Chuck Clemons and Brandon Peters battle for House District 22 Seat

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The environment, agriculture, and education are issues at the forefront for Democrat Brandon Peters and incumbent Republican Rep. Chuck Clemons. They both seek to win the Florida House District 22 seat in the upcoming election on November 8.

The Florida House of Representatives recently redistricted, which means the new representative will represent Levy, Gilchrist and the western portion of Alachua County.

Chuck Clemons

Chuck Clemons, 65, is the representative for House District 21. After Florida was redistricted, he would represent House District 22 if re-elected. He’s served in office since 2016.

Clemons grew up on a chicken farm in High Springs, Florida. He graduated from Santa Fe High School and attended Florida Gateway Community College to receive his associate degree. He received his bachelor’s degree in journalism and communications from the University of Florida.

Before his time as a state representative, Clemons worked as an Alachua County Commissioner from 1996 to 2000. Clemons serves as Santa Fe’s vice president of advancement for communications. He’s held the position since 2007.

If elected, this would be Clemons’s final term as a state representative, as he has reached his term limit.

Clemons has raised $278,878 in campaign contributions, according to Transparency USA. His top donors include the Florida House Republican Campaign Committee, the Republican Party of Florida, the Florida Police Benevolent Association and the Realtors Political Advocacy Committee.

Brandon Peters

Brandon Peters, 55, was born in Jacksonville at the Naval Air Station. His family has a history of serving in the military, and his father served as a Navy flight surgeon. He received his bachelor’s degree from Princeton University and his law degree from the University of Virginia. Peters has spent the past 30 years as an attorney for his law firm.

Peters had never served in a political office before but worked as the director of voter protection for the Florida Democratic Party. He’s run for office twice previously. Peters ran for U.S. House District 3 in 2020 but withdrew before the primary election. In 2018, he ran for U.S. House District 2 but lost the primary election to Bob Rackleff.

He said that his mother’s stint as a city commissioner inspired him to run for office. If elected, Peters will put more emphasis on local government and protect its power.

Peters has raised $134,261 in campaign donations. His top donors include Viviana Gray-Woodmore, Christopher Crane, who is the chief executive officer of Exelon, the James Robertson Trust and Calvin Peters.

Issues

Education

Clemons emphasized his support for developing education in North Central Florida. He said if he is re-elected, he wants to create more accessible pathways for students to get higher education and be better equipped to join the workforce.

He said it is important to help develop younger people who may want to attend vocational or technical schools because of Hurricane Ian’s damage. Rebuilding parts of Florida will take precedence for the next three to five years, he said, so enough resources and work corps are crucial.

Peters said he wants higher pay for teachers in the state. It was commendable for Gov. Ron DeSantis to approve legislation raising the salary to at least $47,500, but he said there was more work to be done.

The needs of teachers in areas like Miami-Dade County were greater than in other counties due to outside factors, Peters said. The new salary pushed by DeSantis would not be satisfactory for these areas of higher need.

Agriculture and the Environment

Clemons said there should be more emphasis on educating the public about farming and its importance for the area. The industry’s importance to District 22 meant it was crucial for the farmers not to get neglected, he said.

The industry supports $250 billion in sales revenue and more than 2 million jobs.

To support the industry and continue increasing output, he said that people need to know the source of their food. The number of money farmers spend on supplies and labor means there is a greater need to produce a large profit margin to survive, he said. Farmers need better support systems to make sure their job pays enough to help them live, Clemons said.

“No other industry incurs the types of cost that the farmer does, and the farmer is still dependent on, for the most part, the weather,” Clemons said. “[They’re] dependent upon prices of the good or commodity.”

Peters said if he is elected, he will be a good partner with the agricultural community. He wants to ensure farmers have access to land within the district to produce profitably.

“The profit margins are not big, and the slightest downturn in conditions can be disastrous for families that have been farming in this region for generations,” Peters said.

He would also want to reduce pollution in the surrounding rivers from farming. Practices such as not tilling the land every time a farmer finishes or begins a new crop lead to topsoil loss and hurt the environment, he said.

To help keep the best interests of the farmers in mind, Peters said, regulation of water usage is crucial. The state should be mindful of the development along the coast, which drives up the need for human water consumption and takes it away from farms.

People should be prioritized, but development cannot be done if it means it tanks a crucial industry in the state, Peters said.

Voter Rights/Representation

Alachua County citizens will vote on legislation proposed by Clemons. Florida House Bill 1493, the bill sponsored by Clemons, attempts to change how commissioners are elected. If approved, voting would shift to single-member districts, which means voters can only vote on commissioner candidates who live within their same district.

Clemons said the change would lead to more representation and avoid suppression from the Alachua County Commission. The petition, which received about 10,000 signatures, revealed citizens’ displeasure with how they were being represented, Clemons said.

“It just allows the people to vote, and we can put this to rest,” Clemons said.

Peters said the bill to shift Alachua County to a single-member district introduces the possibility for outside meddling from the state government in local affairs. The bill limits voter participation, he said.

He said the will of the voters is expressed through the Alachua County Charter. It is wrong to try and enact a law in Tallahassee and circumvent the normal charter review, he said, and allow representatives from other parts of the state to have a say in a local issue.

“There’s no reason why some senator in Sarasota County should have an opinion about how Alachua County conducts its elections,” Peters said.

He said it is essential for unique issues affecting specific counties and that are meant to be solved at by local voters.

Looking Ahead

Both candidates will look to win the newly redistricted District 22. While the counties in the district still sit in a rural part of Florida, the candidates will have to account for the issues in Alachua County and Gainesville.

In the Democratic primary election, Peters won 51.6% of the vote, securing 8,794 votes. In the Republican Primary, Chuck Clemons won 71.1% of the vote and received 13,364 votes.

Although the district now features new counties, Clemons won the 2020 election for State House District 21 with 51.1% of the vote against the Democratic opponent, Kayser Enneking. He received 48,883 votes in 2020.

About Jackson Reyes

Jackson is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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