The four candidates in the Florida House District 8 race agree outgoing Rep. Ramon Alexander, D-Tallahassee, was an effective legislator for Gadsden County and Tallahassee's west and south sides.
None, though would question Alexander's decision to step aside in the wake of sexual harassment allegations from a former Florida A&M University athletic department employee.
How District 8 opened:
Alexander represented District 8, which takes in all of Gadsden County, Florida’s only minority majority county and Tallahassee’s South City and Bond neighborhoods, which includes the state’s poorest ZIP code, for the past six years.
He decided not to seek reelection when he was ensnared in sexting scandal as he prepared to assume the leadership role for House Democrats for the 2023 and 2024 legislative sessions.
Meet the candidates
Tallahassee attorney Hubert Brown, pharmacist Gallop Franklin III, pastor Gregory James, and community organizer Marie Rattigan, rated Alexander a good to phenomenal lawmaker for a district dotted with trailer parks and single family dwellings tucked along forested back roads.
Brown is the education candidate. He tells people he attended segregated schools as a child and went on to earn an accounting degree at Florida A&M University and a law degree from the University of Texas.
His focus is on improving education opportunities.
James campaign is about redemption.
An ex-felon, he served nearly 14 years in federal prison on a drug conviction. Released in 2008 he founded Life Church International and as its Senior Pastor, established himself as a community leader.
Franklin is a pharmacist, FAMU professor, and like Alexander, who he calls a friend, is a past president of FAMU student government.
Rattigan is the millennial candidate. The FAMU graduate is the first in her family to earn a college degree, was an active member of Students for Bernie during the 2020 presidential campaigns and worked as a legislative aide for Florida House Democrats during the 2022 session.
The four offered different ideas to address the district’s mix of urban and rural poverty while participating in a candidate forum hosted by the Tallahassee Democrat, League of Women Voters, and WFSU Public Media.
The percentage of people living in poverty in District 8 is nearly double the state average. Forty-two percent of children live below the poverty line, and the median household income is a third less than statewide for a district that begins at the edge of the Capital Complex and extends west to the Apalachicola River.
Brown, Franklin, James and Rattigan, like Alexander before them, pledged to prioritize Florida A&M University, the district’s chief economic engine, and increased funding for infrastructure to boost economic growth.
The winner of the Aug. 23 Democratic primary will face Republican Curt Bender in November. Bender has missed three deadlines for filing campaign finance reports since qualifying for the race in June.
Here are excerpts from the forum attended by the Democratic candidates, slightly edited for clarity.
In District 8, the poverty level is 21.9% compared to 12.4% statewide. How do you change that number?
"Part of the issue that we have, especially for our youth, is we have to make sure that our youth are trained to do the jobs that are available.
And also, for small businesses. One of the things that I have worked on at the City of Quincy is Community Redevelopment Agency was helping our small businesses to survive, they expand to give them some assistance, like during the time that COVID was ravaging small businesses and things were shutting down.
One of the things we did was the small mom and pop small business grant program so that those small businesses could continue to expand. We need to focus on not just bringing in new businesses which we need to do, such as the Amazon that the city ... did a great job on, but we also need to help those that are here."
"We need to have a war on poverty and our first step is ensuring that our community is wealthy and is able to have good paying jobs. And so, investing in infrastructure to ensure that commerce can happen, ensuring that we're also being sensitive to our growth to make sure we still protect our environment.
We're being very, very aggressive in growing small businesses, creating apprenticeship programs with other companies in this part of the state to show the smaller businesses in our area, what it looks like and what it takes to get to where we need to go.
Also, you recruit larger companies to ensure that we can bring higher paying jobs to this region. And we're best suited and equipped to do that of all the candidates and the reason for that is we have been endorsed by the Florida Chamber of Commerce that believes in our ability to increase the quality of life in this region. By focusing on economic development. We've also been endorsed by the Associated Industries as well."
"It's so important that we be able to bring jobs as one of the candidates just stated. But beyond that, the question is how do we provide the kinds of services that is needed in Gadsden, with the different citizens that are there who are dealing with mental illnesses?
We're dealing with the fact that they're at the educational level that is not in a place where it needs to be. How do we put before them the opportunities that they need so that they can be successful?
