After several weeks of deliberation, Edward James III has made it official — the Sarasota-born Democrat told SaintPetersBlog he filed 2016 campaign paperwork on Tuesday to run in House District 72.
James said he was spurred to run by what he called the “cold-heartedness” of the GOP-led House, which abruptly adjourned and left town early last month in opposition to the Senate-led “FHIX” proposal to expand healthcare access to uninsured Floridians by drawing down federal Medicaid dollars left on the table.
“You have so many extreme voices drowning out the sensible middle these days in Tallahassee,” said James.
“I’m looking forward to offering the voters of Sarasota a chance to elect an independent leader who will listen to them, and who won’t be blinded by the ideologues and special interests who, unfortunately, had their way this past session and forced Florida to the brink of a government shutdown.”
Pending the outcome of a local game of musical chairs — basically, whether state Sen. Nancy Detert forgoes her final two years in the Senate to pursue a Sarasota County Commission seat — James is likely to square off in an open-seat contest against Robert Wyatt, a retired businessman and Sarasota Republican Party treasurer.
Incumbent HD 72 state Rep. Ray Pilon has filed for a run against Detert’s seat when her term is up in 2018, but has said publicly that he will pursue a fourth term in the House.
Whether it’s Wyatt, Pilon or another candidate on the ballot for the Republicans, James says he likes his chances in a 2016 presidential cycle expected to boost voter interest over last year’s disastrously low midterm turnout figures.
Statehouse Democrats lost six seats in the 2014 midterm elections, though James found success as a senior field staffer with the campaign of U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, whose narrow victory over Steve Southerland — now a Washington lobbyist — was a much-needed bright spot for Florida Dems.
Pilon (who, nota bene, recently switched his active Twitter handle from @peacemanray to @PilonForFlorida) defeated a vastly underfunded opponent in Liz Alpert during the last “on” cycle in 2012 by a margin of 54 to 46, a narrow win considering Pilon’s $200,000+ fundraising advantage. That’s a sign the door may well be open for a Democratic challenger next time around, a evaluation James cautiously agrees with.
Some state and local Democratic observers are reportedly wary of proffering a young African-American candidate in a district that is predominantly neither. But James says he trusts Sarasota voters will “vote their values” and that he, as a native son, best embodies the district regardless of demographics.
In evidence: the election of Democrat Shelli Freeland Eddie in Sarasota municipal elections in May. James, who consulted Eddie’s campaign in its early stages, says her victory in District 3 — the first for an African-American candidate outside of Sarasota’s historically black Newton district — shows that voters there are more thoughtful than gainsayers give them credit for.
When asked about who he admires in the Legislature today, James mentions Democratic state Reps. Alan Williams and Mia Jones — whom he said put up a “valiant fight” on the House floor earlier this month in her defense of the Senate health expansion bill — as well as a pair of Bay Area lawmakers you might not expect: state Sens. Nancy Detert and Jack Latvala, the Senate’s Dark Star.
He keyed in on Detert’s plan to advance incentives for Florida’s film and entertainment industries, an effort James said he supported in substance and style.
“There’s always been an issue of brain drain locally, of really talented young graduates and professionals leaving the area because of a lack of opportunities,” said James, who returns home to Sarasota for good this year after living in Chicago, San Francisco and, most recently, in Tallahassee, where he is completing a master’s degree at Florida State University.
He praised Detert’s plan during this year’s regular session — SB 1046 — as a plan aimed at “protecting the human capital of the Sarasota area and Florida as a whole, which is as important as protecting our precious shoreline and natural resources.”
He pledged more work along the same lines were he elected next fall.
“That’s why I’m in this race,” said James.
So far Wyatt’s fundraising efforts have consisted solely of lending himself $150,000 in two installments back in March.
James says he plans on raising $25,000 by the end of his first full campaign reporting period. That figure would nearly match what Pilon’s 2012 opponent raised throughout the entire cycle.