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Ryan Yadav formally announces a run in House District 30

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Democrat Ryan Yadav made it official today — or at least even more official than his original campaign paperwork filing last week did: The criminal defense attorney from Sanford will mount a bid to unseat state Rep. Bob Cortes in District 30, one of the most mercurial districts in the state.

Cortes bested former state Rep. Karen Castor Dentel to take over her seat last November in a crushing blow to Florida’s Democrats, who saw in her an emerging leader with statewide potential.

Castor Dentel — central Florida Democratic royalty if there is such a thing, as the sister of Tampa U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor and daughter of former University of South Florida President Betty Castor –– excited the downtrodden state party by soundly defeating state Rep. Scott Plakon in 2012 on her way to becoming a spiritual leader on education issues within the caucus.

A classroom teacher by trade with a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction from the University of Florida, Castor Dentel spoke our forcefully against the so-called “parent trigger” bill that passed the House in 2013 and other charter school expansion initiatives, calling the scheme a boondoggle for “outside, for-profit companies.”

She moderated on issues like gun control in order to remain in the good graces of her semi-rural and suburban district — seeing “D-Maitland” next to her name was always a trip for this reporter — but ultimately Castor Dentel was not able to withstand the low turnout and poorer-than-expected Democratic performance at the top of the 2014 ticket.

Cortes, now a freshman going into his second legislative session after his chamber abruptly adjourned Sine Die two weeks ago, has actively tried to avoid the mistakes of his Republican predecessor Plakon, who was panned in an endorsement of Castor Dentel for focusing too much energy on ideological initiatives with support on only one side of the aisle, particularly new restrictions on abortion rights and opposition to same-sex marriage.

By contrast Cortes has played very much toward the middle of the road, sponsoring bills to require U.S.-made American flags in cities and counties around Florida and expanding a charitable giving campaign by state workers, as well as sponsoring of the so-called Florida Civil Rights Act, which would prevent employers from discriminating based on pregnancy or recent maternity status.

Instead of invoking the more recent past of Castor Dentel’s consensus leadership — “KCD,” as she is known in Democratic circles, has not yet made up her mind about a 2016 run — Yadav reaches even further back to explain his inspiration in running for a seat that, while plausible for pickup next year, would be a difficult hold in 2018: the old liberal “He-Coon” himself.

“I would like to usher in reform to the Florida Legislature and our State Government by harkening back to the era of my political hero, former Governor Lawton Chiles, a time where lawmakers worked in a bipartisan fashion with a sense of geniality and decorum,” said Yadav to Frank Torres in the Orlando Political Observer on Tuesday.

Cortes has so far raised around $25,000 in his 2016 campaign account in a race that will most likely see the winner hauling in well over $200,000.

Ryan Ray writes about campaigns and public policy in Tampa Bay and across the state. A contributor to 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

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