COLLIER COUNTY — A potential shift of political power Thursday may end up affecting Collier County as well as Washington come November.
On Thursday, U.S. Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) announced that he would not seek re-election after nearly two decades in office as one of the country’s most prominent Cuban-American politicians and a vocal opponent of Cuba’s communist government.
Shortly after the announcement, U.S. Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) officially announced his intent to run for his brother’s seat.
Lincoln Diaz-Balart represents District 21, which covers parts of Miami-Dade and Broward counties, while his brother has represented District 25 — covering eastern Collier and western Miami-Dade County — for seven years.
Mario Diaz-Balart said the move was a natural progression.
“I’ve represented many of the same areas both in Congress and the state Legislature,” said Mario Diaz-Balart.
And although he doesn’t know who may run or may not run for his District 25 seat, talk of state Rep. David Rivera of Miami — whose Florida House district also includes eastern Collier — taking Mario Diaz-Balart’s place in Congress has been discussed.
For his part, Mario Diaz-Balart said that he wanted to assure residents in those communities that he would not forget them.
“If I’m honored to get elected in District 21, I will still fight for the issues that are important to Collier. The constituents of Collier County will not be forgotten by any means,” said Mario Diaz-Balart, 48.
Mario Diaz-Balart said the timing of the move will assure strong local, Republican leadership — mindful of the balance of power now under the microscope in Washington.
Lincoln Diaz-Balart said he plans to return to his law practice and continue working for democracy in Cuba, including setting up a nonprofit organization to promote the ideals espoused by their late father, Rafael Diaz-Balart, who helped lead one of the first opposition movements against Cuban leader Fidel Castro. The brothers’ aunt, Mirta Diaz-Balart, was also Castro’s first wife.
“I am convinced that in the upcoming chapter of the struggle, I can be more useful to the inevitable change that will soon come to Cuba, to Cuba’s freedom, as a private citizen,” Lincoln Diaz-Balart told reporters at Florida International University’s law school, named for his father.
However, Democratic National Committee member and state Committeeman Chuck Mohlke said he saw Thursday’s announcements a little differently.
“Democrats sent a strong message in 2008 to Mario and Lincoln Diaz-Balart in their re-election efforts that the 25th is a very competitive district and would be more so in 2010,” said Mohlke, former chairman of the Collier Democratic Party, in a written statement. “Seeing the likelihood of defeat, Lincoln Diaz-Balart has retired and his brother is changing districts. This withdrawal says: Democrats can win the 25th district and we will find a winning candidate.”
The view was shared by Dario Moreno, a political science professor at Florida International University.
Moreno said although the move would ensure Mario Diaz-Balart a safer seat, it would also leave open the possibility for a Democratic win in his more diverse 25th district.
- - -
The Associated Press and Naples Daily News columnist Jeff Lytle contributed to this report.
Connect with Elysa Batista at www.naplesnews.com/staff/elysa_batista