State Rep. Daisy Baez delivered a nasty trick to Florida Democrats this Halloween, as her legal woes will now result in Republicans gaining a supermajority in the Florida House.
Baez was facing perjury charges related to a complaint that she did not live in her Coral Gables district, District 114. A Miami Herald story back in May sparked the first questions about Baez’s residency, noting that she appeared to still be living in a home a half a mile over the district border in District 112.
Florida law requires legislators to live in their district by Election Day, which would have been November 8, 2016. Baez claimed to have rented an apartment in District 114 that was owned by some of her supporters, and listed that as her address less than a week before the election. A citizen of District 112 filed a complaint against Baez in June and a House investigation was launched.
The House Committee had found probable cause to pursue an investigation and had issued subpoenas. It was discovered that Baez kept the District 112 house on her driver’s license and that she had not leased the District 114 apartment until after the original Herald story was published. The details of the story kept getting more complicated, as it was revealed that the supporters who owned the apartment had claimed the full homestead exemption on their property taxes. Florida law does not allow a full homestead exemption when any part of the property is rented out, and additional questions were raised about whether the supporters had violated the gift ban regarding what rent they were or were not collecting from Baez.
Still, Baez’s residency woes alone would have been unlikely to result in her losing her seat. While the House is under Republican control, past state representatives who have been caught violating the residency requirements have received relatively minor fines, or sometimes no penalty at all. For example, in 2011, former Rep. Reggie Fullwood, a Democrat representing a Jacksonville district, was fined $1,220.40, representing the amount he earned at the $81.36/day salary for legislators during the 15 days it took him to establish the proper residency.
Republicans would have undoubtedly faced severe political backlash if they had attempted to kick Baez out of her seat. Especially with House Speaker Richard Corcoran widely assumed to be considering running for Governor in 2018, removal from office was not a path Republicans would reasonably pursue.
Instead, Baez dug her own hole. Failing to live in her district was a violation of state law and House rules, but carried no criminal penalty. Lying under oath earlier this month when she was questioned by the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s office, however, was a different matter. With perjury charges pending, Baez took a plea deal that will have political repercussions for months to come.
POLITICO Florida broke the news late Tuesday that Baez had reportedly agreed to plead guilty to one count of perjury when not in an official proceeding, a first degree misdemeanor. The terms of the plea agreement require Baez to serve a year of probation, pay a $1,000 dollar fine, take an ethics class, and that she resign from the Florida House on November 1 and agree not to run for public office for one year.
Baez was on a flight returning to Miami from a visit to the Dominican Republic for her mother’s funeral, and was not originally available for comment, but later Tuesday evening she spoke to the Herald and confirmed that she had accepted the plea deal and agreed to resign.
“On November 1, I will tender my resignation as a member of the Florida House of Representatives,” Baez told the Herald in a statement. “I want to thank the residents of Florida, Miami-Dade County and District 114 for giving me the opportunity to serve, it’s been a great honor.”
A special election will be held to replace Baez, but that will be several months down the road, and her seat will remain vacant as the 2018 legislative session begins.
That means that after Baez officially resigns, the Florida House will have only 40 Democrat members in the 120-member chamber. This grants the Republicans a supermajority, and leaves Democrats virtually powerless in the chamber unless they can convince a Republican to break ranks and support them.
The Democrats in the Florida Senate have had their own October horrors: incoming Senate Minority Leader Jeff Clemens resigned suddenly Friday after news broke about his affair with a lobbyist.
Photo via Daisy Baez Facebook Page.
Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter: @rumpfshaker.