It’s a typical start of the week for professor Rick Tapia—hot, humid and air conditioner blasting through the hallways—as he teaches his American Federal Government class. This Monday morning he’s lecturing about obscenities by contrasting the common perception of what is obscene and what is legal.
“The standard that was established by the Supreme Court isn’t so universal,” he tells his students, referencing the Miller v. California decision in 1973. “What’s acceptable in one place can be completely unacceptable in another.”
Tapia knows what that’s like. He’s currently trying to bring progressive ideas to a Republican-held Florida House district.
Tapia, a political science and international relations professor at North Campus, has been running for the Democratic nomination for HD103 since June.
“I am a progressive. The centrist view to allow corporations to beat up the middle class is going to end,” Tapia said. “I’m running to basically defend the working and middle class.”
Tapia’s campaign is based on three central issues: gun control, education and health care. He prides himself as the only Democratic candidate with a comprehensive plan on those issues— issues he holds close to his heart.
After the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas Senior High in February that left 17 people dead, Tapia watched the student survivors head to Tallahassee and demand action on gun control. But when their pleas were ignored by state lawmakers, Tapia, incredulous, saw a need for change.
“I advocate in my class that my kids need to get involved,” he said. “I could not include myself unless I put my money where my mouth is.”
That drive stems from his childhood experiences. As the son of two Cuban immigrants, Tapia often found himself living in the factories his parents worked in. His one outlet, he said, was his public education.
“The public school system is what allowed me to rise up,” he said.
That formed the basis for his career in education, where he worked as a Miami-Dade County Public Schools teacher before becoming a full-time professor at Miami Dade College. Tapia believes in free public colleges and a restoration of funds to public education, which lead to an endorsement from the United Teachers of Dade, the primary teachers’ union for M-DCPS.
“He understands that there has been a systematic dismantling of education nationwide,” said Karla Hernandez-Mats, president of UTD. “It’s the building block to a Democratic society and I know he understands that.”
His educational background has also impacted his students. Krystal Lanier, an MDC graduate and a rising senior at Georgetown University in Washington D.C., says she majored in government, education inquiry and justice due to his teachings.
“He’s seen the education system inside and out,” Lanier said. “He knows what a school should look like.”
Tapia’s upbringing is also responsible for shaping his focus on health care, something he wasn’t privy to for most of his life. He recalls once being forced out of a hospital while in critical condition because his family didn’t have the money to pay. That episode helped morph his desire to expand Medicaid and has made him a supporter of Medicare for all.
“The role of government is to empower an individual with social, political and economic freedoms,” Tapia said. “What that means is the government not only provides for a regulated free market, but that the government provides essential programs—social programs and social policy to help the individual out.”
These issues are rooted in Tapia’s progressive image. He paints himself as the only progressive in the race, viewing his opponent, Cindy Polo, as someone who doesn’t have much standing.
“I’m the true progressive,” he said. “Between me and my opponent, I am the only one that has a plan.”
Polo isn’t convinced.
“In my party, we agree on many issues, but Mr. Tapia doesn’t represent my party,” Polo said in an interview. “I won’t give him that time.”
When asked if she would support Tapia if he won the race, Polo was blunt.
“No, I will not,” she said.
Tapia is unfazed.
“I did two things on my 18th birthday: I enlisted in the United States Navy, something Cindy Polo never did,” he said. “Never registered for military service, never registered for any community service in the community—not AmeriCorps, not Peace Corps, not anything—and I also registered to vote as a Democrat.”
However, Tapia hasn’t always been registered as a Democrat. According to him, he has shifted his voter registration to vote for certain “progressive Republicans” in primaries when there were no Democrats in the race.
Now, with a month before the primary, Tapia hopes to focus on one aspect — winning the primary on Aug. 28.
“Voters are going to compare and contrast the candidates. I don’t think her endorsement matters,” he said. “I am going to work with everybody, everybody who wants to work together for a progressive cause. I’m going to work with them.”