Voters living in a swath of Central Florida extending from Buenaventura Lakes and Azalea Park to Kissimmee and Haines City have a chance to elect Central Florida's first Hispanic state senator.
Senate District 14, a newly drawn, majority Hispanic seat, has drawn a pair of strong challengers: state Rep. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, and Will McBride, a Republican personal-injury lawyer.
Soto, 34, is a partner in an Orlando firm that specializes in family and commercial-real estate law. The son of a Puerto Rican father, Soto has been a member of the Florida House of Representatives since 2007.
He helped defeat an effort led by House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, to split the Florida Supreme Court in two, a plan critics said was designed to stack the court in favor of business interests. And he was a vocal critic of another bill pushed by GOP leaders that would have prohibited public-employee unions from using automatic payroll deduction to collect member dues.
But Soto was also a frequent vote for Republicans on other issues. He supported a National Rifle Association-backed law that lets employees keep guns in their cars when they park at work and has voted to expand the corporate tax-credit scholarship program, which finances private-school vouchers.
He has sometimes shifted his positions. He voted for legislation to ensure online-travel companies do not have to pay taxes on the full price they charge travelers for hotel rooms, though he now opposes the measure. He supported an effort to remove Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs from the board of the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority, though he now says he regrets doing so.
Soto said his time in the 120-seat House has prepared him for the 40-seat Senate, where individual members wield more influence.
"I believe I have a strong record of accomplishments in the Legislature and have good experience that will certainly help me in the Senate," he said.
McBride, 40, is the lead partner in the Orlando personal-injury firm of McBride, Scicchitano & Leacox. The son of a migrant worker from Mexico, McBride today has a net worth of $12.5 million and has a father-in-law who owns a chain of Christian radio stations throughout the country.
McBride, who ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate in 2006, is a social conservative who has said he supports abortions only when the mother's life is danger. But he also says he would not pursue continued restrictions on civil lawsuits -- a priority of Republican leaders -- saying that he wants "to make sure everyone has access to the court and may the best attorney win."
He says his success in private life contrasts with Soto's, who reports a net worth of about negative $75,000.
"I think there's one person in this race that has real-life experience and knows how to make things work," McBride said.
There are clear differences between the two candidates on issues that could turn on slim margins in the Senate. McBride would vote for a "parent trigger" bill that would allow parents to compel a struggling public school to convert into a charter school and for privatizing the state's prisons. Soto says he vote against both in the Senate.
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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