Here’s what you need to know about the state Senate District 34 race (2022)

Florida state Senate District 34 will have undergone a host of changes by the Aug. 23 primary.

The district is very different geographically, thanks to redistricting. Represented by state Sen. Gary Farmer since 2016, the old District 34 was coastal Broward County. The new District 34 is entirely in Miami-Dade County stretching from County Line Road to Allapattah and from Northwest 57th Avenue to the ocean. The ability to meet the needs of a diverse district that includes both the city of Opa-locka, which has a poverty rate of roughly 40%, and Bay Harbor Islands, where the median household income is roughly $100,000, will be paramount.

The three-way Democratic primary race includes two people with experience in elected office — state Sen. Shevrin Jones and former Miami Gardens Vice Mayor Erhabor Ighodaro — and political newcomer Pitchie Escarment. Farmer, the incumbent, is running for a seat on the Broward County circuit court.

Because there are no candidates other than Democrats in this race, the primary election will be “open,” meaning all voters in the district can cast a vote regardless of their party affiliation. The winner on Aug. 23 will be considered elected after Nov. 8.

Shevrin Jones

Jones, 38, has served in the Legislature since 2012 when he was elected to the Florida House of Representatives. The former educator was elected in 2020 to represent Florida Senate District 35, which covers south-central Broward County and north-central Miami-Dade County. A Miami Gardens native of Bahamian descent and the first openly gay Black lawmaker elected to the Florida Legislature, Jones has been a staunch critic of Gov. Ron DeSantis as well as his “Don’t Say Gay” and “Stop WOKE” bills. At a time when partisanship defined the Florida Legislature, Jones believes his experience sets him apart from the other candidates.

(Video) 2022 Primary Election Debate: State Senate District 34

“Although I’m a Democrat, I believe in being the conscience of the chamber just to not speak in hypotheticals but always bringing it back to what the people are saying,” Jones said in an interview with the Miami Herald. “I don’t have to tell people what I’m going to do; I can tell people what I have done.”

In the most recent legislative session, he was assigned to the transportation, health policy and education committees, and served as the education vice chair. Some of Jones’ sponsored legislation includes the formation of strict standards for detention facilities and the designation of peer specialists as an essential part of substance use and mental illness recovery.

Calling SD 34 the “most diverse district in the state,” Jones sees the senator’s role as one of connector. The issues affecting the more affluent areas like Miami Beach include the change from septic tanks to sewer lines and sea level rise while constituents living in the under-resourced areas are more concerned with the rent crisis and affordable housing. Both areas, however, have issues with healthcare, property insurance and education. Balance is necessary, Jones said, especially when it comes to education.

“On the East side, they’re advocating for their kids to continue going to private schools and not interfering with the assistance they receive,” Jones added. In “an area like Miami Gardens, there are solely big public schools.”

Both communities, however, could benefit from learning the truth about “what is and what isn’t being taught in our school system,” Jones said in reference to Florida’s fight over curriculum. “A lot of this stuff is coming from a place of misinformation, and it’s important for me in my job to be honest, as someone who has an education background, and clear about what’s being taught, how it’s being taught and what that looks like.”

(Video) 2022 Primary Election Debate: State Senate District 33

As of July 2022, Jones has received nearly $100,000 in campaign contributions, according to the state division of elections. Meanwhile, Jones’ political committee, Florida Strong Finish, has raised more than $545,000 since December 2020, according to the division of elections. His donors include Disney, the Miami Dolphins and the Florida Education Association, one of the state’s largest unions. Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber and LGBTQ Victory Fund all have endorsed Jones.

Erhabor Ighodaro

Ighodaro served two consecutive terms in the Miami Gardens city council. Some of his sponsored legislation during his tenure included the creation of a local job fair and the establishment of programs designed to bolster small businesses, according to his website.

A former Miami-Dade public school teacher who now teaches criminal justice at his alma mater of Florida Memorial University, Ighodaro resigned from the city council to run for the state Senate in the 2020 election cycle. He lost to Jones, finishing fourth after receiving just under 15% of the vote. Accusations of homophobia plagued his 2020 candidacy following his comment at a campaign event.

“We still have people who have values in the Democratic Party. And we have values — we’re gonna fight for our families, yes,” he said at a campaign event in February 2020. “There is an image that God says a marriage should look like, that families should look like. And that’s what we’re gonna fight for.”

Critics say Ighodaro, who could not be reached for comment despite multiple attempts, was taking a dig at Jones. Annise Parker, president and CEO of the LGBTQ Victory Fund, called Ighodaro’s 2020 campaign “one of the most homophobic campaigns we’ve seen from a Democratic candidate this year.”

(Video) State Senate District 6 Republican & State House District 34 Democratic | INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAIʻI

Most recently, Ighodaro, an associate pastor at Mt. Zion AME Church in Miami Gardens, made similar remarks at a candidates’ forum in mid-July, according to a video obtained by the Miami Herald.

“I don’t believe that people should not recognize the difference between a male and female,” Ighodaro said. “I don’t believe in 110 pronouns.”

Ighodaro has received more than $45,000 in campaign contributions, $23,000 of which are loans, according to the division of elections. His political committee, Reignbow Florida PC, has raised just under $31,000.

Pitchie Escarment

Escarment, 44, is a newcomer on the Florida political scene. A Miami-Dade native, she worked as a corrections officer for more than two decades and currently heads her own consulting firm, according to Ballotpedia’s candidate survey. The SD 34 race will be her first attempt at seeking elected office, something she believes ultimately sets her apart.

“I encompass the community in one person whereas my opponents have a little bit of this, a little bit of that,” Escarment said in an interview with the Miami Herald.

(Video) NC Senate District 34 Candidates on Their #1 Priority

Like Jones, she’s Caribbean and worked in education. Like Ighodaro, she too is an ordained minister. And like many of her potential constituents, she said she understands the needs of immigrants having also worked as an immigration specialist. These experiences are more important now than ever due to redistricting, Escarment said.

“The district was made for someone who was born and raised in the city, who understands the needs of the city, the problems and the suffering,” added Escarment, who now lives in Miami Gardens.

Escarment said she believes the community’s biggest issues are affordable housing, property insurance, healthcare, gentrification, criminal justice reform and education. The last two areas, criminal justice reform and education, appear to be her passion. To address criminal justice reform, she wants to create better alliances between the police and the Black community.

The police “are afraid to do their jobs and then you have the community who’s afraid to come out, young Black men afraid to be who they are and speak who they are,” said Escarment. As a former member of law enforcement and the mother of three Black sons, she understands the tense dynamic between police and the Black community yet aims to get back to a time when both sides actually knew one another. “If a child did something that was mischievous they would bring you home. That interaction not only gave a respect for the officers, the child knew to respect the officers.”

The two areas within education that need most attention are the students who fell behind during the pandemic as well as curriculum changes that affect what can and can’t be taught in the classroom, according to Escarment. Ultimately, she plans to better prioritize teachers’ needs alongside that of the parents to foster a more collaborative environment as well as explore opportunities to expand curriculum rather than restrict it.

(Video) 2022 Primary Election Debate: State Senate District 25

“A lot of times when we’re making these bills, we leave out the people who are actually involved,” Escarment said. “We leave out the parents, we leave out the teachers and educators and so I believe that’s where we need to come back to: including teachers in [the discussions] but also giving a vantage point of what the teachers have to do on a day-to-day basis.”

Escarment’s campaign war chest is a little more than $23,500, of which $20,000 are loans. The Fraternal Order of Police District 6 endorsed Escarment, according to her Facebook.


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