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RIVERA, David

RIVERA, David
Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
1965–

Biography

Elected as part of a large freshman class that gave control of the U.S. House of Representatives back to the Republican Party in 2011, David Rivera brought state-level legislative experience to his service in the 112th Congress (2011–2013). After losing his reelection race Rivera looked back on his single term in office believing progress had been made on the mandate of his district: “to restore fiscal responsibility to the Federal Government and begin moving our economy forward to create jobs.”1

David Rivera was born on September 16, 1965, in Brooklyn, New York. Both his father, a cab driver, and his mother Daisy, a driving instructor, had fled Cuba after the political rise of Fidel Castro. In the mid-1970s, Rivera moved to Florida with his sister and mother after his parents’ divorce a few years earlier.2 He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Florida International University (FIU) in Miami in 1986, and a master’s of public administration from his alma mater eight years later.3

Rivera had extensive political experience before ever running for office himself. As a teenager he volunteered with Ronald Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign, and worked on Jack Kemp’s run for the White House eight years later. Among other roles, Rivera spent some time in the office of United States Senator Connie Mack of Florida, after helping him win election in 1988. And in 1996, Rivera worked for the Republican presidential ticket of Robert Dole and Jack Kemp. Rivera also directed the GOP’s outreach efforts in Florida, and worked for the U.S. Information Agency, the governing body of Radio and TV Martí, a federally sponsored media venture that sent anti-Castro programming to Cuba.4

In 2002, after years of working behind the scenes, Rivera ran for the Florida state house on a variety of issues: education, healthcare, crime, and government spending. When he won that fall, he went to Tallahassee seemingly already well known among his colleagues. At the capital, he had a reputation for being “a policy wonk”—he handed out index cards with copies of his legislation attached—and was known for his political “soft touch,” according to one Democratic lawmaker. “He’s not an in-your-face type person,” the legislator told the Miami Herald.5

In the Florida house, Rivera chaired the rules committee before serving as chairman of the appropriations committee from 2009 to 2010, where he pushed to create new professional schools at FIU and helped the Miami-Dade delegation work within a tight state budget. “We are all geared toward finding cost savings,” he explained to the Herald. Alongside his support for tax-free back-to-school shopping holidays, Rivera sponsored a measure forbidding places of higher education in Florida from sponsoring and paying for research trips to Cuba.6 And it was Cuba, perhaps more than any other issue that emerged as Rivera’s main issue concern in Tallahassee: “It’s the most important issue to me,” he said in the winter of 2004. “I think every Cuban American from whatever walk of life has a moral obligation to continue the cause of a free and Democratic Cuba.”7

Rivera had considered running for the state senate, but in the buildup to the 2010 election the U.S. House seat from Florida’s 25th District was suddenly put in play after the four-term incumbent Representative, Republican Mario Diaz-Balart, opted to run in a nearby district that his older brother, Republican Lincoln Diaz-Balart, had represented for a number of years before announcing his retirement.8 The 25th District covered a huge swath of southernmost mainland Florida, including Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve. Most of the district’s residents lived on its extreme western and eastern edges, especially near Miami and the surrounding Miami-Dade County. In 2010, nearly 72 percent of the population was Hispanic.9 Having spent eight years in the state house Rivera had wide name recognition, and in late July 2010, shortly before the Republican primary, he won the endorsement of the Miami Herald.10 A month later, amid a huge voter turnout, Rivera won the three-way GOP primary before facing Joe Garcia in the general election. Rivera ran on a platform to reduce spending and cut taxes, touting his effort to eliminate “special interest projects” in the state house.11 America’s relationship with Cuba, although a perennial issue in southern Florida, played a secondary role to the struggling economy in 2010.12 The race attracted national attention and on Election Day, Rivera won with 52 percent of the vote.13

In the House, Republican leadership assigned Rivera to committees tailored to his legislative interests and the concerns of his district: the Committee on Foreign Affairs, where he sat on the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations and the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere; and the Committee on Natural Resources where he served on the Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee and the National Parks, Forests and Public Lands Subcommittee. Within the Florida delegation, Rivera reportedly had strong working relationships with his colleagues since many had served together in the state legislature.14 And like his time in the state house, Rivera was known in Washington for his attention to constituent needs.15

From a legislative standpoint, Rivera continued many of his earlier political efforts against the Castro regime in Cuba, introducing bills amending the immigration status of Cuban nationals who return to the island before being granted U.S. citizenship. Rivera also wrote his own alternative to the DREAM Act, which he called the Studying toward Adjusted Residency Status Act, or the STARS Act for short. When he introduced the STARS Act on May 30, 2012, he explained it “would allow undocumented students who arrive here at a young age, graduate from high school, and are accepted into a university to apply for a 5-year conditional nonimmigrant status. During that 5-year period, they can focus on their college education and, once they graduate, have their conditional status extended and work toward achieving residency.”16

During debate over the 2012 Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies appropriations bill, Rivera offered an amendment and made a point to emphasize the importance of making sure the country’s Everglades restoration efforts had enough funding. “Everglades restoration is a huge priority for the Florida congressional delegation, and I ask the committee and chairman for their continued support in protecting and restoring this great natural resource and economic engine.” After being reassured that the Everglades would have one of the largest allocations in the bill, Rivera withdrew his amendment.17

Questions about Rivera’s finances, however, cropped up shortly after the 2010 elections and persisted. Viewed as a vulnerable incumbent heading into the 2012 campaign, a statewide redistricting plan redrew Rivera’s district to help other members of the Florida delegation. Rivera lost the 2012 general election to Democrat Joe Garcia by nearly 11 percent of the vote.18 Rivera announced his candidacy for his old seat in 2014 but withdrew in July—too late to have his name removed from the ballot. In 2016 he ran for a seat in the Florida house of representatives.19

Footnotes

1Congressional Record Daily Edition, 112th Congress, 2d session, 2 January 2013: H7572.

