In March, the late Rep. Clay Ford traveled on to the great beyond. He left behind a family, a legacy and an empty District 2 seat in the Florida House.
A couple of weeks later, in early April, Gov. Rick Scott signed Executive Order 13-91, establishing dates for a special election. It’s a whirlwind affair, with primaries in May and a general election in June.
There has been no shortage of interest in Ford’s District 2 seat. Numerous Northwest Florida politicos have eyed the seat and sized up their chances of making it to Tallahassee.
Before election dates were even announced, the field was getting fat. Local attorney Frank White began gearing up for a possible run. Pensacola City Councilman Larry B. Johnson and Santa Rosa Island Authority board member Fred Gant dreamed of doing it for the Democrats. George Scarborough—brother of hometown boy, former congressman and “Morning Joe” co-host Joe Scarborough—briefly considered a run, having lost the seat to Ford by 402 votes in a 2007 special election.
These contenders would soon peel away from the race. The time’s not right. But others would jump in. When District 2 voters look over their ballots, they will decide between a field of six Republicans and one Democrat.
There won’t be long to get to know these candidates. Perhaps a robo-call, or two. Maybe a knock at the door. Blink and their yard signs will be lost to the blur of time.
In an effort to better acquaint voters with this special-election crew, the IN sat down with the candidates. They offered gracious tours into their heads. They discussed political aspirations and engaged in word-association games. They gave their thoughts on issues like guns and gays, RESTORE money, pot and healthcare.
Here is a tease of a taste from the IN interviews. The expanded conversations with these District 2 candidates may be found online at inweekly.net.
Ed Gray III
Gray is the head of Capital Trust Agency and Gulf Breeze Financial Services. He has served as mayor of Gulf Breeze, as well as on its city council and the Santa Rosa County School Board.
IN: Why did you decide to enter the District 2 race?
GRAY: The candidates that were coming forward, I’m sure, all meant well and are good people and want to serve, but we needed someone that could be in Tallahassee that understands a lot of what the issues are, would have the background to be a part of the legislative process and practically immediately. And I felt like, of all the candidates that were coming forward, I could fit that role the best.
And then the last part of my decision making process was to ask my three children what they thought of the idea. And all of them said, ‘Dad, if this is what you want to do, go for it.’
And then finally I called Carol, Clay’s widow, and asked her thoughts on it, and she said, ‘Clay Ford is probably looking down on us right now saying, ‘Go for this, you ought to do it, Ed.’ And she encouraged me to do it too, and so with all that, I’m in the race and I’m excited about it.
GRAY: For 29 years I’ve been on the board of Baptist Health Care. I have seen healthcare and its payment systems go through a lot of different cycles. And absolutely the toughest part of healthcare is how do you properly, properly address indigent persons that walk into the emergency room and need care, but don’t have the money to pay for it. And that will be a challenge for many years to come. And what I bring to the legislature will be the perspective hospitals that have to deal with that physicians, that I certainly have contact with, that have to deal with it. And then on the other side of the issue is the state having to pay for this. So, I bring a working knowledge that hopefully I can help address some of the solutions.
IN: If you were elected, how do you think this region would be different, or benefit, by the time your term was up?
GRAY: I intend to be Speaker of the House one day.
IN: Well, I guess, when that long term is up?
GRAY: When that long term is up we will have had a respect in Tallahassee, that this area is progressive, that it has a responsible way to handle its affairs and conduct its economic vitality, economic activity, in a manner that supersedes the rest of the state. That we are not only the western gate of Florida, but we, in fact, are going to be a driving force for the whole state. We’re gonna let people know that Escambia and Santa Rosa counties are not just a forgotten area of the state.
Hill is a State Farm Insurance agent and the president of the Northwest Florida Tea Party. He lost the District 2 senate primary to Sen. Greg Evers in 2010.
A graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, Hill served 10 years in the Air Force before entering the private sector. He has been married to his wife, Greta, for 30 years and has three children.
