State rep. challenges Ramirez: John Cortes running for Osceola Clerk of Court seat in 2020
State rep. challenges Ramirez: John Cortes running for Osceola Clerk of Court seat in 2020

There might be a shake-up at the Osceola County courthouse next fall after Democrat State Rep. John Cortes recently announced plans to run for the Clerk of Court office in 2020.

He’ll face a few other contenders, including incumbent clerk Armando Ramirez, who’s held the seat for six years.

The candidates, both Democrats, will battle it out in the August primary.

Cortes has served three terms in the Florida House representing District 43 - a heavily-Democratic, Hispanic-majority area covering most of Kissimmee and Poinciana, as well as northwest Osceola County.

He said he learned a lot during his time in Tallahassee, though he grew frustrated with the political divide in a Republican-dominated statehouse.

“Not everyone wants to work together up there,” he said.

Cortes said he decided to run in part to correct issues he believes are plaguing the current court system in Osceola County. He also wants to be closer to his mother, who lives in Kissimmee and suffers from Alzheimer’s disease.

The Clerk of the Court is a constitutional office, and oversees major administrative duties like the issuance of marriage licenses, passports, court fines and assessments (including traffic) along with court ordered child support and alimony.

Cortes is a retired corrections officer who worked with the courts in Manhattan, N.Y., for 13 years.

He wants to bring some of that experience to the Clerk of Courts office where he plans to do a forensic audit of the budget, improve connectivity between departments and increase efficiency for residents interacting with the criminal justice system.

“Communication is going to be big, both for the people who work there and citizens who come to us for help,” Cortes said. “I want people to get information easily and help them find wrap-around services outside our office.”

But Cortes will be squaring off against fellow Democrat Ramirez, who’s running for his third term. Ramirez served as a New York police officer for over 30 years and was the first Hispanic clerk of the courts elected in Florida, according to the Clerk’s Office website.

There now are four candidates running for clerk, including Ramirez, Cortez, Jossue Lorenzo and Leroy Thomas. They’re all Democrats. Ramirez has raised around $10,300 toward a re-election campaign, while Lorenzo - an Osceola County deputy sheriff - has raised about $5,800. Thomas has reported $38 in contributions.

Only one person has stepped up so far to fill Cortes’ empty seat - Democrat Alex Barrio.

He serves as political director for the Hispanic outreach organization, Alianza for Progress, and was a former aide to Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto.  

Barrio has a long history of working for Democrats and affiliated organizations, and previously ran for Florida House District 48 in 2016, where he lost to now-state Rep. Amy Mercado in the primary.