2Almanac of American Politics, 2012 (Chicago: National Journal Group, 2011): 428; Congressional Record Daily Edition, 112th Congress, 2d session, 2 January 2013: H7573.

3Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=R000590 (accessed 10 February 2014)

4Almanac of American Politics, 2012: 428; Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=R000590 (accessed 9 February 2014); Beth Reinhard, “Rivera a Novice in Legislature, But a Pro in the Political Arena,” 2 March 2003, Miami Herald: B2; Carolyn Salazar, “Predictable Race Mushrooms Into Anything But,” 5 September 2002, Miami Herald: NW2; Scott Hiaasen and Patricia Mazzei, “Changes in District Helped Lead to Rep. David Rivera’s Defeat,” 7 November 2012, Miami Herald: n.p.

5First quote in Erika Bolstad and Nicole White, “How Broward’s Representatives Ranked,” 15 June 2003, Miami Herald (Broward Edition): 8; additional quotes in Reinhard, “Rivera A Novice In Legislature, But A Pro In The Political Arena”; Salazar, “Predictable Race Mushrooms Into Anything But.”

6Marc Caputo and Scott Hiaasen, “The Political Rise And Fall of U.S. Rep. David Rivera,” 30 December 2012, Miami Herald: n.p.; Herald Staff, “Record Card on Representatives,” 9 May 2004, Miami Herald (Broward Edition): 6; Oscar Corral and Noah Bierman, “Schools Face Ban On Trips To Cuba,” 28 February 2006, Miami Herald: B1; Clea Benson, “112th Congress: David Rivera, R-Fla. (25th District),” www.cqpolitics.com (accessed 3 November 2010); Almanac of American Politics, 2012: 428; quote from Robert Samuels, “Miami-Dade Lawmakers Read to Protect Interests At Legislative Session,” 28 February 2010, Miami Herald: B6.

7Oscar Corral, “Lawmakers Put Focus On Castro,” 23 February 2004, Miami Herald: B1.

8Almanac of American Politics, 2012: 428; Scott Hiaasen, Patricia Mazzei, and Marc Caputo, “Rep. Rivera’s Fundraising Consultant Collected $817,000 In Fees Since 2006,” 19 February 2011, Miami Herald: n.p.

9Almanac of American Politics, 2012: 427–428; Politics in America, 2012 (Washington: CQ-Roll Roll Call, 2011): 257.

10“The Herald Recommends: Congress District 25,” 31 July 2010, Miami Herald: A18.

11Melissa Sanchez, “Rivera, Garcia Square Off On Issues,” 1 September 2010, Miami Herald: n.p.

12Patricia Mazzei and Lesley Clark, “House Candidates David Rivera, Joe Garcia Can’t Escape Cuba Factor,” 2 September 2010, Miami Herald: A1.

13Patricia Mazzei and Lesley Clark, “Florida To Play Starring Role In Contest To Win U.S. House,” 10 September 2010, Miami Herald: A2; “Election Statistics,” http://history.house.gov/Institution/Election-Statistics/Election-Statistics/ (accessed 10 February 2014).

14Joshua Miller, “Fla. Freshman’s Future Plagued By Troubles,” 6 October 2011, Roll Call: n.p.

15Caputo and Hiaasen, “The Political Rise and Fall of U.S. Rep. David Rivera.”

16Congressional Record, House, 112th Cong., 2nd sess. (30 May 2012): H3180.

17Congressional Record, House, 112th Cong., 1st sess. (11 July 2011): H4803.

18Hiaasen and Mazzei, “Changes In District Helped Lead To Rep. David Rivera’s Defeat”; Hiaasen, Mazzei, and Caputo, “Rep. Rivera’s Fundraising Consultant Collected $817,000 In Fees Since 2006”; Joshua Miller, “Fla. Freshman’s Future Plagued By Troubles,” 6 October 2011, Roll Call: n.p.; “Election Statistics,” http://history.house.gov/Institution/Election-Statistics/Election-Statistics/ (accessed 10 February 2014).

19Sean Sullivan, “Embattled Former Congressman David Rivera Will Run for U.S. House Again,” 2 May 2014, Washington Post: n.p.; Sean Sullivan, “In Fla., Rivera Suspends His House Bid,” 12 July 2014, Washington Post: n.p.; “State Politics,” 7 August 2016, South Florida Sun-Sentinel: B3.

View Record in the Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress

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Bibliography / Further Reading

"David Rivera" in Hispanic Americans in Congress, 1822-2012. Prepared under the direction of the Committee on House Administration by the Office of the Historian and the Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives. Washington: Government Printing Office, 2013.

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Committee Assignments

  • House Committee - Foreign Affairs
  • House Committee - Natural Resources
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