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UPDATED In split vote, Miami-Dade delegation picks chairman

Photo (2)Miami-Dade lawmakers chose new delegation leaders Tuesday, on the heels of a bruising election season.

State Rep. Eddy Gonzalez, a Hialeah Republican, defeated state Sen. Oscar Braynon II, a Miami Gardens Democrat, to become delegation chairman.

At first glance, the 13-10 vote in Gonzalez's favor appeared to have fallen along strict party lines; 13 of the delegation's 24 members are Republicans, and 11 are Democrats. (Rep. Joe Gibbons, a Hallandale Beach Democrat whose district extends into Miami-Dade, was late to the vote.) But Gonzalez told The Miami Herald on Tuesday afternoon he suspected he had not received all of his party's votes.

"I don't believe I had every single Republican," Gonzalez said, noting that hard feelings likely remained from heated GOP primaries.

Case in point: Gonzalez and Rep. Jose Oliva supported newly elected Rep. Manny Diaz Jr. -- who defeated Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla's brother, Renier.

"I think Miguel was definitely not with us," Gonzalez said of Tuesday's chairmanship vote. Diaz de la Portilla could not be reached for comment.

UPDATE: Diaz de la Portilla said Wednesday morning that he thought both Braynon and Gonzalez could do a good job as chairman, but he thought Braynon was "the best man for the job" -- in part because then there would be a senator as chairman and a representative as vice-chairman.

"It makes sense to have beoth chambers represented," Diaz de la Portilla said in a text message.

He also dismissed the suggestion that his vote was tied to his brother's race.

"Nah, I like Eddy," Diaz de la Portilla said. "We have been friends for a long time."

Part of the vote was secret, with lawmakers who attended a ceremonial swearing-in ceremony at Florida International University's law school Tuesday morning casting those ballots in person. Other lawmakers, who could not or feared they could not attend the ceremony, cast proxy ballots in writing.

Those ballots, which are public record, show Diaz de la Portilla voted for Braynon. And Rep. Daphne Campbell, a Miami Democrat who has sided with Republicans in Tallahassee in the past, voted for Gonzalez. (Both Diaz de la Portilla and Campbell ended up attending the vote but cast their proxy ballots anyway, in person.)

Braynon said Gonzalez will be able to count with his support moving forward. "It was very close," Braynon said. "It could have gone either way."

Despite the split vote, Gonzalez said at the swearing-in that the delegation remains united, as lawmakers promised at the last ceremony two years ago. They have mostly followed through, and Gonzalez said his goal is to keep things that way.

"We're going to have to stick together and fight the insurance industry," Gonzalez said, to a round of applause.

He also said the delegation has "to do more about elections," whether that means tweaking state law to allow for more early-voting sites, to provide a larger elections budget or other changes. And the father of three young children said public education should be a Miami-Dade priority.

For the first time in many legislative sessions, Miami-Dade -- the state's largest county and largest legislative delegation -- won't have representation in the highest echelons of Republican leadership in the state Capitol, which has some lawmakers privately concerned.

But Gonzalez said he's not worried.

"I think we'll be fine," he said. "We'll be at the table."

In the other vote taken Tuesday, Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, a Miami Republican, bested Rep. Cynthia Stafford, a Miami Democrat, with a 17-6 vote to retain the vice-chairman post.

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