August 2, 2017 at 3:00 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Gay Fla. state representative running for Congress
David Richardson, gay news, Washington Blade

Florida state Rep. David Richardson (D-Miami Beach) is running for the seat that retiring U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) will vacate in 2018. (Photo courtesy of David Richardson for Congress)

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. — A gay member of the Florida House of Representatives who is running for Congress on Sunday described President Trump as a “hateful, vile person.”

“It still astonishes me that he got elected and he is our president,” David Richardson told the Washington Blade during an interview at a Cuban restaurant near his Miami Beach home. “He’s just a hateful, vile person.”

“Never in my life would I have imagined that someone with his level of hate could be our president of these United States,” he added.

Richardson, 60, in 2012 became the first openly gay man elected to the Florida Legislature. He represents the 113th House District, which includes Miami Beach and portions of downtown Miami.

Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a pro-LGBT Republican who has represented portions of South Florida in the U.S. House of Representatives since 1989, in April announced she is retiring from Congress in 2018.

Ros-Lehtinen currently represents Florida’s 27th congressional district, which includes Miami Beach and portions of coastal Miami-Dade County from downtown Miami to Cutler Bay. Richardson last month officially launched his campaign for her seat.

“She decided to retire a little earlier than some of us (had) planned,” he told the Blade, noting he expected Ros-Lehtinen to retire in 2020. “I had always intended to run when she retired so I had to move up my dateline a little bit.”

Richardson is among the seven Democrats — former Knight Foundation Program Director Matt Haggman, former state Circuit Court Judge Mary Barzee Flores, state Sen. José Javier Rodríguez (D-Miami), Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, Michael Hepburn and Mark Anthony Person — who have formally launched their campaigns to succeed Ros-Lehtinen. Miami-Dade County Commissioner Bruno Barreiro, former Miami-Dade County School Board Member Raquel Regalado and Maria Peiro are the Republicans who have officially entered the race.

Richardson spoke to the Blade four days after Trump on Twitter announced transgender people would be banned from the U.S. military.

Ros-Lehtinen, whose son Rodrigo is trans, criticized the announcement.

The House in June approved a resolution condemning the ongoing crackdown against gay men in Chechnya that Ros-Lehtinen introduced. The Cuban-born Republican in 2013 met with two independent LGBT rights advocates from the Communist island who are vocal critics of Mariela Castro, the daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro who spearheads LGBT-specific issues.

“There was a time when she wasn’t good on LGBT rights, but she is,” Richardson told the Blade. “I like her.”

Richardson urged Scott to acknowledge LGBT Pulse victims

Reforming Florida’s prison system, banning so-called conversion therapy in the state and improving his district’s infrastructure are among the issues on which Richardson has worked since his election.

Richardson told the Blade he hasn’t “faced any backlash at all” from his colleagues in the state legislature because he is gay.

He is a forensic auditor who ran his own firm near Farragut Square in downtown D.C. until he retired in 2007. Richardson told the Blade this background allows him to work effectively with conservative Republicans in the state Legislature.

“I work with them on the issues we agree on,” Richardson told the Blade. “The ones we don’t, we just debate and fight over.”

He said he has “huge policy differences” with Gov. Rick Scott on a number of issues. Richardson nevertheless told the Blade he agrees with the governor on the need to create more jobs in Florida.

“We both want the same thing: More jobs and higher pay,” said Richardson. “He and I would go about that differently.”

Scott’s reluctance to specifically acknowledge the LGBT victims of the Pulse nightclub massacre sparked widespread outrage among advocates in Florida and across the country.

Richardson, who grew up in Orlando, told the Blade he spoke with Scott’s chief-of-staff after the June 12, 2016, massacre and said, “Will you tell him you have to say the word gay, or LGBT or acknowledge the community because people are taking note that he’s not saying this.”

Scott two days later described the massacre as “an attack against the gays, an attack against Hispanics, an attack against our country, our nation” in an exclusive statement to the Blade after he paid tribute to the victims at a makeshift memorial in downtown Orlando. Richardson said he helped schedule meetings between the governor and local LGBT rights advocates and allies that took place later that day.

