Decision 2020

Miami-Dade State Attorney Leans on Experience in Re-Election Bid

Katherine Fernandez Rundle was originally appointed to the job in 1993 when her predecessor, Janet Reno, was appointed to be the U.S. Attorney General

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History shows incumbents - people currently in the office - usually win re-election. Their experience and name recognition usually propels voters to keep them in their job.

Katherine Fernandez Rundle has been the Miami-Dade State attorney for 27 years and is very much leaning into her experience in her bid for another term. 

Her opponent, former prosecutor and deputy director of the ACLU, Melba Pearson, is trying to convince voters to fire her. The current uproar against police brutality and the overall call for change puts local prosecutors in the hot seat and that wave could end up swamping Fernandez Rundle during the primary election is August 18th. 

Fernandez Rundle was originally appointed to the job in 1993 when her predecessor, Janet Reno, was appointed by former President Bill Clinton to be the U.S. Attorney General. 

The office has more than 1,200 employees and 300 lawyers. Every year the office handles 24,000 felony and 24,000 misdemeanor cases; 3,000 of them are juvenile arrests. The office also handles child support cases and last year collected $182 million for people receiving child support. The total budget is $90 million a year.

Fernandez Rundle tells NBC 6 it’s a complex position requiring experience and now is not the time to give it over to a newcomer. 

“You want someone who is going to have stability for the community. Provides leadership; proven leadership, experience. And the other thing is have the capability to bring stakeholders together,” she said. 

With years of experience comes years of scrutiny.

The large social justice movement rumbles through South Florida calling for change. Many of the protestors say Fernandez has been too soft on police and people in power. To that - Fernandez Rundle says she’s followed the law. 

“You know, we are very responsible to our duty. Our duty is to follow the law and follow the evidence. Sometimes we may not like it but that’s what the rules are. That’s what the law is,” said Fernandez Rundle. 

Pearson puts it like this.

"At the end of the day you can’t be afraid to make the tough decisions. Sometimes you have to go forward to the community knows you care about the issues and you have an interest in holding people accountable," she said.

Pearson says she can absolutely handle the job. She worked in the office as an assistant state-attorney for 16 years.

Critics of Pearson have concerns she couldn’t handle such a large office; in part, pointing to her admission she failed the bar exam starting out as a lawyer. To that Pearson says that was twenty years ago and she has gone on to be a successful prosecutor in the Miami-Dade office. 

“I’m open about the fact that I haven’t had an easy road. Most of us haven’t in life. It’s not the fact that you fell down. It’s about getting back up and what you do with the next chance,” said Pearson. 

NBC 6 political analyst Carlos Curbelo says Fernandez Rundle has been popular in her time as state attorney, being re-elected six times. However, the current environment could spell trouble for incumbents who normally would coast to re-election. 

“She would be a very difficult incumbent to defeat. However, this crisis does scramble things for all prosecutors across the country,” said Curbelo. 

Fernandez Rundle and Pearson are both Democrats. Since there are no other Republicans or write-in candidates on the ballot, there will be no November election. Whoever wins the election on August 18th will be the next state attorney.

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