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Lauren Book cruises to win in Broward Senate race

Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book, D-Plantation, questions holding a special legislative session this month.
News Service of Florida
Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book, D-Plantation, questions holding a special legislative session this month.

State Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book, who’d never faced an opponent in her previous races, fought off challenger Barbara Sharief in a bitter Democratic contest Tuesday that was one of Florida’s most closely watched legislative primaries.

Cruising to victory with more than 60 percent of the vote in a Broward County district, Book hammered on Democratic themes as she addressed supporters at a celebration Tuesday evening after being introduced by her father, veteran Tallahassee lobbyist Ron Book.

"Let us not be fooled, this battle is won. But the war, the bigger war, the war across our state is far, far from over," Book told the crowd at the Agave Bandido restaurant in Pembroke Pines.

Book’s primary election victory means that she will return to the Senate in November, since no other candidates are vying for the District 35 seat.

As the head of the Senate’s Democratic caucus, Book typically would not face a primary challenger. Instead, she’d spend the run-up to this year’s elections recruiting candidates, fundraising and pumping resources into her colleagues’ races.

But, for the first time since she was elected to the Senate in 2016, Book drew opposition. Sharief, a well-known Broward politico, served as a county commissioner and as the county’s mayor. Sharief’s resume also includes time as a Miramar city commissioner.

In the heated contest, Book’s campaign painted Sharief as supporting gun manufacturers during her time in office and accused Sharief, a nurse who founded a home health care agency, of Medicaid fraud.

Sharief late last month filed a lawsuit accusing Book and the Winning Florida political committee of defamation and having “shamelessly … disseminated lies to people” through ads and interviews. The lawsuit, filed in Broward County circuit court, maintained that Sharief and her businesses have never been found to have stolen or misspent Medicaid or other funds.

According to reports from the Sun-Sentinel in 2013, Sharief paid more than $500,000 to settle allegations that her company, South Florida Pediatric Care, overbilled the state’s Medicaid program for patient services. An audit found that the company was overpaid for some services that weren’t covered by Medicaid between 2007 and 2011.

Meanwhile, an ad released by Sharief’s campaign showed a video clip of Book’s 2009 appearance on “Platinum Wedding.” The ad alleged that Book’s wedding cost more than $1 million.

Sharief entered the state Senate race after losing in a Democratic primary last year to replace the late U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings. She ultimately loaned $630,000 to her Senate campaign.

Book, who racked up numerous endorsements from state representatives and senators, blasted Sharief for causing Democrats to redirect resources that could have been used on other campaigns.

“Serving in the state Senate should never be a ‘consolation prize,’ especially at such a time when our values and freedoms are under attack by the extreme right,” Book said in a March news release, alluding to Sharief’s loss last year in the congressional race.

Book also faced the challenge of running in a revamped district. As part of the once-a-decade redistricting process, the Republican-controlled Legislature approved a new map that put Book’s Plantation residence four blocks away from the redrawn Senate District 35.

The recrafted district covers western Broward County, stretching between Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties and including the cities of Miramar, Pembroke Pines and Weston. The western border of the district abuts the Everglades.

Book, a childhood sexual-abuse survivor who heads a nonprofit organization geared toward preventing sex abuse, touched on the issue of abortion rights as she addressed supporters Tuesday evening.

"The day that my two children were born, my kids, Kennedy and Hudson, had equal rights and opportunities. But today, just five years later, my daughter has fewer rights than her twin brother. The trajectory of her life is fundamentally altered just by the virtue of her gender," Book said. "We will not be fooled by the words of (Gov.) Ron DeSantis or other radical Republicans. We know the only freedom they'll defend is the freedom to think like they do."

--- Tristan Wood is a reporter for City & State Florida, a sister publication of The News Service of Florida.

News Service of Florida