Q&A: Jeanette Nuñez, first Cuban-American candidate for Florida lieutenant governor

Republican candidate for Florida’s lieutenant governor Jeanette Nuñez answers questions from the press after the final gubernatorial debate held at Broward College. Photo: Katie Garwood

By Lauren Schroeder | gargoyle@flagler.edu

Q: What sparked your interest in politics?

Nuñez: “It was a little bit of a fluke actually, but I did study political science and international relations as an undergraduate. Right after college, I ended up working for a state representative at the time and spent about nine years being his legislative aide and worked in the process both in Tallahassee and Miami which was home for me at the time. I got a great understanding of the legislative office; how it worked, real in-depth view of everything from policy to politics to process so that really served as the launching pad. I will tell you that really wasn’t where I had my sights on. After about nine years of being his aid, I was approached to work for Jackson Memorial Hospital which is one of the largest hospitals in the country so I started working for them and ended up being their vice president of government affairs, so I oversaw everything from local to state to federal advocacy and other things that got tacked onto my responsibility and it was at that process that I really started to think about the potential to run for elected office. There was an open seat and it was in the area that I lived in I just viewed it as an opportunity to put my experience as a legislative aid and my experience in policy to good use and the rest was history.”

Q: How does it feel to be not only a woman but a Cuban-American as the Florida Governor running mate?

Nuñez: “It was a very unique honor for me to be considered and then ultimately selected. The reports indicated that I was hesitant to run with the governor. I wouldn’t say that I was hesitant to run or to be on the ticket it was really just trying to find the right balance for my life being a mom and a wife and working professional and different things I have on my plate. It wasn’t really part of my immediate plan so it took a lot of thought and discussions with my family as to whether this would be the right decision for me. If I said yes, I wanted to make sure that I would be all in and 110 percent on board with the demands and the rigor of a statewide campaign. Obviously having run for the legislator and having had four campaigns over the past eight years, I understand how demanding campaigns can be but it’s a whole other level when you’re running statewide so that played into the decision making process and like I said I wanted to make sure it would be the right decision for my family.”

“Given the unique demographic that I represent as a woman and a Hispanic, what I care about the most is representing my community with passion and making sure like I said with my own children that I am a role model for others and those that are interested in politics, whether it’s being in elected office or in another area so I hope that people see it in that light. If you work hard and have passion and you’re dedicated, there’s no limit to what you can accomplish. A lot of it is a testament to my parents and the work ethic that they instilled in me, but also focusing on doing the right thing. Sometimes people feel they have this master plan and all these benchmarks you want to hit and all these things you want to accomplish by a certain time frame in your life and really, I’ve always lived my day, not day by day but really focusing on doing the right thing at that particular moment in time. A few months ago if you would have told me we would be having this conversation about me being selected for senate governor, I would have told you that’s no that’s not in the future. It’s funny how life plays out. But yes, being a Hispanic and a woman, really focusing on doing the right thing and making my community proud. I believe in the value of your support system and the people that you have around you, making sure that you’re grounded and understand that you can’t do anything on your own and that you need people, especially friends, family, and supporters to be the shoulders that you stand on when you’re able to stand tall.”

Q: Do you and DeSantis have any immediate changes or plans you would like to instill if elected?

Nuñez: “Ron and I have begun to rule out our policy platforms and really look at a handful of key issues. There’s a lot to be done in this state. We’re the 17th largest economy in the world and third largest state in the country. There’s so many great things you can say about the state of Florida; from its climate to its economy to the people, so I think we really want to continue honing in on the things that make us so attractive. Why is it that so many people leave cities like New York and Chicago and Los Angeles and come to Miami or Orlando or go to the panhandle? There’s a lot that Florida has to offer. I also feel very strongly that we need to protect our economic climate as well because we’ve done a good job in my opinion of making sure that we’re offering small and large businesses alike a very friendly state for them to conduct business. In South Florida in particular, small business are the backbone of our economy, I know other areas have larger corporations that anchor their region, but we really need to be cognizant of how we continue to drive additional industries and new technologies to continue to provide jobs for our citizens. Education is in my opinion something that is critically important, it is the great equalizer. Anybody from any walk of life has the right to go to school and learn and drive and we want to continue to make sure that everybody has access to the best quality education and one that best fits them and their skill sets and their interests.”

Q: What was the response from your fellow Republican colleagues when you sponsored the bill that offered undocumented students in-state college tuition?

Nuñez: “Like any issue in the legislator, there’s obviously a group of constituency that support it and most times you have other perspectives. I wouldn’t say it was an easy process, it took a lot of hard work and discussions but we were fortunate in the house and the state group really got behind the proposal and that brought a tremendous amount of cloud. Also, again to my point of working hard and never giving up, we sat there and delved into every single detail and some people have legitimate concerns and I’m not going to waive people from being involved and raising issues with the particular bill. We tried to do our best to accommodate those concerns and did our best to really listen to different perspectives, I’ve always approached my professional and political views in that matter. I don’t take offense to people opposing me, I respect they have a different view and I think we need to have a little bit more of that in politics, and in life. I always try to hear the other side and understand where they’re coming from and at some point you either agree to disagree or move on but I’ve always conducted myself in a manner where I’m respectful of other people’s opinions and work towards addressing some of those issues. We did a lot of that, and obviously we were working with three component parts; the House, Senate, and ultimately the governor’s office and fortunately the governor was really involved. So we had all the right pieces in place, there were some road blocks and flashing yellow lights on the way but we were able to get it done and cross the finish line. Really I viewed it, someone from South Florida and Hispanic, parents who immigrated to this country fleeing communism. For me it really focused on an education issue more than an economic issue. I understand that immigration is a federal issue and unfortunately it hasn’t been resolved in Washington, but maybe one day they’ll be able to figure out what the right approach is there. That being said, we really focused on the fact that we’ve invested in all of these students in K-12. They’re here and eager to continue their studies so there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to help them further their economic vitality and educational progress just by putting an additional burden on residents of Florida. Again there was lots of debate and discussion on that. Lots of people have a hard-liner stance on it and I understand it, I’m not diminishing their viewpoint, but ultimately we just all knew it was the right thing to do and I was proud of that moment.”

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