TRINITY — State Rep. Jennifer Webb, who defeated Republican incumbent Ray Blackledge in 2018 to represent Florida House District 69, told Pasco Democrats last week their party is getting closer to realizing a change in the state’s political map.
Webb, whose district takes in parts of southern Pinellas County, was the guest speaker at the Trinity Democratic Club’s monthly meeting held July 24 at Fox Hollow Country Club.
Over the decades, the political balance in Florida has undergone a seismic shift. At one time, Democrats had a near lock on the governor’s mansion in Tallahassee, big majorities in both chambers of the Legislature and both U.S. Senate seats and a majority of seats in the House. And Most, if not all members of the state cabinet were Democrats as well.
Today, the only Democrat to hold statewide elected office is Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Nicole “Nikki” Fried. In Pasco County, all the County Commission members and other elected constitutional officers are Republicans, as are all the members of the county’s legislative delegation.
In recent years, Democrats have been hoping a change in voter demographics and discontent with GOP policies would begin to shift electoral fortunes back in their favor and are counting on candidates like Webb to help.
“I didn’t flip that seat alone,” Webb told the Pasco audience. “It took all of us in the Tampa Bay area to flip that seat. Despite the session we just had, I remain very grateful.”
Democrats in 2018 hoped former Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum would give the party a boost by winning the governor’s race but lost in a close contest to Republican Ron DeSantis. In addition, Republican Rick Scott, after two terms as governor, defeated incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson to win a seat in the U.S. Senate.
Despite that, Democrats “flipped a lot of seats in 2018,” Webb told the Trinity Democrats.
She said she is seeing a shift in how the state and national party organizations are supporting candidates. She said it is because of how the party is beginning to pick up seats and “not because of the overwhelming turnout of our minority voters who are registered as Democrats, but because we are distilling our Democratic values into tangible policies that are really focused on our communities.”
“We are talking about working class issues and we are talking about issues that are really specific to our districts,” Webb said. “And when it comes down to it, Democrats have the policy solutions voters want.”
Webb noted Democrats lost five seats in the last election by under one percentage point.
“We had so many seats that were so close, despite the fact the Republicans had gerrymandered the House districts,” she said. “They are losing despite they’re cheating, they are still losing. We have the better policy solutions. We are reaching out to communities in ways that are smart.”
She said having a “trusted neighbor who is in the know” is the best surrogate to reach out on behalf of candidates.
“I would rather have my 72-year-old working their condo or their neighbors than a 20-year-old from Minnesota or California,” Webb said. “I am hopeful for the future.”
Commenting on the past session of the Legislature, Webb said she was “ashamed to be part of the legislature.”
“When I read in the paper that ‘Tallahassee’ did this, I scream in my head, ‘The Republicans did this.’ ” she said. “It’s so infuriating to me. It’s not the Democrats voting for these terrible policies. We didn’t vote to take away citizen-led petitions. We don’t vote to arm teachers or to not instill Amendment 4 the way the voters had in mind or dismantle our public education through school vouchers. Those aren’t our solutions.”
Webb observed that 85 percent of the time, the two parties are able to work well together to “make each other’s solutions better,” but added the other 15 percent is taken to the debate floor “so they will know the consequences of what they are doing.”