Florida House District 89: Five candidates seek to replace Bill Hager

Republican Rep. Bill Hager has been serving District 89 since 2010, but after reaching his term-limit it’s time for a new face.

Two Republicans hope to keep the southern Palm Beach County seat red, while two Democrats argue they can flip it to blue.

KNOW YOUR CANDIDATES: Complete guide to the Aug. 28 election

One of the GOP hopefuls is Matt Spritz, of Boca Raton. The 35-year-old is currently a corporate lawyer but wants to get into politics because he said he’s “passionate about policy.”

“I’m not looking to be a career politician,” said Spritz, but added “I know how to get bills passed.”

Spritz graduated from Emory University in 2005 and then attended New York University Law School. After finishing his degree, Spritz moved back to South Florida where he practiced corporate law for a global firm before serving as a legislative aide to Rep. Bob Rommel, R-District 106.

While Spritz has never held a public office, he said he learned a lot about getting things done.

“We wrote bills together,” said Spritz about his time with Rommel. “We talked about every bill together. So having that kind of experience … will allow me to hit the ground running [in Tallahassee].”

Spritz, whose family has lived in Florida since 1950, says he understands the issues his community cares about including sea-level rise. He said he would have voted for the state law passed in the wake of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Doughlas High School.

“I live in a coastal community,” said Spritz. “I want to keep my house above water.”

Mike Caruso, 59, of Delray Beach, is Spritz’s opponent. He says what makes him stand out compared to Spritz is the fact he has lived in the district for over 30 years.

“I have been walking up to the problems and issues facing this district for the past 32 years,” said Caruso, who is a CPA. “If I go to Tallahassee I will get the chance to solve some of those.”

While Caruso has never held public office, he doesn’t think it will hinder him if elected.

“I am proud to say I have never held public office. I am not a political insider,” said Caruso. “I want to come into office and represent the people. I am sure I will find my way through [the capital].”

Caruso is passionate about several issues including education reform, stimulating the economy and the opioid crisis.

“I been inside many classrooms over the years,” said Caruso, who is a father of seven. “I have felt [the administrators and teachers] frustrations.”

Caruso believes there is too much state testing and it’s taking away from the children’s education as well as wasting money. Instead Caruso proposes only testing students as they transition through education milestones like third, fifth, eighth and eleventh grades.

When it comes to the opioid crisis, he said “Delray is at the epicenter” and changes will only happen if the state “cracks down on corrupt doctors.”

Over the past couple of months, articles have circulated about Caruso’s personal life including a divorce and alleged domestic violence. Caruso said the domestic violence case was “exceptionally cleared” by police.

In terms of his divorce, Caruso said “it’s not something I am proud of.”

For Democrats Ryan Rossi, 33, and James Bonfiglio, 65, they face a challenge — winning a district that has been Republican for almost a decade.

Bonfiglio believes his experience serving two terms on the city commission of Ocean Ridge has taught him how to get things done in bipartisan fashion.

“I know how to get along with Republicans and how to win in a Republican area,” said Bonfiglio, a lawyer .

When knocking on doors of voters, Bonfiglio said he heard residents concerns about gun control, health issues such as Medicaid, and jobs. But one of the first projects he hopes to work on in Tallahassee is making sure every child in the state of Florida has access to two hot meals a day, a program Palm Beach County already has.

“You can’t teach hungry students,” said Bonfiglio.

Bonfiglio would also like to see teacher’s wages raised and suggested the best way to get the money was through taxes from legalizing marijuana and sports betting.

Rossi, of Boca Raton, said he and Bonfiglio “align ourselves on the issues,” but said he what isn’t a career politician.

Rossi went to Florida Atlantic University for his Bachelors and Masters in political science.

For example, Rossi said he co-developed the Youth Leadership Academy of Palm Beach County, which looks to expanded civics education for the county’s high school students.

Rossi said his biggest issues are public education, the environment and public safety. He wants to see teacher’s salaries raised across the state by $5,000 over 10 years.

“We want to attract teachers to Florida and for them stay,” said Rossi.

Rossi believes climate change requires a long-term solution. He said there are a lot of issues Palm Beach County faces are flooding concerns, beach erosion and saltwater intrusion of the aquifers. And, those need to be fixed now.

The South Florida native thinks the Democrats have a strong chance of taking this seat back because “the demographics of the district are changing. It’s becoming younger,” as well as the issues are “resonating with both sides.”

“I hope to serve as a catalyst for change and be a voice for that change,” said Rossi.

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