IN: What do you see as the bigger issues facing Florida, Northwest Florida and District 2, specifically?
HILL: I can say that in one word: jobs. I like what I have seen Governor Scott do in terms of helping our economy. The government itself cannot create jobs, but it can help create an environment to help foster job creation. And we’ve seen our employment rate drop to the lowest it’s been, I think, in five years. It’s below the national average now; it was not like that previous to Governor Scott coming into office. So, I would like to see that continue, those things that will help our economy recover and job creation.
HILL: For guns. Absolutely. I believe in the basic God-given right to defend yourself. I don’t think you need anyone’s permission to defend yourself. If I were to come up to you and start, just with my fist, knocking you around, you don’t need to ask anybody, ‘Hey, can I stop this guy now?’ That, I think, is the most basic issue about guns, gun-rights, being able to defend yourself. You don’t need government’s permission to defend yourself.
IN: Do you support anything along the lines of, ranging from background checks to—
HILL: No, no I do not support background checks at all. I think what that does is opens up a registry, a database, that the government should not be involved with. Getting back to good government: Is it constitutional? And I will say, ‘No, that is not constitutional.’ Because our Constitution says, ‘You shall not infringe on the right to bear arms.’
IN: Can you explain what the Tea Party means to you? Do you see it as an actual political party; do you see it as a strain of philosophy? How does it jive with the Republican Party?
HILL: Right. I see the Tea Party as a movement. And it’s not new. And it’s not unique to the United States, even though this is where it really grabbed hold and helped to form a nation. The Tea Party is a movement of people who are fed up with tyranny coming from a government elitist who are trying to dictate to people how their lives are going to be lived.
And so it started in our country, of course, with our revolution. But it has risen several times throughout the history of our country when there’s been a need for it. To end slavery in this nation, the Tea Party—it wasn’t called the Tea Party—but the Tea Party spirit, movement rose up and got rid of that in our nation. The right for women to vote and then the Civil Rights movement, those were all Tea Party-type spirits, movements, initiatives where people were fed up with tyranny. And so they rise up.
Now we find we’re in a situation again where we have a tyrannical, leviathan government that are dictating to people, and the Tea Party just naturally rises up.
I don’t see it as a third party, as compared to the Republican Party or the Democratic Party, I don’t see it like that. The Tea Party rises up when it’s necessary and then it kind of goes back into the fabric of society until it’s needed again. Kind of like Congress was supposed to be. You go, you serve for a period of time and then you come back home and become a part of society again. That’s what I see the Tea Party as.
IN: Do you think it’s as relevant as it was in 2010?
HILL: I think so. And I think we’ll see it when the elections come up in 2014. Again, they rise to the occasion. In this special election that’s coming up—now, I’ve had a number of people in the Tea Party, in fact all the Tea Parties in the Panhandle, are supporting me. They want a Tea Party-type representative there. An outsider, not a politician going to Tallahassee doing the same old type of I’ll-scratch-your-back-you-scratch-mine, and just continuing the same old type of thing. People want new, fresh ideas.
IN: If you get elected, how do you stop from becoming an insider yourself?
HILL: That’s going to be a battle. And I recognize that already. And I’ll share a game plan, it might be naive, but this is my game plan. First of all, you work hard, you don’t go to Tallahassee to have a good time. You go over there and you work hard, you study the issues. So, during the day, you hear from your constituents, not what Tallahassee is telling you is best, but what are the people back home telling you is best for them? And then at the end of the day you don’t go out carousing, you study, preparing for the next day. Then, at various times, you meet with likeminded people, of likeminded faith, to help strengthen your faith and your resolve. And then on weekends, come home and be with my family. That’s my strategy for not becoming an insider.
Lau is a lonely man, the only Democrat vying for the District 2 seat. He is an aircraft mechanic with L-3 Vortex on NAS Pensacola and the president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, Local 2777.
IN: Do you think a Democrat has a serious chance?
