Florida’s 26th Congressional District is one of the most important swing seats in the United States House of Representatives. In the 2012 and 2014 election cycles, two different men, from two different parties, won this important seat in Congress. This fall, those same two men faced off again on the November ballot.
The incumbent, Republican Carlos Curbelo, Miami (Florida) ’02, was challenged by his immediate past incumbent — and SigEp chapter brother — Democrat Joe Garcia, Miami (Florida) ’87, whom he beat in 2014.
With Curbelo emerging as the winner of this most recent election, the residents of Miami-Dade County will continue to be well-served by a SigEp alumnus, an outcome that was inevitable in this tale of two brothers. (Established in 2012 as a result of the 2010 census, Florida’s 26th district has always been represented by a member of SigEp’s University of Miami Chapter.)
Both of these distinguished brothers were actively involved in the early stages of two separate recolonization efforts at their alma mater, Garcia in 1985, and Curbelo in 1999. And as can be imagined, both were exemplary student leaders who served in student government. Since college, their trajectories have differed, but they have both ended up in the same place and have gone on to serve honorably in their respective roles as federal legislators.
“The weight of the challenges that you face as an elected leader is great but not insurmountable thanks to the lessons of SigEp,” Garcia reflected.
“We always talk about the connections you can develop by being a brother, but the biggest lesson I learned as a SigEp at the University of Miami was how to trust in — and rely on — others to get things done. I learned the strength of camaraderie and that trusting in your brothers creates a collective capacity that makes almost anything possible,” said Garcia.
Garcia led recruitment efforts for SigEp and helped grow the chapter from a small group to the biggest fraternity on campus. “It was a difficult feat, but one that was achievable through cooperation and trust. It’s something that I have carried with me into public service,” he said.
Prior to his time in the U.S. House, Garcia served as chairman of the Florida Public Service Commission in Tallahassee, the entity that regulates the energy sector in the state of Florida. Immediately prior to running for Congress, he was appointed by President Obama to serve as the director of the Office of Minority Economic Impact for the Department of Energy.
Like Garcia, Curbelo also had to build a chapter from the ground up. When the University of Miami Chapter returned from a second period of dormancy in the late ’90s, Curbelo was selected as a founding father of the new group. As community involvement coordinator with SigEp, he began developing skills he later brought to a career in public service.
“Being a founding father of the Florida Gamma Chapter of SigEp was an invaluable experience. As a member of the Greek community, I learned the importance of working with my peers to achieve a common goal, a lesson I constantly put into practice in Congress. More importantly, as a SigEp I learned the importance of values-based leadership, which is still at the core of who I am today,” said Curbelo.
After college and prior to his federal service, Curbelo served as state director for former Sen. George Lemieux, R-Fla., and as an elected member of the Miami-Dade County Public School Board. He sits on various committees in the U.S. House and is currently chairing the subcommittee on Agriculture, Energy and Trade.
As Curbelo serves in Congress for the next two years, we can expect to see Garcia continue to pursue a career marked by public service. These are perhaps just the first chapters in a rich and expanding SigEp-themed political story.
Jose “Pepi” Diaz is a Republican member of the Florida House of Representatives, representing the 116th District. For more information on the candidates, you can go to www.curbelo.house.gov or www.joegarciaforfl.com.