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Embattled lawmaker Frank Artiles draws a 2016 challenger

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With the compasses of most statehouse watchers fixed north as the 2015 legislative session takes over Tallahassee, a pair of Democrats set their sites this week on House seats in Broward and Miami-Dade, according to the Florida Division of Elections.

Roxanne Valies of Tamarac in heavily Democratic District 95 has filed to succeed term-limited state Rep. Hazelle “Hazel” Rogers of Fort Lauderdale, while Robert Asencio opened a campaign account in his bid to unseat Miami-area state Rep. Frank Artiles in District 118.

Asencio, a veteran Miami Police officer, is president and founder of Florida Public Employees, a nonprofit grassroots political action organization, and served as a leader of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). Asencio says he is entering the race because Tallahassee needs representatives who are aware of the consequences of their actions on the citizens they serve.

“I declare my faith in the Florida that we all deserve, a Florida that offers the highest quality of public safety, education, employment opportunities, a Florida that is possible through honest public service, personal integrity and fiscal responsibility,” he said in a statement.

Ascencio, who calls himself a “moderate and former lifelong Republican,” is promoting fiscally responsible, efficient and well structured government that provides “quality public services.”

Artiles may be vulnerable in a favorable presidential cycle for Florida Democrats, particularly in the wake of reports that the third-term representative allegedly punched a college student on spring break at Clyde’s and Costello’s bar in Tallahassee shortly before the start of session.

Artiles cruised over Democrat Omar Rivera –– who has also opened an account for 2016, collecting no money since December 5 of last year — by a margin of nearly 58-42 last November.

Rep. Rogers’ current district offers Democrats a nearly 50,000-voter advantage over registered Republicans, of whom there are only around 8,000 in the Lauderdale Lakes-based minority access seat. That’s one of the largest advantages for either party in the state House.

The move allows the pair to accept contributions to campaign accounts.

Ryan Ray writes about campaigns and public policy in Tampa Bay and across the state. A contributor to FloridaPolitics.com and before that, The Florida Squeeze, he covers the Legislature as a member of the Florida Capitol Press Corps and has worked as a staffer on several campaigns. He can be reached at ryan@floridapolitics.com.

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