For as long as he can remember, Miguel Diaz de la Portilla wanted to be a people’s advocate and a public servant, just like his grandfather – his personal mentor and inspiration for social and political involvement. Diaz de la Portilla is the Republican incumbent seeking election to serve the people of the newly drawn District 37 in Miami-Dade County.
Known back in Cuba as “El Abogado de los Pobres” or “the advocate for the poor,” Miguel’s grandfather, Angel Pio de la Portilla, an attorney, historian, and journalist lived nearby in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood, where he and his family settled in the early 60s. “I was always at his house talking about history, geo-politics, philosophy, literature and public service,” says Diaz de la Portilla.
“My grandfather took on every noble cause regardless of the odds and had a very strong influence in my life,” Diaz de la Portilla continued. “So the idea of public service was developed and reinforced in me during my entire childhood.”
And it now extends through every aspect of his public and private life. “It’s who I am as a person.”
First elected to the Florida State Senate in 2010, Diaz de la Portilla is presently running for what would be his final four- year term. Under Florida law, state legislators are term limited.
Democrat State Representative Jose Javier Rodriguez and Independent candidate Mercedes Christian are running against Senator Diaz de la Portilla on Nov. 8.
“There is an advantage to being the incumbent,” he says, “but the true edge that I have is my knowledge of the district and my lifetime commitment to our community.” Born and raised in the very district he represents, Diaz de la Portilla grew up in the Shenandoah neighborhood and attended Belen Jesuit Preparatory School in the heart of Little Havana. He received an undergrad degree in both Philosophy and English Literature, and his law degree at University of Miami in Coral gables, also part of the very area he has represented for the last six years.
“I know this community from the inside out,” he says, “and as an elected official, I have worked hard to deliver tangible results for my community.”
Having said that, Diaz de la Portilla is still working hard to earn the people’s support. “I take nothing for granted. You have to earn the support of the community each and every time you put your name out there,” he added.
As a state senator, Diaz de la Portilla gained attention for ground-breaking bipartisan legislation he sponsored and passed concerning mental health services in the criminal justice system. Fast becoming a national model, he has been recognized nationally by the American Psychiatric Association and was also named “Legislator of the Year” by the Florida Sheriffs Association. He has garnered the support from a broad base of our community across party, racial, ethnic, and economic lines.
The Senator also turned heads when he single-handedly killed bills allowing guns to be carried out in the open and on school campuses. While he is in favor of the rights of law-abiding individuals to possess firearms for self defense, he says, “You have to have common sense. I’m in office to represent my community, not special- interest groups, no matter how powerful they may be.”
Nonetheless, Diaz de la Portilla was mercilessly attacked by gun advocacy groups and some fellow state legislators, “but the majority of the people agree with my position that those gun bills just aren’t good public policy,” he said.
“It’s not pleasant to be personally attacked, but I am not going to be bullied or intimidated. When I make a decision, I don’t get weak-kneed. I stick to it and deal with the consequences,” he said.
When asked what four words best describe him, Diaz de la Portilla listed, “homegrown, analytical, diligent, a free-thinker.” But he clearly should add “rectitude” to the list, after his experience in the legislature fighting against special interests.
Prior to the Florida State Senate, Diaz de la Portilla served two terms as a Miami-Dade County Commissioner (1993-2000) including his service as Chairman in 1996. He has been a practicing attorney since 1987 and is AV Peer Rated by Martindale Hubbell, the gold standard in attorney ratings. He has also been a Florida Supreme Court Certified Civil Circuit Court Mediator and somehow found the time to volunteer as mediator for the Miami-Dade County Court’s Pilot Program for Mediation in Restitution Cases Program.
Even in his practice of law, his early teachings around volunteerism and public service play out in the form thousands of pro bono hours he provides.
“Again, following the example of my grandfather, this concept of helping your fellow man and participating in the community means something to me. And it offers great personal satisfaction to serve others,” he said. Diaz de la Portilla is an accomplished Land Use/Zoning lawyer, civil litigator, and a partner in the Miami office of Arstein & Lehr LLP.
“Public service is about doing all you can to help when someone has a problem,” he said. “be it dealing with mental health or helping young people avoid crime in order to grow into positive and productive members of society.”
Between his service with the County Commission and the Florida Senate, at 53 years old, Diaz de la Portilla has spent a total of 13 nonconsecutive years in elected office.
“But even while I wasn’t in elected office, I remained involved in public service. It’s just something you should do, whether you’re elected or not,” he said.
And what then? Diaz de la Portilla says he’s solely focused on the Florida State Senate and has no ambition to follow a path to Washington, D.C.
“I believe I have effectively represented our community in Tallahassee, so I would like to continue doing it until I am termed out in 2020. I will continue practicing law here and will continue participating in the political, civic, and cultural life of our community. Because public involvement is what’s important.”
Learn more about the Senator Diaz de la Portilla at www.miguelforsenate.com and at http://communitynewspapers.com/featured/miamis-community-newspapers-endorses-senator-miguel-diaz-de-la-portilla/