The room settled at 7 p.m. sharp and its handful of occupants fell silent. Jessica Baker got comfortable in her padded blue chair and turned her attention to Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe, who officially started the meeting. A long night of bureaucratic debate full of municipal jargon lies ahead.
Concerned citizens stepped up to the podium to say their piece and usually left soon after. As the hours ticked by, the audience dwindled. Jessica remained seated.
“Any other public comment?” Marlowe asked. A practically empty room met his question with silence. “Hearing none. We are adjourned.”
Despite a full-time job as the accounting coordinator at the UF Center for Latin American Studies, two kids, a husband and a 14-year-old cat waiting at home for her, Jessica makes time for politics, both local and national, even if that means sitting patiently through several city meetings every week.
Jessica, 46, has a rich history of political activity, from voting for Bill Clinton when she was 20 to being the only Democrat to run in Newberry’s city commission race last spring. As the midterm election approaches, she is eager to vote and is hopeful her vote can bring about positive change.
“I’m tired of the flip-flopping of policies depending on who’s in power, and I feel like the citizens lose no matter what,” she says. “I do think the blue wave needs to come. We need to change out some of the old guard and put some new people in there. New blood.”
The blue wave refers to a potential surge of Democratic voters hoping to oust Republican incumbents on Election Day.
“I do think the blue wave needs to come. We need to change out some of the old guard and put some new people in there. New blood.”
Jessica’s father, Michael Mrozinske, first sparked her interest in politics when she was 6. After an accident left him quadriplegic in 1978, he got involved in local government in efforts to secure accommodations for handicapped people before the Americans with Disabilities Act. He also challenged Jessica to think critically about politics.
“In my family, I sometimes would say outrageous things, and my dad would go ‘Why do you think that? Maybe you should look into that and come back and we’ll discuss it,’” she says.
Her family’s political activity later inspired her to pursue a law degree at the University of Florida. As a law student, she interned for a firm where she saw a felon petition for his right to vote. He was denied, and it was because of this and many other reasons, she’s a big advocate for Amendment Four on the November ballot.
“It’s ridiculous that we completely stripped them of the right to vote,” Jessica says.
Though they are each registered to a different party, she and her husband Rob Baker were able to agree on this amendment.
“Jessica is an interesting person to talk to about all kinds of social issues, but we don’t agree on everything. I want to make that real clear,” Rob says. “There are things that we absolutely disagree on, but she and I can have a conversation about those things without it becoming heated.”
While they don’t share all of the same political views, they do share a love for gaming. Together they ran a “World of Warcraft” raiding guild for almost eight years and have acquired an extensive collection of board games. Though they don’t play “World of Warcraft” anymore, they said they enjoy playing video and board games with their kids during their weekend free time.
Weekdays are more fast-paced, Jessica says. Rob shuffles the kids out the door by 7:15 a.m. and Jessica is on her way to work at the UF Center for Latin American Studies.
Her office is on the third floor of Grinter Hall, across the hall from Jessica Caicedo’s, whom she has worked with for 11 years. There they share parenting tips, complain about their husbands and sometimes have a healthy debate around politics.
Caicedo describes herself as socially conservative, but they’re able to find common ground, especially when it comes to education reform. Both plan to vote “yes” on the half-cent sales tax proposal.
“Her political activeness and the research that she does and the information that she has has made me more interested in really taking a critical look at my own political views,” Caicedo said.
Anyone who comes across Jessica and her bright red hair and pink acrylic nails will be in for a great conversation, Rob says. Whether it be about a three-hour long city commission meeting, the state of the federal government, or what video game she’s playing right now, Jessica is happy to educate.