In his first bid for re-election, state Rep. Chuck Clemons, R – Newberry, will face off against Democratic challenger Jason Haeseler to represent District 21 in the Florida House of Representatives.
The district includes all of Dixie and Gilchrist counties, as well as a portion of Alachua County. State. Rep. Clovis Watson represents the other half of the county; he was reelected without opposition in August.
Clemons was first elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 2016. Haeseler is a first-time candidate.
Above, you can hear each detail their experiences and perspectives that they would bring to the job. Below, here’s a summary of their positions on key issues that emerged from WUFT’s questions.
What specific area is weakest in the public education system? What will you do to fix it?
Clemons: The 67 different counties in Florida have control over the local schools and autonomy to control the schools. Half of their budget comes from local tax dollars, 38 percent comes from the state legislature and 12 percent comes from the federal government. There is enough money for the school system, it just needs to be used wisely in order to promote higher graduation rates.
Haeseler: “Our facilities are left behind.” Increased education spending has not made its way down to capital improvement. Disagrees with providing PECO funding, which is meant for state educational facilities, to charter schools, including for-profit charter schools.
Alternative to PECO funding?
Clemons: Considering looking into transferring the PECO fee from landlines to mobile devices in the next legislative session.
Haeseler: PECO funding needs a more consistent revenue stream. It needs to be ensured that PECO funding is being spent on public schools, not charter schools.
Millage rates. Should we restore the half mill that was taken away?
Clemons: Supports restoring the half mill. Believes decisions like these should be left to the decision-makers at the local level. Would support an initiative in the legislature to restore the half mill.
Haeseler: Millage rate should be set at a rate where school boards and institutions can raise enough revenue to cover the costs of capital improvement. Does not believe an artificial limit should be placed on the millage rate.
What specific initiatives do you plan to address a reduction in poverty rates in the district?
Clemons: Education is the key to making yourself valuable and not relying on government assistance. Does not support raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour. Encourage career-technical education, especially for students with no interest in attending college. 8
Haeseler: Supports raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour. While the state of Florida has seen job growth over the past 8 years, the three counties in the district have lost jobs over the past 8 years.
Clemons: Sponsored the GRU Referendum bill in the House of Representatives. Believes in representation and thinks that this local referendum, should it pass, will provide more home rule. Will not be able to vote on the referendum because he does not live in the city. Cannot say that the referendum will lower rates. Predicts that the referendum bill will pass in November.
Haeseler: This referendum is not in favor of home rule. Some of the issues that people are claiming to be governance issues are actually management issues. Has found nothing about this bill will lower rates. People living outside of city limits that would like a say in the governance can annex themselves into the city of Gainesville.
Access to healthcare.
Clemons: Has run an appropriations bill to bring $750,000 for the ACORN Clinic, which provides healthcare to those without insurance. Says medicaid expansion “doesn’t necessarily mean the utopia that some would have you to believe.”
Haeseler: Has had personal experience with the healthcare system as his daughter was born with a congenital heart defect. Critical of state legislature’s decision to prioritize tax breaks for businesses and “special interests” over the 800,000 uninsured Floridians. “Tax breaks for special interests over needs for uninsured people,” he said. Believes Medicaid expansion should be a top priority.
Partisan politics and working across the aisle.
Clemons: Has been elected into public office as a member of both major parties. Believes that governance should come from the center, and has voted against his party on multiple occasions.
Haeseler: Our differences are in our policies. Both candidates want to serve the community — they just have different ways to get there.
Clemons: “Look, governing is not easy. When you sit in the well, you sit inside the chamber. And there’s 120 people in the House of Representatives. The most complicated and complex issues come before you. There is not the proverbial easy button. There’s a red one for ‘no’ and a green one for ‘yes.’ So, character matters. Your core values and beliefs matter. And standing up for your community matters when you push the green or the red button. For the last 2 years, I have done my best as a lifelong resident and University of Florida graduate and PTA president and etc., to do the best that I can to make the best decisions that I possibly can. If you send me back to Tallahassee, I will use those same core values to make the decisions in the future.”
Haeseler: “My job as an engineer and my experience as a leader in the military gives me the great experience that it’s going to take to provide representation for the people of House District 21. I think it is definitely time for us to make a change. That is not a personal attack on Chuck, but I think our policy positions are so different. I just want to point out one last policy difference, and that is on the issue of environmental protection. We didn’t talk about that very much. Chuck has sent several mailers out touting his record of protecting the environment and yet at the same time has sponsored a bill, written a bill and is working on a bill behind the scenes to strip away the ability of Alachua County to protect wetlands above and beyond that of what the state does. So, I think that in and of itself shows the stark differences between Chuck and myself and I hope that I have earned your vote on Nov. 6.”