If Miami-Dade politics were guided by fact and ethics — and not, as they are, by the exploitation of exile pathos to win elections — the rise of Cuban-American Rep. Daniel Perez to Florida House Speaker-designate could be celebrated as a refreshing change of pace for the Republican Party.
Florida issues, first and foremost. Demagoguery, take a backseat.
But this isn’t the case.
Fresh from telling reporters that his leadership would mark a new era of independence for the rubber-stamping House — a focus on things that really matter to Floridians like the home insurance crisis — Perez (or his staff) was on X, formerly Twitter, peddling the stale GOP talking point of keeping Florida “free.”
This is political code, echoing Gov. Ron DeSantis, to brand Democrats and their agenda as socialism and communism to avoid admitting that the GOP stands in favor of wiping out Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid.
Saying that, however, would keep Miami-Dade blue as the sky and sea.
So, instead of posting on X the video of his speech promising a new day or his press conference signaling independence from DeSantis’ autocracy, Perez showcases propaganda videos about the evils of communism.
He treats becoming the second Cuban American to be named House Speaker in Florida as if he were Joseph R. McCarthy reincarnated in a 36-year-old, New York City-born, Westchester-dwelling body.
Never mind that what ails Florida is the rampant fascism of his party, an all-out effort by the extreme religious right to crush hard-won civil rights and rule over our life choices. An agenda made worse by the neglect of needs like affordable housing, gun safety and climate-change mitigation to please wealthy GOP donors.
A Cuba trip to hide
No, Perez is off to the same old red-bait politics because he’s got to prove his loyalty to DeSantis — and a personal issue to hide.
Perez likely will stick to the hypocritical, but effective, Miami Republican Party rhetoric, trying to prove, against evidence, that he’s the most anti-communist of them all.
He needs voters to forget that he traveled to Communist Cuba six years ago — taking with him an entourage from a Miami photo company — to take engagement photos with his fiancee amid the ruins and beauty of Havana landscapes and buildings.
He certainly didn’t have any ethical issues — and he wasn’t thinking of the Bay of Pigs veterans he honored at his designation ceremony Monday — when he was exploiting Havana’s decay to obtain the stylish shabby-chic veneer of his pre-wedding photos.
Perez almost lost his first election for this, except that he told a sob story that he had gone there to tend to the needs of his fiancee’s sick uncle.
But, before the photos were taken down at his request, the photographers’ website publicized the romantic trip, the excitement of the setting and the bride and groom’s wishes to select their parents’ Cuba as an engagement photo destination.
He only got away with acting as if he were at the old Hialeah Racetrack or Vizcaya, to name two places popular for glamour photo sessions, because he was a Republican — and used his Cuban identity to campaign against his mixed-heritage primary opponent.
And because his electorate is as hypocritical and ethically challenged as Perez can be: They also travel to communist Cuba, swim in its waters, take pretty pictures — and criticize others for doing the same when it’s politically convenient.
As a young candidate, “Danny” Perez was — and is, as his Speaker designation proves — a likable Republican who can work the room and speak like a moderate when he needs to.
Had Perez been a Democrat when the Miami Herald reported in 2017 on his trip to Caribbean Commie Disneyland, that would have been the end of any thought of a political career.
I reached out to Perez on Tuesday, congratulated him via text, but neither he nor his spokeswoman answered my requests to have a conversation.
No doubt that he has the talent and political chops to usher in better than the GOP has delivered for Florida. But which Perez will show up? The one who bucked the Cuban establishment’s politics for the sake of romantic photos or the dutiful GOP career soldier who will cave to DeSantis?
He never acknowledged the ethical dilemma with the Cuba dalliance — to which he was entitled, ironically, under President Obama’s engagement policy.
But that’s how Miami Republicans roll, generation after generation, pandering to old wounds and old warriors while building a future that more and more looks like the oppressive ones our parents fled.
And, yeah, like in Cuba, they call it freedom, too.