Who will replace Keith Perry?
That’s the question voters in Florida House District 21 will answer in November.
Perry has represented the area since 2010 but is currently running for a state senate seat.
And so voters will decide if they want Republican Chuck Clemons of Newberry or Democrat Marihelen Wheeler of Gainesville to take the vacant seat in Tallahassee.
Both candidates have experience working as educators. Clemons currently works as the Vice President for Advancement and Communications at Santa Fe College, and Wheeler recently retired after working as a teacher for 37 years.
Each decided to run for office because of the support of the people they have worked with in the north Florida community.
For Wheeler, it was the teachers that she worked alongside at Westwood Middle School.
“I told them, when I left my school after 22 years, that I was just leaving the classroom, I wasn’t leaving the profession, that I was going to Tallahassee to get help,” Wheeler said. “Because we are the walking wounded in public education, and we need as much support as we can get to make sure that our kids are getting the education they deserve.”
Clemons said that after decades of living in Alachua county, and working as a “community-minded volunteer,” the people he has worked with encouraged him to run for office. A graduate of the University of Florida, Clemons said he had not strongly considered running for office, but after Perry decided to run for the state senate, “my phone started ringing, and people from the community started asking if I would be interested in being a candidate.”
Both Clemons and Wheeler believe that increasing the quality and accessibility of education in District 21 is the key to creating good, high-paying jobs in the area.
Clemons has highlighted Santa Fe’s technical training programs and Gainesville Technology Entrepreneurship Center business incubator as projects that can help to bring jobs to North Florida.
Wheeler’s campaign focuses on the role of strengthening local public education and preserving Florida’s environment in creating jobs in the district.
“If we don’t have a strong environment here, we’re not going to be able to attract businesses here, too,” she said. “So we have to make sure that not only do we have our good water environment but also good public education, in order to attract the businesses that people seem to want to have here.”
Both candidates also recognize the importance of protecting Florida’s water, with Wheeler arguing that the economy of North Florida “is based on water,” and Clemons saying that “water is the biggest challenge that we’re going to face” over the next few years, and highlighting his previous work with the Springs Restoration Program.
Each candidate has received endorsements from unions and political groups that they say demonstrate their connections to the community. Wheeler said that her support comes from “the working families” of the district, and is supported by the AFL-CIO, Florida Education Association, Sierra Club and the Democratic Veterans of Florida.
Clemons said his endorsements demonstrate his dedication to the Alachua County community, receiving the support of groups including the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the Fraternal Order of Police and the Fire Rescue Professionals of Alachua County, among others.
Despite their occasional disagreements on policy, in a national campaign cycle that has been described as one of the most negative in history, both candidates focused on the importance of civility in politics, and encouraged everyone to go to the polls in November, regardless of their political views.
“Don’t be apathetic. Get out and vote,” Clemons said. “But before you do, educate yourself, not only only on the issues, but on the candidates and where they stand on the issues that are dear to your heart.”
“It’s your voice, it’s your vote, and it’s your future,” Wheeler said. “And Florida’s future is in the balance.”
Ryan Thomas Dyson and Richard Allen Swilley are also running for position as write-in candidates.