Senate District 35 straddles the Broward-Miami-Dade line and includes West Park, Pembroke Park, Miramar, Miami Gardens and Opa-locka.
Democrats in southwest Broward and northwest Miami-Dade counties will soon elect a state senator from a crowded field of six candidates. The voters’ best option is Rep. Shevrin “Shev” Jones, an experienced and determined member of the Florida House with a track record of working with Republicans without compromising their values — a vital skill in a Capitol controlled by conservatives.
Jones, 36, of West Park, is the youngest candidate in the race to succeed Sen. Oscar Braynon II of Miami Gardens, who is term-limited and can’t run again. The heavily-Democratic Senate District 35 is one of Florida’s most diverse voting districts: More than half of its residents are African American and a third are Hispanic. The winner of the Aug. 18 primary is assured of victory because no Republicans filed to run, but a write-in candidate qualified for the Nov. 3 general election.
The other candidates, all Democrats, are former Sen. Daphne Campbell, 63, of Miami, a nurse; Wilbur Harbin, 51, of Miramar, a retired battalion chief with Miami-Dade Fire Rescue; Erhabor Ighodaro, 47, of Miami Gardens, a commissioner in that city: former Rep. Cynthia Stafford, 52, of Miami Gardens, an attorney; and former Rep. Barbara Watson, 68, a former small business owner and former commissioner from Miami Gardens.
Campbell was a controversial figure in Tallahassee who was not taken seriously by her colleagues. A self-described conservative Democrat and former ally of such discredited Republicans as David Rivera and Frank Artiles, she is a poor fit for this district. Watson offered thoughtful responses in her Sun Sentinel questionnaire and interview, but her years in the House were unremarkable, as were Stafford’s.
In this big field, the winner is likely to get much less than a majority of votes. That means the next senator must be a consensus builder — an area where Jones has excelled. In a highly partisan and Republican-dominated House, he has had some notable successes. They include a requirement that police wear body cameras, a needle exchange program for addicts and more personal dignity for women in prison.
In his Sun Sentinel questionnaire, Jones supported reallocating police spending to intervention programs and an assault weapons ban, full legalization of marijuana and a stronger climate change policy.
Until Democrats regain a majority in the 40-member Senate, their best strategy is to elect well-prepared lawmakers prepared to stick around awhile who can work with the Republican majority. Jones can make the transition from a hyper-partisan House to a moderate Senate, where personal relationships are still valued.
The son of a minister and the first openly gay Black member of Florida’s Legislature, Jones has a knack for attracting attention, which he’ll need to win this race. He won a House seat in 2012 with no opposition and was not challenged in 2014, 2016 or 2018. That means the voters in the Senate district have never voted for Jones. The only time his name was on the ballot, he lost to Barbara Sharief in a 2010 Democratic primary for Broward County commissioner.
In a farewell speech to his House colleagues in March, Jones introduced his partner in the visitors’ gallery, saluted his parents and staff members watching from above, and praised several Republicans by name. “I was blind on navigating politics,” Jones said, “so I resolved to do what I knew how to do best, and that was people.”
A former Broward chemistry teacher, Jones earned $102,000 last year as director of a statewide reading program, according to a financial disclosure statement. He also reported $72,000 as part-time director of a Broward Sheriff’s Office program to place college students in law enforcement internships.
Through mid-June, Jones had raised $239,000, far more than anyone else in the race. He also had spent most of it, $206,000, much of it on consultants who have worked to build Jones’ name recognition, especially in Miami-Dade.
The winner of this race will serve a two-year term. All 40 Senate seats will be up for grabs in 2022 because of redistricting as a result of population shifts. A Senate seat is considered part-time and pays $29,697 a year.
In Senate District 35, the Sun Sentinel recommends Shevrin “Shev” Jones.