“He said all the right things and it felt genuine,” Richardson told the Blade, referring to Scott. “I think it’s a topic that’s very strange for him.”

Scott attended a vigil at Christ Church Unity in Orlando that marked a year since the massacre. The Orlando Sentinel reported Orlando City Commissioner Patty Sheehan and GLBT Community Center of Central Florida Executive Director Terry DeCarlo are among those who were also in attendance.

“He stayed for the entire service,” Richardson told the Blade, noting he thanked Scott for attending. “We had a good chat afterwards.”

Rick Scott, gay news, Washington Blade

Florida Gov. Rick Scott visits a makeshift memorial to the victims of the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando, Fla., on June 14, 2016. (Washington Blade photo by Kevin Naff)

Richardson said one of the lasting impacts of the Pulse nightclub massacre has been there were “no really hateful anti-LGBT bills filed in Tallahassee” this year. He nevertheless told the Blade there “hasn’t been the kind of movement and more open dialogue” around gun control “that so many of us would like to see.”

“It’s sadly an issue that is controlled by the lobby,” said Richardson.

Richardson ‘very much’ supports normalized U.S., Cuba relations

Richardson told the Blade he “very much” supports the normalization of relations between the U.S. and Cuba.

Ros-Lehtinen and her family fled Cuba after the 1959 revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power. She remains among Congress’ most vocal critics of the normalization of relations between the U.S. and Cuba that former President Obama announced in 2014.

Trump in June announced the U.S. will reinstate some travel and trade restrictions with Cuba. He signed the directive at a theater in Little Havana that is named after the leader of a group of Cuban exiles who participated in the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961.

“We need to be respectful of the people that lived through the tragedy,” said Richardson, specifically referring to the Cuban revolution. “But we also have to move forward.”

Richardson told the Blade the U.S. embargo against the Communist island gives the Cuban government “a talking point.” He also said normalized relations between the U.S. and Cuba will benefit both countries.

“Sometimes you effect change by standing on the outside of the country, and sometimes you effect change by being on the inside of the country,” Richardson told the Blade. “I happen to think that we can probably effect more change by being on the inside of the country.”

Richardson also described the abrupt cancellation of the World OutGames Miami in May as a “really unfortunate situation.”

He was among those who volunteered at a swim meet and other events that took place in spite of the games’ cancellation. The Miami Beach Police Department and the Miami-Dade County State Attorney’s Office have launched a “fraud investigation” of the organizers, who accepted more than $200,000 in public funds.

“At a minimum I think it’s probably fair to say there was gross mismanagement and gross incompetence,” Richardson told the Blade. “Beyond that I don’t know if there was any wrongdoing in terms of laws broken. I hope they find out.”

Miami LGBT group backs Richardson’s campaign

The race to succeed Ros-Lehtinen is expected to garner national attention, especially after the Democratic and Republican primaries that will take place next August.

SAVE, a Miami-based LGBT advocacy group that recruited Richardson to run for the state House in 2012, has already endorsed his campaign.

“Rep. Richardson is a true champion of equality and the ideal candidate to replace Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen,” said SAVE Executive Director Tony Lima in a message to his organization’s supporters.

Equality Florida’s Political Action Committee and the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund have previously endorsed Richardson.

Richardson told the Blade he told the Victory Fund about his plans to run for Ros-Lehtinen’s seat before he publicly announced them. He said he hopes to receive their endorsement before November.

“They’re very supportive, very encouraging” said Richardson.

David Richardson, gay news, Washington Blade

Florida state Rep. David Richardson (D-Miami Beach) has received the backing of SAVE, a Miami-based LGBT advocacy group, in his bid to succeed Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. (Photo courtesy of David Richardson for Congress)

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

© Copyright Brown, Naff, Pitts Omnimedia, Inc. 2017. All rights reserved.