Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R)
Elected: 1992, 9th term.
Born: Aug. 13, 1954, Havana, Cuba .
Education: New Col. of FL, B.S. 1977, Case Western Reserve U., J.D. 1979.
Family: Married (Cristina); 2 children.
Elected office: FL House of Reps., 1986–89; FL Senate 1989–92.
Professional Career: Practicing atty., 1979–92; Asst. FL atty., 1983–84.
The congressman from the 21st District is Lincoln Diaz-Balart, a Republican first elected when the district was created in 1992. Diaz-Balart was born in Cuba, where his grandfather, father and uncle served in the Cuban Congress. The family fled Cuba in 1959, shortly after Castro took over and after their house was looted and burned while they were vacationing in Paris. His aunt was briefly the wife of Fidel Castro and the mother of Castro’s only recognized child. Diaz-Balart’s education included stops in Spain and England. He started his career as a poverty lawyer and a Democrat, but switched parties. He was elected to the state House in 1986, two years before his younger brother, Mario, now the representative from the 25th District, was elected to the same chamber. The Diaz-Balarts are sometimes called the “Cuban Kennedys.” Another brother is a television news anchorman for Telemundo and a fourth is an investment banker. In 1989, Jorge Mas Canosa’s Cuban American National Foundation persuaded Diaz-Balart not to run against Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in the special election to replace Democratic Rep. Claude Pepper. He instead won her state Senate seat. In 1992, the organization endorsed him in the 21st. State Sen. Javier Souto, also Cuban-born, opposed him in the primary, charging that he was backed by wealthy contributors and was not a lifelong Republican. Diaz-Balart won 69%-31%.
|Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R)||137,226||(58%)||($3,390,478)|
|Raul Martinez (D)||99,776||(42%)||($1,881,108)|
|Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (59%), 2004 (73%), 2002 (100%), 2000 (100%), 1998 (75%), 1996 (100%), 1994 (100%), 1992 (100%)
Diaz-Balart has a voting record that is centrist on social issues and occasionally liberal on economics. He was one of three Republican incumbents who refused to sign the Contract with America when Republicans took over the House in 1995, and he voted against the GOP welfare bills because of their provisions denying benefits to legal immigrants. Many older Cubans who have not become U.S. citizens because they hope to return someday to Cuba are dependent on Supplemental Security Income and other aid. He persevered, and his bill to restore SSI benefits to legal immigrants passed. In 2006, he objected to a deal opening areas off the Florida coast to oil drilling, citing the need to protect “environmental treasures.”
In 2007, he sponsored a bill to allow two Colombian college students whose parents had brought them illegally into the country at ages 2 and 3 to remain in the United States, and he sought to use their example to promote the DREAM Act, the bill to allow in-state tuition for children of illegal immigrants who graduate from high school and get good grades in college. When Democrats advanced a bill in 2008 to allow housing authorities to buy foreclosed properties and sell them to low-income families, he was one of 11 Republicans to support it.
Diaz-Balart is the second-ranking Republican on the Rules Committee, where he seems destined to play second fiddle to California’s David Dreier. Perhaps because of Diaz-Balart’s independence on issues, Republican leaders have kept appointing Dreier to the post.
Diaz-Balart hopes that he will return someday to a freed Cuba, where Castro has referred to the Diaz-Balarts as “his most repulsive enemies” and “miserable Judases.” Diaz-Balart has strongly favored sanctions against Cuba, and when the Clinton administration announced in 1995 that it would no longer give automatic safe haven to Cuban refugees, Diaz-Balart was arrested while protesting in front of the White House. The next year, he wrote the section of the Helms-Burton Act codifying the embargo against Cuba. During the Elian Gonzalez custody controversy in 2000, Diaz-Balart closely advised the Miami family trying to keep the boy from returning to his father in Cuba and gave the then six-year-old a black Labrador puppy. Diaz-Balart was a prominent spokesman for the local community, which also wanted to keep the boy in the United States, though he was ultimately returned to Cuba. When farm-state Republicans, working with Democrats, got the House to pass bills relaxing the trade embargo on Cuba, Diaz-Balart urged the Bush administration to continue to oppose trade openings. When Congress finally agreed to some trade, he made sure that payments for goods had to be received in advance. He created the House’s Cuba Democracy Group as a counterpoint to the trade-opening Cuba Working Group. In 2006, he strongly objected when the Cuban team was permitted to play in the World Baseball Classic, some of which was played in Florida, and he unsuccessfully urged its players to “escape totalitarianism.” In 2008, Diaz-Balart objected to allowing a Little League team from Vermont and New Hampshire to travel to a baseball tournament in Cuba.
From 1994 to 2004, Diaz-Balart had little trouble winning re-election and often had no opposition. In 2006, Democrat Frank Gonzalez called the Cuba embargo an “act of war” and supported legalization of drugs. Diaz-Balart won by 59%-41%, and Gonzalez got 57% in the Broward County portion of the district. The outcome was one of the factors that encouraged national Democrats to target the three Cuban-American Republicans from the Miami area in 2008. Another was the growing awareness that younger Cuban-Americans are less obdurately opposed to the Castro regime. Moreover, an increasing number of Latino voters are not of Cuban origin and tend to favor Democrats. In 2008, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee found a candidate to run against Diaz-Balart: Raul Martinez, mayor from 1981 to 2005 of heavily Cuban Hialeah, which Diaz-Balart carried 5-to-1 in 2006.
Diaz-Balart began with some advantages. He had made friends by steering federal money to community projects and firms, and he had $900,000 in his campaign treasury. But Martinez campaigned aggressively. “I’m not running for president of Cuba,” he said. “Cuban-Americans finally see themselves as part of the wider U.S.A., and they care about other issues.” He favored the embargo on Cuba, but called for loosening restrictions on travel and remittances. He aimed much of his campaign at non-Cubans in Broward, and he pressed for union endorsements, though Transport Workers Local 291 spurned the AFL-CIO and came out for Diaz-Balart again. An August poll showed Martinez ahead. National Democrats spent more than $500,000 trying to help him win.
National Republicans retaliated, spending $1.6 million in the district, more than in any other. In August, Diaz-Balart began running negative ads. One referred to Martinez’s 1991 conviction on federal racketeering and extortion charges without mentioning that the decision had been reversed on appeal. Another showed the 275-pound Martinez repeatedly slugging a thin 21-year-old butcher in 1999. A third showed a former Hialeah police captain denouncing Martinez as “the most corrupt politician you will ever see in your life.” In response, Democrats ran ads referring to “crooks, lobbyists and dirty deals” associated with Diaz-Balart, and they also claimed that an indicted Puerto Rican politician gave Diaz-Balart “a suitcase full of cash” in 2006. The politician said the money was a campaign contribution.
Diaz-Balart won 58%-42%, just 1% behind his showing in 2006. In Broward County, he ran behind Martinez by only 16 votes. He carried every precinct but one in Hialeah. He ran well ahead of GOP presidential candidate John McCain, whom he had endorsed early.