State Rep. Omari Hardy running for Congress. Young progressive hopes to succeed the late Alcee Hastings.

State Rep. Omari Hardy, the young progressive serving his first term in the Florida Legislature, is running for Congress.

Hardy announced his candidacy Wednesday to fill the vacancy created by the death of the late U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings with a video. He introduces himself and touts his roots in the community in which he promised to reject “establishment, incremental politics” and deliver a “bold, progressive” agenda.

“We need a fighter in Congress, someone not afraid to speak truth to power in defense of working-class people and people of color. We had it in Representative Hastings. I’m running to make sure we don’t lose that with this election,” Hardy said in an interview. “This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to elect a progressive fighter who will challenge the status quo in Washington, D.C., and push for transformational change.”

Among the issues he supports:

  • Universal health care known as Medicare for All. Besides assuring “every person in the country has health care,” Hardy said it would save money by taking insurance companies out of the system. “These insurance companies are just profiteers off of something that should never be subject to the profit motive. Health care is a human right.”
  • The Green New Deal. He defines it as “a new deal for working class people that uses climate change, the biggest challenge of our lifetimes, to restructure the American economy so that it works for working class people … and that includes people of color.”

In the video, Hardy said “fighting for housing as a right, basic income as a right, health care as a right, the Green New Deal and racial justice isn’t imitating A.O.C., it’s responding to what I see, and honoring the legacy of Alcee.”

Five other current and former elected officials from Broward and Palm Beach counties are already running, and more may enter the race.

Hardy is different from the rest of the field. He’s 31; the average age of the other candidates is 59. He has less time in elected office than the others and has shown little inclination to observe some of the traditions observed by political veterans.

In Tallahassee, Hardy has repeatedly challenged — and irritated — the Republican majority that controls the Legislature. And he’s been outspoken in his criticism of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccination efforts in low income and minority communities.

Hardy introduced legislation to overhaul policing with new civilian oversight of law enforcement and corrections agencies and employees. Another bill would have removed some functions from police, such as routine traffic stops. The proposals never stood a chance of passage and weren’t given hearings.

He’s criticized the sugar industry, a major employer in far western Palm Beach County, which is part of the congressional district where he’s now running.

Few Florida politicians in either party ever dare to cross Big Sugar; Hardy has argued that residents in the Glades communities suffer health effects from practices such as the months of burning sugar cane fields every year to prepare them for harvest.

Hardy was elected to the state House of Representatives in November — an easy victory after a tough primary in which he unseated an incumbent. Before that, he’d served on the Lake Worth Beach City Commission — after unseating an incumbent in 2017.

In Lake Worth Beach, he received national attention from a video of a City Commission meeting that went viral in March 2020, in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, when he objected to shutting off power to people behind in their bills at the city-owned electric utility.

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That helped Hardy amass a large social media following, including 167,600 followers on Twitter. The five county commissioners and state legislators who also want the congressional seat have a combined total of 13,800 followers.

The 20th Congressional District, which includes most of the African American and Caribbean American communities in Broward and Palm Beach counties, is so Democratic that the winner of the primary is virtually certain to become the next member of Congress.

Hardy was born in Fort Lauderdale and currently lives in West Palm Beach. The Broward part of the district is home to 69.1% of its registered voters; 30.9% live in Palm Beach County.

“Why do we need a 31-year-old, fourth generation teacher with two moms in Congress, an unapologetic progressive who lost his home in the Great Recession?” he asks in the video, which shows him meeting with people and walking through neighborhoods. “Simple. Because unless you’ve been here, you have no idea.”

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