Democrat Berman wins Florida Senate special election in landslide

Democrat Lori Berman scored a knockout victory over Republican Tami Donnally in Tuesday’s special election to fill the Florida Senate District 31 seat vacated by Democrat Jeff Clemens last fall.

According to the final results posted by the Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections at 9:44 p.m., Berman won handily, taking 75 percent of the vote to Donnally’s 25 percent, with all 281 precincts counted.

“This is a win for the people of Palm Beach County on the issues that matter to us,” said Berman, a state representative for the past eight years. “It’s a mandate that the issues we see — education, gun control, health care, the environment — matter to people of Palm Beach County.”

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Clemens said fellow Democrat Berman deserves her success, but declined to talk further to The Palm Beach Post.

Donnally, executive director of Legacy Church Ministries in Greenacres and vice chair of the Republican Party of Palm Beach County, said she was disappointed in the results. “I’m disappointed more Republicans didn’t come out to vote,” she said. “And I don’t know why…but Palm Beach County is so blue and it feels as if it’ll never happen for the Republicans.”

The heavily Democratic, south-central Palm Beach County district has been without representation in the Senate since Clemens, of Atlantis, resigned in October after admitting he had an affair with a lobbyist. That period included the recent 2018 session of the Florida Legislature, which concluded March 11.

Florida Democrats filed a lawsuit aiming to get an earlier special election date so a new senator would be in place for at least part of the legislative session, but their attempts were unsuccessful.

Democrats have a 46.6- to 24.1-percent registration advantage in the district, which includes most of the area east of Florida’s Turnpike between Lake Worth and Delray Beach. The GOP did not field a candidate there against Clemens in 2016.

Berman, 59, of Lantana, will serve until November 2020, the scheduled end of Clemens’ unfinished term, and then be eligible to run for two more terms.

She said her priorities as a senator will be more education funding, expansion of Medicaid in Florida and equality for women. She added that she plans to try to build on the gun control law that the Florida Legislature passed this year by filing a bill that would allow family and household members to go to court to have a gun removed from a dangerous family member.

Berman said she was relieved that for the first time in her legislative career the Florida Legislature passed gun control this year — after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland where 17 people were killed.

“One of the bills that I sponsored was included in the Parkland legislation and it’s a law that allows law enforcement officers to go to the court to petition to have a gun removed from someone who is a danger to themselves or others,” Berman said. “I’m really happy to see that this is being implemented.” Allowing a family member to do something similar would be the next step, she said.

During this year’s campaign, both candidates touted their experience.

Donnally, 57, of Lake Worth, noted she had run twice for the state House District 85 seat, although she lost both times. “I never say that I lost because for me, it was a winning experience all the way around,” she said. “It made me appreciate elected officials so much more and what candidates have to go through.”

She also said her experience with the church and its Greenacres Christian Academy made her “a very well rounded person because of (my time) with the school. I understand people. I’ve had to negotiate compromises with families and I’ve worked in a religious community.”

Berman, who in her most recent terms has served on the House’s influential Rules and Policy Committee, said, “I totally understand the legislative process and I’m ready to jump right in. I think I’m immediately prepared to be a great legislator without having any learning curves.”

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