LAU: Yes, absolutely, a Democrat has a serious chance. I wouldn’t have gotten into the race—and, obviously, politics, and I’ve never run for political office before, and I’m new—but I wouldn’t have put my family through what politics has turned into if I didn’t think I could win.
IN: What do you consider the big issues in Florida and, more specifically Northwest Florida and District 2?
LAU: The big issues, obviously in Florida there’s the retirement system bills that are going through. That affects not just Northwest Florida, but the entire state. They’re taking a perfectly good retirement plan and they’re planning on gutting it. And that affects teachers and firefighters and policeman and the ladies who sit behind the counter at the DMV office who aren’t making very good money. And now they’re not going to make a very good retirement if the bills go the way the Republican Party is wanting to push them through.
Here in Northwest Florida, jobs. Jobs here, especially in the district. We need to stimulate business growth and a good industry for us to target is the aerospace industry. We have very large, very talented, readily available workforce here in Northwest Florida for that industry specifically. We can lure them.
With EDAS going in to Mobile, that’s going to be a huge facility. They’re going to need suppliers. We have great infrastructure for manufacturing and development along those lines. I think we can probably lure those industries into Northwest Florida. And those are good jobs.
IN: What was the trigger that got you in this race?
LAU: The trigger, it hasn’t just been one and it hasn’t just been recently, it’s an ongoing treatment of teachers and firefighters and public servants and working families.
What you hear from Tallahassee and from the other side is small business and corporations are the economic drivers of the country and that’s flat-out wrong. People are the economic drivers. The men and women of district two are the economic drivers of district two. If they’re not out spending money or they don’t have money to spend, there is no business. There is no demand. Nobody comes here.
So, you know, I believe in the economics of people. You pay people a decent wage, you treat them with respect and the demand grows and business comes. That’s what I believe. And that’s a message that I think has been lost in Northwest Florida, and Florida in general. People drive the economy. Not the other way around.
After working on other campaigns, Miller has launched his own. He has worked as a computer consultant, in the construction-debris trade and now in the medical industry with his father-in-law. If elected, the candidate will join his cousin, Sen. Greg Evers, in Tallahassee.
IN: Why did you enter the race?
MILLER: Why I entered the District 2 race? I’ve been involved with politics—it’s been a long time dream of mine to go to the legislature. To be some sort of a legislative person.
I’ve been peripherally involved with it for a long time, helping get other candidates elected. My family has a long history of public service. It was always just something we were kind of steeped in. We’re one of those families, that when you go to the family reunion, or just any family event, there’s always a table that’s sitting around there hotly discussing the various benefits and flaws of the government. It was just kind of steeped in it. The hotter discussions tended to lean toward the flaws but you know, at the end of the day, you kind of have to embrace the whole package.
IN: What do you hope to accomplish?
MILLER: I just want to make sure that we get—I hesitate to say honest representation, because I don’t want to undermine anyone’s motives, but I know the things that I stand for and why I stand for them.
For example, the Second Amendment is something that has been near and dear to my heart for a really long time. And it’s not just for the reasons people might think. It’s not that I’m such a gun person. I’m probably an average gun person. I’m not any more or less really. I have a couple of guns. I go hunting some. I like to shoot targets more than anything else because I really want to have something to shoot immediately.
My big concern about the erosion of our Second Amendment rights is that the way they are doing it will set precedence for the erosion of other rights down the road.
This last week the federal government tried to pass a treaty, to ratify a treaty with the United Nations that would circumvent our Second Amendment rights. And that’s the most mind-boggling thing I can imagine. How 46 Democrat senators could look at this mechanism and say, ‘Well, even though it completely undermines something that our Constitution says is sacred we’re gonna vote for it.’ To me, this should terrify the Democrats more than anyone else. Because at some point—there’s already a level of mistrust between liberal elements of the government and conservative elements—they have to know that at some point the pendulum is going to swing the other way and they’re not going to be in charge. But when that happens they will have set precedence for subverting the Constitution, that maybe the people that they’re not so in love with will have the ability to control.
