Cedar Key’s brackish and nutrient-rich water is an oasis for clam agriculture. Clam farmer Mike Hodges, 61, evaluates the height of the tide before sailing his “bird dog” boat to visit his crop.
Environmental issues regarding water quality hit close to home for Mike, who has farmed clams for 25 years and is a registered Republican.
“One thing about the Republicans, that may be a misnomer about the Republicans, is that they do care about water quality,” Mike says, “They just have a different way of going about it than the Democrats do.”
Mike comes from a six-generation family who made their living on the water and from politics. His father, former Cedar Key Mayor Eugene Randolph Hodges, was elected to the Florida House of Representatives and served from 1972 until 1988. Mike’s grandfather W. Randolph Hodges was the President of the Florida Senate in the 1961 legislature.
The city even dedicated a bridge to his grandfather. Mike says going past that bridge always makes him feel proud of his family but also responsible for taking care of fellow Cedar Keyers.
Both his father and grandfather were Democrats. Mike was too when he was young, but later switched parties.
“My grandfather believes in hard work and lower government spending,” Hodges says, “The democratic platform today is nothing like what they [stood] for back in his day because they were more conservative.”
Mike’s wife Anna Hodges also grew up in a family of fishermen. After the state banned net fishing in 1994, she, with many others, went through a state-funded training program for clam and oyster farming.
Anna says she has seen both sides of both parties and occupies the middle ground as an independent voter.
In 2013, Mike joined his wife Anna to oppose the state government’s proposal to expand leases for clam wholesalers which threatened the smaller-scale production of local farmers. A firm believer in smaller government, he says he still appreciates the philosophy and actions of deregulation and strengthening production from Gov. Rick Scott’s administration.
Cedar Key takes pride in its working waterfront. A 2012 study of the economic contribution associated with the Florida clam industry shows hard clam sales generated $1.4 million in state/local tax revenues, and gross revenue impact to the state’s economy was approximately $38.7 million. Mike says he’s proud to be a part of the driving force behind President Trump’s growing economy.
With an increase in toxic algae blooms and drainages near the mouth of the Suwannee River, Mike says he sees how the issue has come to the forefront of not just city council hearings but also in Florida’s 2018 midterm elections.
Mike says while Democrats appear more outspoken on environmental and conservation issues, he still entrusts Republicans with more viable and deliberate solutions. Confident in the country’s democratic process, Hodges says he believes nothing will change on Capitol Hill with the current stream of negative rhetoric and actions from both parties.
“They need to stop,” Hodges says, “Until [our leaders] figure out we all want what’s best for this country, it’s not going to change.”