On the eve of the Florida legislature’s organizational session, influential Republican Senator Manny Diaz talked about COVID-19 protocols, the 2020 election, and more. He’s also eyeing a key leadership position down the road.
Diaz wasn’t running for reelection this cycle, but is coming off a very successful election nonetheless. The Miami-Dade Republican had a hand in his party’s strong showing in South Florida, where a Senate seat flipped for the GOP.
“I would say that I’m proud to have been part of that,” Diaz told WFSU. “We certainly had a very successful election across the state. Especially in Miami-Dade, where we flipped two congressional seats, we flipped the state Senate seat, we flipped two House seats, and maintained all of our current seats.”
Diaz credits that success to the messaging that he says hit home with many in his district:
“A message which was music to the ears of the electorate, which is a message of opportunity, a better economy, none of these policies that are Democratic socialism – whether its government-run healthcare or government-run anything else,” Diaz said.
He says in Miami, GOP messaging on “law and order” was particularly potent.
“And also, the message of law and order –a lot of our residents down there either came from a country that had chaos and tyranny or communism – or they’re second-generation, and have family that dealt with that first-hand,” Diaz said.
On Monday, like all Florida legislators, Diaz was gearing up for Tuesday’s organizational session. With COVID-19 testing and safety protocols in place, he says the usually festive occasion is going to look very different.
“We understand that families across the state have been dealing with cancelling events, and birthday parties and life events, even funerals where people weren’t able to attend,” Diaz said of COVID-19’s disruption. “Usually this is a festive occasion, and what we have done – and I applaud the presiding officers in both chambers for taking COVID seriously and making preparations and doing our constitutional duty.
“But the Senate won’t be having any of the social activities that are usually associated with this, and we’re taking a very careful approach.”
All legislators were tested for COVID-19 Monday, ahead of the organizational session.
New Senate and House leadership will be sworn in Tuesday. In the Senate, Republican Wilton Simpson will take the helm as president. In the House, Republican Chris Sprowls will assume the role of speaker.
Diaz is mulling a run for Senate president down the road, but for now wants to help enable a smooth transition for the incoming brass.
“That member-driven process will work itself out over the next year or two, and like I said I do have interest in that, but right now what happens is, we all come and focus on making sure that the incoming president is successful, especially after coming back with an additional seat,” he said of a future run.
An ardent school choice proponent, Diaz has been instrumental in creating and expanding Florida’s Family Empowerment Scholarship, a private school voucher program for middle and low-income families. He says during this session, more new school choice legislation can be expected:
“I think everything’s on the table. We need to look to see how we improve on providing access to all of the parents in our state who would like to take advantage of those options.”
One of Diaz’s Republican Senate colleagues, Sarasota’s Joe Gruters, has proposed a voucher program for parents of public school students who don’t want to wear masks in school, dubbed the ‘Face Freedom Scholarship.’
When it comes to other priorities for the 2021 session, Diaz is thinking occupational licensing deregulation, and tax exemptions for seniors.
“We have a large number of seniors across our state, and definitely in my community, who have been living in their homes and paid it off for 30, 40 years, who now are retired and they have a huge tax bill,” he explained. “So, even though we’ve had some exemptions done before, we need to continue to look at that and see if there’s a possibility where we can cap their taxing value on their property when it comes to schools.”
After the organizational session, Florida legislators will return to Tallahassee starting in January for committee weeks, ahead of the regularly scheduled 2021 session in March.