“I’m aware that Ms. Regalado has run for countywide office and I know Mr. Barreiro very well but…I’m a person who gets things done,” Rodriguez Aguilera said. “Anybody who Googles me can see that.”