Republican Keith Perry came out on top Tuesday night in the District 9 Senate race, garnering approximately 65% of the vote.
After the Associated Press called the race, the outgoing District 8 senator thanked his team and his voters for supporting the campaign and, above all, single-member districting.
“I can’t tell you what it means to Chuck [Clemons] and I both for you to come out here. I told people before, ‘It’s like family,'” Perry said in a victory speech at his election watch party. “My race went from one of the hardest there is in the state of Florida to a little bit [of a] better race, which allowed me and a lot of other people to work on another issue, which I thought was the most important issue to face Alachua County ever, and that is single-member districts.”
Narrowly approved by Alachua County voters, single-member districts will make it so that county commissioners are elected only by people within their respective district, instead of everyone voting for every commissioner. It opens the door for more Republican representation in a county commission that has long been controlled by a concentration of blue voters in downtown Gainesville.
This comes shortly after the Democratic candidate for the District 9 Senate race, Rodney Long, was featured in political advertisements that he, fellow Democrats and the local chapter for National Association for the Advancement of Colored People criticized for misrepresenting their positions on single-member districts. They oppose the referendum.
Perry thanked his supporters, his team and his wife, Amy.
“There’s a lot of people that contributed to this. This was a major six-month planning. We did everything behind the scenes,” Perry said. “We had the shock and awe kind of thing. We knew that’s the way we were going to win this.”
As voter precinct data for the District 9 Senate race was still coming in, Long told WUFT that going forward, win or lose, his future is wide open and isn’t tied to just politics.
“I’m led by the Holy Spirit as to what I need to do, in terms of representing my community,” Long said. “I can be on the county commission right now if I chose to be there. Or I can be in the state legislature if I wanted to be. But there are other things in life other than politics. That’s why you take a break.”
Long raised $71,508 in campaign funds; Perry raised almost five times more, with $340,432 in campaign funds, according to the Florida Division of Elections.
Issues relating to improving education, making health care more accessible, protecting the environment and reducing the cost of living were at the center of the race.
Perry told WUFT that the first thing he’s going to do as senator, after going home and taking out the trash, is review legislation that he’s already filed.
“Tallahassee can be pretty frustrating. You have to have a lot of perseverance,” Perry said. “So there’s bills that we filed that we really think are important that we didn’t get done. We’re really looking at those now, and we’ll start taking bills and refiling.”
These bills include his elementary music education bill, which was delayed due to COVID-19, and criminal justice reform, Perry said. Then, he’s looking to meet with the governor’s office and senate president Kathleen Passidomo to determine legislative priorities.
Perry also said he hopes to better enable small business owners to compete with large corporations to reflect the economy of mom and pop shops that he grew up in.
“We got to look at the regulatory and legal environment that’s created this wall and created this inopportunity for people to do that,” Perry said. “I’ve been working every year to break that wall down, brick by brick.”
Perry said this will be his last campaign. His message for voters was, first, that he was thankful for their support and, second, that he wants to represent them all, including those who disagree with him.
“People who absolutely did everything they can to beat me — I hope they reach out to me,” Perry said. “If I’m their senator, I want to be able to represent them, and I want to have a relationship. My door is open to them.”