Can Debbie Mucarsel-Powell’s immigrant story help unseat Sen. Rick Scott?

U.S. Senate candidate Debbie Mucarsel-Powell’s foray into politics began when she was a teenager arriving in Florida from Venezuela with her mother and sister.

“I came to this country when I was 14 years old, and I saw my mother working two jobs, learning English at night, on the weekend,” said Mucarsel-Powell. “I started working a minimum wage job when I was 15.” 

It was coming to America, Mucarsel-Powell says, that opened the door for opportunities: graduating college, serving the community through organizations such as the Hope Center and the Zoo Miami Foundation, and even working as associate dean at Florida International University’s Wertheim College of Medicine. 

“One of the main reasons that I decided to enter public office is to serve in a different way,’’ she said in an interview with Caplin News. “I had been serving, working at different nonprofits and working at FIU…so when I saw that extreme Republicans were trying to rip away access to healthcare… trying to take away our rights… I knew that I had to step up.”

Mucarsel-Powell, a Democrat, served a two-year term in Congress representing Florida’s 26th district, home to nearly 800,000 residents in South Florida, before being turned out by Republican Carlos Giminez in 2021.

Now, Mucarsel-Powell is back on the ballot, challenging incumbent Rick Scott, a Republican, for the seat in the Senate.

Scott is seeking his second term as the senator from Florida, after winning the governor’s office twice, in 2011 and 2015.

For Scott, the key issues include reducing the size of the federal government, limiting abortion, and building a wall along the U.S. southern border.

Mucarsel-Powell says she is running on a platform of protecting access to healthcare and women’s rights, as well as strengthening gun laws and protecting the environment. Above all, she is looking to bring back the opportunities that she says have been disappearing for many, particularly in Florida.

“There are so many issues that we can talk about why I’m running, but I’m also going to make sure that I represent every single Floridian in this state. I’m running to make an impact at a higher level, at a state level.”

Since announcing her campaign in August, Mucarsel-Powell has raised over $1.5 million. In Scott, she faces a formidable fund-raiser with substantial person wealth. In winning his Senate seat, Scott has raised $13.9 million toward his reelection. 

Many of Mucarsel-Powell’s positions have been informed by her personal experiences. She lost her father to gun violence as a young adult. She has also served as a senior adviser for gun reform organization Giffords, helping push gun reform legislation as a lobbyist.

“The pain that I went through is undescribable when I lost my father,’’ she said. “I was only 24 years old, and… there are so many families here that have gone through the same thing. We saw what happened in 2018 with the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas and Rick Scott has done absolutely nothing. Actually, he’s done worse than nothing.”

Mucarsel-Powell was critical of Scott for voting against the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which expanded funding for mental health treatment and limited domestic abusers from purchasing firearms for five years, as well as expanding background checks for everyone under 21, among other things.

Women’s rights is also a fundamental concern for Mucarsel-Powell. During her time in office, she chaired the Hispanic Women’s Caucus, and says that protection of women’s rights and access to healthcare, including abortion, is a key priority.

“One of the things I have fought for and I will continue to fight for is to ensure that young women and girls all over our state and all over the country have access to reproductive healthcare,” she said. 

“ [Rick Scott] supports not only the most extreme abortion ban that we have faced here in the state of Florida… but he wants to support a national abortion ban that would also criminalize doctors that perform any sort of reproductive healthcare procedures to women and girls.This puts our safety, the safety of my daughters, the safety of so many women at risk, our healthcare at risk.” 

Access to healthcare and social benefits such as Social Security and Medicaid for older adults, as well as Obamacare for younger generations was also noted as a cause for concern for Mucarsel-Powell.

“I’ve seen my mom working her entire life, working her life to be able to retire with dignity and to be able to have basic care through her Medicare services, through Social Security,” she said. “Rick Scott has written a plan that would sunset not only Medicare and Social Security…he also wants to sunset the Affordable Care Act, which so many students now have healthcare because of Obamacare.”

Mucarsel-Powell was the first person born in South America to be elected to Congress, and she says that brings a special responsibility. 

“There had to be so many others behind me,” she said. ” y story shouldn’t be an exception, it should actually be the rule. That anyone who works hard enough and believes hard enough can do anything they set their mind to do.”

Alexander Luzula is a junior double majoring in political science and journalism, with a minor in international relations. After graduating, he wishes to pursue a career in journalism.