So, I think once we begin to bring a community in place, a community that embraces what is within the community, then we begin to bring those opportunities there. We are going to change the whole trajectory of what the county looks like."
"I believe that opportunity and success should not be guaranteed by someone's ZIP code or who they know.
Something that's very important is being able to work with community organizers, work with allies, work with different institutions to bring jobs into rural areas and Leon County.
I think that's something that will be beneficial is being able to have a hospital in Gadsen County. We know that Gadsen County does not have a hospital and being able to talk with and see what is the certification of need to bring that hospital there would not only be able to provide jobs, but it'll also make sure that everyone has the quality of care and health."
Do you think any changes are needed in Florida Laws to improve voter access to the ballot box?
"Yes, there are definitely some things we need to do, such as increasing the voting hours, because a lot of people, are like when I grew up, very poor.
We work in jobs that you just can't take off and go down and vote. But we often do later voting hours. The other thing is increased polling places, because a lot of times people do not have cars and are trying to get to and from the polling places.
The other thing we need to do is remove what a federal judge has called a poll tax. For those former felons who we voted to give them a right to vote. Yet now the legislature decided that they want to put additional requirements that says, all those fees are paid off when often they don't even have records of what the fees are. We need to remove that."
"Absolutely. We need more precincts. There should be so many precincts based on geographical area per square mile. Like someone just mentioned, everyone can't really travel 20, 30, 40 minutes.
We need to make sure that we don't have a police force at these polling stations but someone that can assist folks to vote, (not) intimidate but assist. We need to expand our early voting.
Also, I have an issue of why do we have to register to vote? We are a United States citizen, and it is proven by your social security number. Why do I have to fill out a paper to be able to participate in my government?"
"I would just say that (I am) in total disagreement with a lot of things that have been put in place.
I think the biggest thing that we must do, in spite of what's in place, we still have to empower our people to get out and vote until we get in a position to revitalize what has been put in place.
If we let what's in play stop us from getting to the voting booth and getting access to being an eligible voter and an active voter, then things are only going to get worse.
Let's keep voting until we get in a position to make the necessary change."
"Actually, with SB 90 being passed, we see that a lot of things were stripped, such as access to ballot drop off boxes.
And we also see, recently, there are police that are going to be put in place that only report back to Governor DeSantis. I think that that is a scare tactic, especially when we're talking about inside of the Black and Brown community, those who are, who have always been, under structural attack that want to cast their votes.
I think something else that we can definitely fix is the ability to extend hours when it comes to voting those who are in line whether they're seniors or elderly people. We also see that people are no longer able to give them water, give them snacks and could actually be charged with a felony or crime."
How would you address a teacher shortage in Florida public schools
"First and foremost is to increase the pace so that we can attract more students amongst our teachers. Also, through talking to teachers, such as my niece, one of the key issues is having multi-year contracts or terms.
Right now, a teacher has a one-year contract generally. And so they can be let go. So it's not job stability. Make sure that we increase the pay, give them more stability through longer term contracts and also make sure that they feel safe in the school system. Give back some of the control that Republicans took away in the last session by deciding what was health and safety issues."
"A better job of recruitment. Also, employment programs like Teach For America within our region. So, as you know, Teach For America really helps recruit the best and brightest folks from across the entire country to get them involved in education.
Also, teachers need to make more than what they're currently making. I'm not saying it's about money, but oftentimes if you make enough money, you can focus on what's important, then just serving. So we need to look at those two things, recruitment, as well as incentives."
"One thing we all agree that a greater incentive for our teachers (is) being able to give them once again, the kind of control that they need. … being able to assure them how valuable they are.
Because at the end of the day, it's the teachers who create the presidents who create the governors. So, they are the most valuable players and we got to make the investment that they need to feel and know that we are concerned about them and what they're doing."
"Yes, increased pay wages as well as, to make it even more personal, allow teachers in Gadsden County the ability to have choice. That they are not having to come from Gadsden County to Tallahassee in order to teach for better wages.
Also instill in them that they are important because they are teaching the next generation that will be our lawyers, our attorneys, as well as our presidents."
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James Call is a member of the USA TODAY NETWORK-Florida Capital Bureau. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow on him Twitter: @CallTallahassee
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This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: A lawyer and a pharmacist compete with two activists for House seat