‘A breath of fresh air’: Kevin Marino Cabrera vows less politics, more voter fulfillment ahead of Miami-Dade Commission runoff

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For someone who’s only held elected office once, government relations specialist Kevin Marino Cabrera boasts a sturdy political resumé.

He’s worked for a former Governor, a U.S. Senator, a Congressman and a state lawmaker who now sits on the Florida Supreme Court. For a time, he led the South Florida operations of the nonprofit LIBRE Initiative, a Latino conservative advocacy group. During the 2020 election, Cabrera worked as State Director for the President Donald J. Trump for Presidential Campaign and the Republican National Committee, successfully delivering the Sunshine State to Trump.

But aside from an elected stint on a Miami-Dade County zoning board, Cabrera until this year appeared content to work largely behind the scenes. That changed, he said, as he grew increasingly agitated with what he described as the business-as-usual policies of the Miami-Dade Commission, a powerful county legislative body undergoing its largest membership upheaval in history.

According to Cabrera, a senior vice president with global public strategy firm Mercury, too many decisions from the County Commission dais work counter to the wishes of its electorate.

“For too long, we’ve seen the county do whatever it is they want,” he said.

Wanting to change that, he said, is what prompted him to run for the seat of term-limited Commissioner Rebeca Sosa in District 6, which covers a center-north portion of Miami-Dade encompassing parts of Miami, Coral Gables, Hialeah and a portion of the county’s unincorporated area.

Judging from the results of the Aug. 23 election, that message is resonating. Cabrera led a field of four candidate with more than 43% of the vote. His closest competitor, Coral Gables City Commissioner Jorge Fors Jr., received 26%.

Because Miami-Dade law requires a County Commission candidate to secure more than half the vote to win a seat outright, Cabrera and Fors are now competing in a runoff that will culminate in the Nov. 8 General Election.

“Our campaign always been about one thing, which is to put the residents and small businesses of Miami-Dade County first,” he said. “We are a breath of fresh air compared to career politicians and the failed policies of the last 30 years.”

Cabrera sat down with Florida Politics to discuss the runoff and his plans, if elected, for Miami-Dade County at large and District 6 specifically. The transcribed conversation below has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Florida Politics: Coming out of the Primary Election, you received more votes than any of the three other candidates running for District 6, but not enough to win the seat outright. What are your thoughts on how it went down?

Cabrera: More than anything, it’s important to be grateful to the more than 5,000 voters who opened their doors when we went knocking on doors in the last four months. They gave us their support.

Ultimately, it’s a victory for the people that supported fresh new leadership on the County Commission.

You’re now facing Coral Gables Commissioner Jorge Fors Jr. in a runoff. Are you recalibrating your campaign strategy at all ahead of facing him in the General?

Our message obviously resonated with voters. Math doesn’t lie. Some candidates in other district races spent nothing and still got a good chunk of votes. In our race, where there was considerable amount of money on both sides, we got 43% of the vote. That’s a considerable amount in a four-person race.

What it shows is a rejection of career politicians and their failed policies. No politician owns a seat. You don’t get to designate an heir. This isn’t a monarchy, and the voters want fresh and new blood on the County Commission.

That’s the whole purpose of term limits, not to recycle politicians.

What is your opinion of Fors?

He’s like any other aspiring career politician. We’ll see if we can break that cycle.

To be fair, he hasn’t been on the Coral Gables Commission long, and by the end of what you hope to be your first County Commission term, you’ll have been serving on the dais longer than he has in the city. Wouldn’t that by your own definition make you an aspiring career politician?

No. But I think it’s sad that he’s not completing his term and he’s abandoning the voters of Coral Gables for this purpose. He should finish his term.

What do you think District 6 voters should know about you and your bid for the Miami-Dade County Commission? How would you govern from the dais?

All you have to do is look at the half-penny surtax the voters passed (in 2002 to pay for transit construction and expansion).

We’ve asked for new capital projects for transportation. What did the county do in their infinite wisdom? They decided to use that instead for operating costs, for existing transportation with a rubber stamp (from the group that oversees the money), the Citizens’ Independent Transportation Trust.

Jorge Fors told the Miami Herald that we should look at the “narrow definition” of a Sheriff. Fifty-eight percent of the voters in this county voted for a Sheriff. They didn’t go to Florida Statutes to see what it said a Sheriff is. They voted for what we all know a Sheriff to be, which is somebody in charge of law enforcement.

