Former Republican Rep. Ralph Arza, the one-time bad boy of a wild Dade delegation, says he’s “seriously thinking” about running for his old Hialeah-based seat, District 102.
“ I have something to offer,” said Arza, who was once the go-to guy for former Gov. Jeb Bush’s education policy. Bush fondly referred to him as “colonel.” Arza was also one of the major forces behind current U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio’s rise to power in the Florida House, where he served as speaker in 2007 and 2008.
But before Rubio presided over his first session, Arza’s hard-hitting style met Miami-Dade’s former schools chief Rudy Crew. Arza also clashed with former Rep. Gus Barreiro, who alleged Arza used racially insensitive words to refer to Crew. He filed a Rules Committee complaint. An enraged Arza and his cousin then called Barreiro and left a string of inappropriate messages. Arza was charged with witness tampering, agreed not to run for office in 2008 and avoided a felony trial. He also sought counseling.
Arza's absence came at the worst of times for Rubio, who was on a political crash course with then-Gov. Charlie Crist, who had an easier time working around Rubio without Arza in the chamber. Still, Rubio had David Rivera to rely on.
Since he left office, Arza has worked as a consultant, grown more religious and moved to Palm Beach County (though he kept his Hialeah-area home). Political observes say he’d be the man to beat in his old district. A dogged campaigner, he was well respected for an encyclopedic knowledge of his constituents and even made sure to remember the names of their dogs.
The seat he left is occupied by Rep. Eddy Gonzalez, who plans to run for Hialeah mayor. So far Republicans Paul Crespo, Manny Diaz and Jessie Fortich have announced they’ll run for the seat.
Arza said he’s not sure he’d run yet.
“The kids are older now and there’s a lot of things that were hurtful in the past,” Arza said. “I need to talk to my wife and my priest. But he’s pretty busy these days.”