I just wanna put as many brakes on the whole thing as much as I possibly can as far as the erosion of our rights, to the extent that I can at the state level and who knows what the future holds beyond that.
IN: Do you favor or oppose any measure to grant same-sex couple the same rights as traditionally married couples? Legally speaking.
MILLER: I can’t say that I favor it. It’s hard for me to get militant about it, but it’s not really—you know, the greatest thing that makes me oppose it is they’re trying to redefine something that has been part of Christian culture for, you know, for millennia gone by. At some point these people are going to have to face God and if there’s any, you know—what’s the word I’m looking for?—if there’s a punishment for any behavior they’ve had in their life, God will mete it out. But at the same time, that doesn’t give them the right to redefine an institution that God specifically defined, or that the Christian religion and other religions—I can only speak for the Christian religion—but the Christian religion defined it over 2,000 years ago in the Bible, which came from other Judeo religions thousands of years before that. So, when they want to redefine something for no real reason, beyond validating, having someone else validate their lifestyle, it’s hard for me to get behind that.
IN: Sen. Evers is your uncle?
MILLER: Cousin. First cousin.
IN: What advice has he given you?
MILLER: He didn’t give me any advice. He and I have a pretty close relationship, so we talk politics a lot, the mechanics of it more than anything else. In the back of my mind when I first told him I was going to run—I didn’t really call him, I just texted him—because what was interesting to me, I kind of expected him to say, ‘Really is that something you really want to do?’ Talk me out of it, you know, whatever. What he did instead was start talking about the mechanics of it to me in a way that I found really encouraging, because when you talk to your family and they think you’re going to do something dumb, something that someone else would tell them and they’d go, ‘Oh, that’s great,’ and smile—you know, if you tell a family member, I guess they feel comfortable enough to tell you, ‘You’re gonna do what?’ And he absolutely didn’t do that. He just started talking to me about how that sort of thing might happen and why I thought the mechanics of it worked, and he didn’t disagree with me.
He’s in a little bit of a tight spot as far as openly supporting me, because he’s worried about, ‘How does it look?’ You know, ‘You’re only supporting this guy because he’s your cousin,’ or whatever. But I get a lot of great advice from him; he points me in a lot of great directions.
Nobles is a former Pensacola City Councilman. He spent 14 years serving locally. Now, he’s shooting for Tallahassee.
IN: Why did you decide to enter this race?
NOBLES: I think this state needs some help, we need to do something to attract businesses to Florida. I’ve got friends that live in other states around the Southeast—Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina—all those states give incentives for industry to move there. Industry provides jobs, jobs provide taxes, taxes provide a better quality of life for the citizens of the state and it’s time that we look at what we need to do to attract industry to Florida.
IN: What about healthcare?
NOBLES: Be a little more specific because that’s a big, wide subject. You’ve got the Medicaid expansion situation that’s going on in Tallahassee right now, that’s a difficult one. The Senate and the House are both on opposite sides of that issue right now. They’re gonna have to come to a consensus, but—
IN: Where do you fall on that?
NOBLES: I don’t know to be honest with you right now. It’s like this, I do know this, the federal government is promising, I think, $50 billion to Florida for Medicaid expansion, but, as we all know, the federal government tends to forget about its obligations sometimes and push them down to the state. If they did that to Florida, Florida would go under, because we don’t have the money or the resources to do it. We’d have to increase taxes to do that.
If you believe the federal government will continue to pay for that program, then I would be for it. If the federal government cuts off that program, then Florida couldn’t support it. What I would do if I was over there, I would accept the money on the condition that it would sunset as soon as the federal government quit funding it. What we would do with the people that were on that program? That would be the dilemma. I wouldn’t know. I mean, we certainly need to take care of our citizens, no doubt about that. But, it’s all about our dollars and cents. When you’re talking about picking up a $50 billion problem for the state of Florida, when our budget’s not much more that than for the whole state, that’s a big bill. And I don’t believe in taxation, I believe we’re well taxed now. It would be a situation where we would have to find the resources, or we would have to go back to the way we are now.
