Debbie Mucarsel-Powell: ‘Fundamental freedoms are at stake’

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

By Giselle Balido

April 15, 2024

“We need to go back to electing people that are going to put serving the public above self-enrichment and self-gain,” Debbie Mucarsel-Powell said.

Debbie Mucarsel-Powell came to the United States from Ecuador with her mother and sisters. She was 14 at the time and her family was fleeing violence and searching for a better life in Florida.

After working her way through high school and college, Mucarsel-Powell worked for Florida International University’s Colleges of Health and Medicine.

The opportunities she found in her new country, she says, fueled her determination to make sure others could enjoy the same in her state of Florida. This led her to become the first South American woman to win a seat in Congress, where she served Florida’s 26th congressional district from 2019 to 2021.

Now, Mucarsel-Powell, who is running to unseat Republican Senator Rick Scott in November, sat down with Floricua to talk about the issues affecting the Sunshine State, and why she believes that “we need to put democracy and freedom above anything else.”

Floricua: Florida has had more than 20 years of a Republican majority in the state government. In your opinion, what effect has this had on Floridians?

Debbie Mucarsel-Powell: We have seen that Florida families are struggling, whether it’s skyrocketing property insurance prices or the high cost of medicine. People here cannot make ends meet. Seniors are being priced out of their homes. Republicans have created chaos.

What specifically do you mean by “chaos”?

We have over a million families, including tens of thousands of children, that cannot have access to critical health care. Our economy also relies on a good and healthy environment. And what have Republicans done? Rick Scott repealed protections on water, and that resulted in the largest fish kill that we saw in the state. We continue to see our coastal communities being impacted by stronger and stronger storms. And instead of dealing with the problem, what Republicans have done is divided our state. They have attacked public education, they have made significant cuts, and now we are seeing a huge shortage of teachers; [teachers are] struggling to even pay their bills because [in this state] they have the lowest rates of salary. Our children are suffering under the result of extreme policies that have been led by Florida Republicans for the past 20 years.

The Sunshine State has the nation’s highest inflation rate, 3.91%, according to a recent analysis of index data by Moody’s Analytics. Yet many attribute Florida’s economic woes to President Biden’s administration. What do you say to that?

Well, unfortunately, in our state, there has been a lack of civics education and people need to understand that most of the policies that are affecting families here are the result of state laws that have been passed over the past 20, 30 years and that’s been under Republican control.

RELATED: Inside Rick Scott’s ‘toxic record on abortion’

When families are thinking of having access to health care, that is a direct result of laws here in the state. When people are trying to start a new business, they are being blocked by incredible fees or a lot of regulations from local and statewide laws that are being enacted.

I was in Congress, and I can tell you that the main responsibility of people that are in the House of Representatives of elected officials and in the Senate is to pass laws at the federal level to fund a lot of the programs. And what are we seeing here in the State of Florida? They’re returning a lot of those funds that would actually invest in green energy and infrastructure; that would invest in better quality health care, including expanding Medicaid.

Why do you think Republicans have voted against these programs that could be beneficial to Floridians?

It’s all about power and money, self-enrichment, self-gain. Look, we’ve seen Rick Scott, he was the CEO of a company that committed the largest Medicare fraud in the history of this country. [He] goes into the governor’s mansion and starts giving contracts to his family and friends because they in turn gave him political contributions. So, I’m going to bring up something that I don’t think a lot of people realize, he has received contributions from companies when he was governor that contributed a huge amount of money to the Republican Party. And that’s what’s happening in our state.

What is the solution?

We need to go back to a clean government. We need to go back to electing people that are going to put serving the public above self-enrichment and self-gain. That is why this is our opportunity in Florida to take our state back to a time when we have integrity, honesty, free of corruption. That’s what I’m bringing to the table.

One of the things that we’re seeing is that the governor’s office in Tallahassee, and extreme politicians, are taking away control from local municipalities. What do you say to that?

They are trying to have one rule dictating everything here in our state, and that goes against democratic values, it goes against our freedoms. It’s been the Republicans that are censoring free speech, that are attacking civil rights, that are attacking the media. These are democratic pillars of democracy that we need to protect. And so, there’s so many issues that affect us every single day that have absolutely nothing to do with the federal government.

After the Florida Supreme Court approved the abortion rights amendment for November’s ballot, Sen. Scott said he opposes the ballot initiative to strike down his state’s six-week abortion ban, but thinks Congress should leave those decisions to the states. What do you say to that?

Attacking a woman’s right and freedom to choose when and how to start a family is an attack on democracy is an attack on our fundamental civil rights. This is a private issue that should be between a woman, her doctor, her family, and her faith without government interference. As a Latina, and as so many Latinos who have left governments that try to control every aspect of our life, we know what it looks like when they start attacking individual rights, including a woman’s right to choose.

This is going to affect the health of tens of thousands of women. We are going to see a rise in maternal mortality rates. Extremists like Rick Scott are not going to stop and just support one of the most extreme bans on abortion. The six-week abortion ban, they want to criminalize doctors and healthcare providers for writing this critical care. They want to ban access to IVF. They want to make it more difficult for families to have access to contraception. And so, this is a fundamental civil right that we need to fight here in Florida to protect. It’s not going to mean anything if we pass the ballot amendment in November and then re-elect Scott and he pushes the national abortion ban.

If elected to the Senate, what are some of the issues specific to Florida that you want to tackle first?

The first thing that I’ll do once I get to the Senate is to make sure that we pass the Voting Rights Act, because right now, our democracy is on the line. As a Latina, I understand very well when you start seeing populist dictatorships take over, it chokes every economic, political, and social institution in these countries, and it destroys the way of life for so many. That’s why people have fled countries like Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba. We cannot allow Republicans to use disinformation to confuse our communities and then take over and then make it impossible for families to make it.

And so passing the Voting Rights Act; universal background checks to protect our children, investments in climate, and most importantly, protecting Medicare, Social Security, and the Affordable Care Act. These are things that Rick Scott is ready to repeal and eliminate and it would impact tens of millions of Floridians.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I am going to make sure that we continue to protect our health care, our environment, and our children from gun violence. We need to put democracy freedom above anything else. Families across the state are going to understand that our fundamental freedoms are at stake and that in November we are going to protect that.

 

Author

  • Giselle Balido

    Giselle is Floricua's political correspondent. She writes about the economy, environmental and social justice, and all things Latino. A published author, Giselle was born in Havana and grew up in New Jersey and Miami. She is passionate about equality, books, and cats.

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