Again, it’s all of them just thinking they know more than voters. I’m telling folks, “What I’m going to bring you is expected, transparent government that does what the people want and doesn’t try to circumvent voter will or intent.

Regarding the half-penny tax, that was a tough choice the Miami-Dade Commission made when the Great Recession hit and the county was looking at either cutting vital services or supplementing it with this other funding source not originally intended to pay for those things. The half-penny funds were detangled a few years back. But facing similar circumstances, what would you have done then?

You have to use things for their intended use. We should do a forensic audit of the county. I remember they said we were going to have the grass in our parks mowed once a month and close our libraries. I think they said it would save the county about $200 million.

Activists showed up at County Hall with shirts — the whole ordeal; what happens every time — and the county didn’t cut services, and they didn’t raise the millage rate. But somehow they found $200 million to keep the libraries open and the parks’ grass cut.

What that shows you is a lack of transparency in the budget. I’m not necessarily pointing out the current administration. It’s a systemic cultural bureaucracy that is not transparent.

We need to bring transparency to the county budget. We need to strive to find efficiencies and make sure there are structural changes so that we have that transparency for the voters.

And No. 2, we need to make sure we follow the voters’ will. We do not know best.

In your opinion, what are Miami-Dade County’s three greatest needs?

First and foremost, the housing crisis, both affordable and workforce housing. We already know Monroe County has to bus in from South Dade a lot of the folks in the service industry there. We have to make sure Miami-Dade County doesn’t become the next place that has to do the same thing from a neighboring county.

No. 2 is transit. We have no mass transit yet. Hundreds of thousands of people are moving here, whether it be from Latin America — I believe they said 30,000 moved from Colombia the week after the election — or from other parts of the country. They’re moving to Florida and to Miami-Dade in particular.

We will be the next Los Angeles, where we spend two or three hours a day in traffic if we do not solve our mass transit problem. That is why the issue of the half-penny and its use are so important.

And No. 3 is property taxes. All of these issues in some way intermingle with each other. When you knock on people’s doors, particularly folks who are retired, they’re feeling it right now at the gas pump and their property insurance.

Now with property taxes, we’re debating whether it’s going to be 1% or 3%. Quite frankly, we should find a way to make sure folks’ taxes do not go up.

The amount of new inventory that has been built in this county has generated a considerable amount of new dollars for the budget. We need to make sure these folks who are elderly, who helped build this county into what we have today, are not forced out of their homes because property taxes are eating them alive.

I got my property TRIM notice yesterday, and it said my taxes were going to go up $1,000, and that was the low one. If not that, it goes up $2,000. That $1,000 is no joke. That might be the difference for some folks in being able to eat or not.

How about District 6? What are its greatest assets and needs?

It’s greatest asset is probably Miami International Airport — one of, if not the No. 1 economic engine in this county, that and the seaport. Beyond that, it’s the small businesses and the people who live here and make up the district.

Our biggest issues are intermingled with everything I just said. Affordable housing is a huge issue in District 6. You hear it from the folks in Hialeah and in all parts of the district, mass transit too.

Permitting is an issue I’ve dealt with. It took me seven and a half months to get a septic-to-sewer conversion.

District 6 also has one of the highest percentage of seniors and retirees. When I knocked on doors, they’re the ones telling me that if we keep raising their property taxes, they are not going to be able to live in their home. They’re going to have to sell the home they’ve lived in for 50 years and find someplace else.

That’s not fair. That’s not fair to people who helped build this county and make it into an environment that has people wanting to move here.

What do you enjoy about campaigning? What don’t you like?

I don’t enjoy raising money. I enjoy the retail politics, talking to voters, small businesses, getting to know the issues in the district. I don’t enjoy the negative attacks or any of those sorts of things.

But being able to knock on someone’s door, sit down in their living room, share a coffee and learn a bit about their lives, the difficulties they’re facing and trying to figure out ways to make things easier for them — that’s what I enjoy.

We all come from different schools, of all different stripes in life, different places. It’s humbling to meet different people from different areas of the district, different backgrounds, learn the issues they have in their particular area and trying to figure out ways to fix it.

Who on the County Commission do you see as being potential allies in advancing some of the things you want to get done?

I’m excited to work with them all. When you look at everybody, when you go one by one, everybody adds to the composition of what I feel will be a great Commission, and we’re going to see a lot of good come out of it in the next eight years.

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