IN: What about marijuana?
NOBLES: What about it?
IN: Well, there are two bills in Florida this year, I don’t think they’ll get a hearing—
NOBLES: Well, I doubt they will.
IN: But, nationally—
NOBLES: Well, sure. I grew up—I was born in 1956—I grew up the ‘60s and ‘70s. Marijuana was pretty prevalent back in those days. I think that we’ve had presidents that have smoked marijuana, and have admitted they have smoked marijuana, I think we have people in government that have done it, I think there’s judicial people that have done it, I think there’s citizens that have done it. Do I approve the legalization of marijuana in certain instances? I do. Do I approve it carte blanche across the board? No, I don’t. It needs to be regulated.
IN: You’re talking for medical purposes?
NOBLES: Medical purposes and that sort of thing. And the decriminalization of marijuana, now, that’s a whole different subject. Okay? Now, do I believe that we need to put people in prison for possession of marijuana in usable amounts? No, I don’t. But we’ve got jails full of ‘em, and I think that’s part of the problem. I don’t see marijuana as a drug that causes crime, like heroin and meth and all those types of drugs do.
IN: How do you think this area would benefit if you were elected?
NOBLES: I know what we need here. I know what the shortcomings and the strong points are here and I believe that I could help us grow this area economically and also environmentally.
Taylor is the youngest candidate aiming for the District 2 seat. He is a local businessman and was recently appointed to the Community Maritime Park Board of Trustees.
IN: What would you hope to accomplish if you are elected?
TAYLOR: I think, as we’ve seen in a lot of races over the last few year, people are tired of the status quo, they’re tired of the same folks that have done the same stuff and so forth. I just want to breathe some fresh life into that.
I’m a very hard worker. I’ve started a lot of businesses, I’ve done missionary work in over 30 countries, I’ve led hundreds of thousands of volunteers in extremely worthwhile efforts and endeavors and I want to bring that home to Northwest Florida, that work ethic. No one will outwork me.
Also, my youth is good. Being 32, this position, this special election, doesn’t count toward your eight-year term limit. So if the people of Northwest Florida are happy with me and I continue to be elected, I would have a very strong chance of being Speaker of the House and really bringing some serious influence to this area.
IN: What would you consider some of the bigger issues facing Florida, Northwest Florida specifically?
TAYLOR: As always—as long as I’ve been alive, born and raised, sixth-generation Pensacolian—Escambia County has been one of the poorest counties in the entire state. And the focus, our three main points, which are jobs, education and public safety are direct contributors to being the poorest, one of the poorest counties, in all of the state.
IN: Gay marriage or domestic partnership.
TAYLOR: I believe that marriage is between you and God, and the state obviously does have certain benefits that are given to a traditional family marriage—a man and a woman—and I do fully agree that a marriage is between a man and a woman.
IN: What about domestic partnership? Do you see a need for any call for allowing for things such as hospital visitations, inheritance rights, things like that?
TAYLOR: Personally, my Christian values would not allow me to vote in favor of that.
IN: What about healthcare?
TAYLOR: Healthcare’s a mess right now. And I do believe that healthcare is broken, I do believe that system needs work, but I do not believe that the federal government should be able to mandate to the state what to do. I believe the more local government the better. And I believe the federal government should let the states make the call on how to handle that.
IN: How do you think this area would be different, or the Florida legislature would be different with you in the House?
TAYLOR: Oh, man, I believe that Pensacola and Northwest Florida would be on the top of the list for a lot of things.
Primary Election: May 14
General Election: June 11
Primary Early Voting: May4 – May 11
General Early Voting: June 1 – June 8
Early Voting Locations and Hours: Supervisor of Elections Office, 213 Palafox Pl.; Tryon Branch Library, 1200 Langley Ave.; Southwest Branch Library, 12248 Gulf Beach Hwy.; Monday – Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and Saturday/Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.