Roberto Gonzalez, a lawyer and former Republican candidate for the Florida House, was named a Miami-Dade County commissioner on Wednesday by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, two months after the governor suspended fellow Republican Joe Martinez from the District 11 seat over the commissioner’s felony arrest.
DeSantis appointed Gonzalez, 35, to Martinez’s seat, a post representing more than 200,000 people in western Miami-Dade. The appointment can last for the length of Martinez’s suspension, which the Florida Senate can end with a vote to restore him to the District 11 seat or remove him permanently. The seat is next up for election in 2024. DeSantis suspended Martinez on Sept. 20.
Earlier this year, Gonzalez competed in the Republican primary for the open District 119 seat in the Florida House. He lost the contest to Juan Carlos Porras but attracted attention from party leaders. Miami-Dade County’s influential law enforcement union, the Police Benevolent Association, endorsed Gonzalez. “I think he will do a good job in the seat,” union president Steadman Stahl said Wednesday afternoon. “He knows the district well.”
Born in Guatemala, Gonzalez became a U.S. citizen in 2014, the same year he graduated from the St. Thomas University Law School, according to his campaign website. A married father of two daughters in elementary school, Gonzalez works in the personal injury law firm he co-founded in 2016, PereGonza Law, according to the brief announcement from the governor’s office.
While running in the Republican primary, Gonzalez pitched himself as a true conservative, posing with cardboard cutouts of former President Donald Trump and pledging to support the Trump and DeSantis agenda to “oppose the liberal socialist movement.”
Miami-Dade prosecutors charged Martinez with two felonies related to a $15,000 payment from a business owner who would have benefited from legislation the commissioner proposed in 2017. Martinez withdrew the legislation shortly after filing it, and the proposed ordinance never advanced. Martinez said the payments in question were related to consulting work he did before taking office in 2016.
Martinez, 65, a retired county police lieutenant, has held the District 11 seat since 2016. Before his arrest he said he was considering a run for sheriff once that office is back on the ballot in 2024 under a new amendment to the Florida Constitution reviving the office in Miami-Dade.
Should Martinez be removed by the Senate or opt to resign his office outright, that would create a permanent vacancy Miami-Dade commissioners could fill until the 2024 elections. The board could appoint a District 11 commissioner or call a special election to fill the seat.