Residents of District 9 will choose between Republican Sen. Keith Perry and Democrat Rodney Long to represent them in the state Legislature in the upcoming election Tuesday, Nov. 8.
Here is what voters need to know about the candidates and their viewpoints before they head to the polls.
Perry, 63, is the state senator for District 8. Redrawn districts, a result of the last legislative session, would now make Perry a representative of District 9, if elected. He’s been involved in state government for 12 years.
He served in the Florida House of Representatives from 2010-2016 before he was elected to the Florida Senate in 2016. He was re-elected in 2018 and seeks his final term in Tallahassee this November.
Perry moved to Gainesville at age 4, and his father was a University of Florida professor. He graduated from F.W. Buchholz High School in 1976 and started his own roofing company, Perry Roofing, at 18.
“When I was a kid growing up in Gainesville, almost every single business was owned by an individual,” Perry said. “Now, the majority of the businesses are run by large corporations or franchises. What we’ve done is we’ve created a regulatory and legal environment that will keep almost all young people from owning their own business.”
He said his goal is to increase the opportunities for the next generation, including his two daughters, through tax and regulation reductions.
Perry was arrested 38 years ago for drug possession. Now, he has founded and supports House of Hope, an organization that provides housing, job opportunities and rehabilitation to former inmates.
His campaign has raised $281,132 as of Oct. 21, according to the Florida Department of State Division of Elections. But Perry said his campaign will spend around $500,000 in both hard and soft money, in which soft funds are not directly contributed to a candidate and are unregulated. He spent about $4.5 million on his last race.
Long, 65, was born and raised in Gainesville, and his public service extends to time on both the Gainesville City and Alachua County Commission. He served two terms as a city commissioner from 1988 to 1994, and three terms as a county commissioner from 2000 to 2011.
He has a long list of experience beyond these commissioner roles, including as president of the Florida Association of Counties and president of the Florida MLK Commission. Long also has experience as a small business owner as CEO of Rodney Long Bail Bonds and Rodney Long Realty. He also founded The Long Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to reducing poverty.
“When people see that you’ve been invested in the community, they begin to trust your judgment,” Long said. “I’ve had the opportunity to actually serve and be elected.”
His next step, he said, is the state.
He ran and lost against his friend Yvonne Hinson to represent District 20 in the Florida House of Representatives in 2020. He said he did not want to run against Hinson again and decided to campaign for Senate.
“I want to start bringing civility back to governance in Tallahassee,” Long said. “And that’s on both sides of the house.”
Long’s campaign has raised $51,154 as of Oct. 21, according to the Florida Department of State Division of Elections.
Education, environment, health care, including women’s reproductive rights, and the cost of living are issues both Perry and Long prioritize.
Education-centric bills were common in the last legislative session. The Parental Rights in Education bill, also known as the Don’t Say Gay bill, garnered national attention.
Perry voted to pass this legislation, which Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law. He said public schools are government entities, and he supports parents’ choices in their child’s education.
“I don’t believe the government has any role, or should have any role, in educating young children on any sexual issues: heterosexual, homosexual, trans issues,” Perry said.
“I trust the people who are elected by local people as school board members to do what is in the best interest of the people that they were elected to serve,” Long said. “And one size does not fit all.”
Education funding is a top priority for both candidates.
Long said he wants to remove the state from the bottom percentile of funding and improve teacher pay from No. 48 in the nation.
Perry said he wants to expand school choice and scholarship opportunities, so parents can decide where their children attend school, public or private, without financial obstacles.
Perry, for the last five years, has prioritized music in elementary education. He introduced Senate Bill 156, which became law, to extend the Early Childhood Music Education Incentive Pilot Program. The state sends funds to schools that participate in the program as well as to the UF College of Education to research the program’s effects.
Both candidates favor funding for environmental protection.
Perry supports conservation and has passed expanded budgets that allocate funds to environmental protection such as Everglades restoration and springs restoration.
“My concern always has been we get judged by how much money we spend,” Perry said. “We don’t really get judged by outcomes.”
Long, as county commissioner, supported Alachua County Forever, a program intended to acquire and protect land with water resources and natural areas through taxpayer dollars. He also supports Florida Forever funding.
“I am a strong believer in climate change,” Long said. “I support strongly the Inflation Reduction Act, which will bring dollars to the state when it comes to alternative means of energy.”
Women’s reproductive rights came to the forefront of political debate with the overturn of Roe v. Wade in June. Now, states decide the legality of abortion access within their borders.
Perry voted to pass the Reducing Fetal and Infant Mortality bill, which prohibits abortion after 15 weeks.
Long promises to oppose any legislation that further restricts a woman’s freedoms, including reproductive rights. If Republicans hold two-thirds of the House and Senate, they could amend the state constitution and eliminate the privacy right and a woman’s access to abortion.
“Our democracy truly would be under attack,” Long said.
In the broader scope of health care, Perry opposes an expansion of Medicaid, whereas Long supports it.
“Florida is one of 12 states that has not expanded Medicaid to the 2.6 million eligible,” Long said. “And they are the poorest of the poor.”
If elected, Long said he has two health care goals: to expand Medicaid and to establish a health care facility in Levy County, which District 9 represents.
Perry is concerned with fewer choices for the individual when it comes to insurance. Wealth disparities, he said, will affect the quality of care. But he does not think Medicaid expansion is the answer.
Cost of living
Inflation is a top issue in midterm elections nationwide. Both candidates vying to represent District 9 say they are passionate about affordable housing.
Perry opposes government subsidy programs. As a blue-collar worker with blue-collar employees, he said, his workers reject government reliance. Subsidy programs are not a solution to the problem, he said.
Instead, he supports decreasing government regulations that increase the cost of building.
“When you have a regulatory environment that your starting point is $75,000, you’re not going to be able to afford to build affordable housing,” Perry said. In this environment, homebuilding becomes consolidated.
Long said the government is a facilitator, and its role is to provide social services, so he does not oppose government subsidy programs like his opponent does.
The challenge of affordable housing, Long said, is partially a result of SB 2512, passed in 2021 and approved by Perry. This legislation prohibits full funding of the Sadowski Trust Fund, which became law in 1992, was funded through stamp tax fees from real estate deals and supported affordable housing projects.
“As the next state senator for Senate District 9, I want to work with like-minded people across the aisle who believe in the American dream and home affordability to repeal Senate Bill 2512,” Long said.
Message to Voters
Both candidates ask their voters to do their research before voting on or earlier than Nov. 8.
“I implore them to research,” Perry said. “They can agree or disagree with me, but they shouldn’t agree or disagree based on a headline or based on a party affiliation.”
Long said voters should pay attention to his district-specific issues like a toll road through Marion and Levy, which he opposes.
“I encourage people to visit my website, www.rodneylongsenatedistrict9.com,” Long said. “I want them to view my qualifications, my experience, as well as my issues.”
District 9 voters will choose who represents them by Nov. 8.