Voters in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties this month elected Pensacola Republican Mike Hill to replace state Rep. Clay Ford, a Gulf Breeze Republican who died of cancer in March.
The founder of the Northwest Florida Tea Party, Hill used his conservative message to beat Democrat Jeremy Lau in House District 2, a Republican stronghold. Hill collected just under 58 percent of the vote, while Lau received about 42 percent.
Hill, 54, became the only black Republican in the Legislature. He’s a State Farm agent and U.S. Air Force Academy graduate. He’s been married for 30 years and has three children. State Republican Chairman Lenny Curry told Florida Public Radio on Friday he’s hiring an outreach coordinator for African-American voters and hopes Hill will be part of that effort.
The News Service of Florida has five questions for Mike Hill:
Q: Was there a specific event or issue that caused you to start the Northwest Florida Tea Party? Was there a point at which you said, “That’s it — I’m fed up?”
HILL: It was a culmination of many events, including the Florida increase in fees to register vehicles and renew license plates and driver’s licenses in 2009, and the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in 2010.
The current Tea Party movement is a continuation of the spirit of patriots rising up against injustice. Its origins were before our Revolutionary War, though we can use that as a starting point. The original Boston Tea Party was a movement against the British tyranny. Once the tyranny has been defeated, then the Tea Party movement melts back into society ready to answer the call whenever tyranny rears its ugly head.
The Tea Party spirit was the catalyst that began the Abolitionist movement. The Tea Party was the spirit behind the women’s suffrage movement, and the civil rights struggles of the 1960s. And the current Tea Party movement is a push back to the overreaching, out of control government that we have at all levels. I want to be a part of that spirit that makes a stand against unjust government and that is why I started my old group. (I stepped down when I ran for this office).
Q: We keep hearing that the Tea Party movement has peaked. Does your election refute that, at least in the Panhandle?
HILL: I believe it does. The Tea Party believes in a constitutionally-limited government and the principles of limited government, low taxes, personal freedom and individual responsibility.
There is still a strong need for these principles. Perhaps the Tea Party has lost a few battles, but the fight against tyranny continues. I wouldn’t say that the Tea Party or being associated with it won my election. It was about those timeless principles that my constituents identified and connected with.
Q: As you head to Tallahassee, do you have any legislation in mind to sponsor?
HILL: I want to be a champion of liberty. I will support legislation that removes unnecessary rules, regulations, and burdens from people and businesses. That kind of legislation creates prosperity. I will support legislation that champions the sanctity of life and protects the family. I would like to see a rollback of many, if not all, of the fee increases passed a few years ago like the vehicle license fee, because we need to return more money back to the citizens of this state as our economy improves.
Q: You came from behind in the primary against the establishment GOP candidate. How?
HILL: By staying on message of wanting to be a servant leader that will provide good public policy. Good public policy will answer these questions: One, is it constitutional? Two, is it fiscally responsible? Three, what problems will it fix in both the short term and long term? And four, is it morally sound? I worked hard and stayed true to my message and didn’t try to be something I was not. My conservatism is genuine and from the heart and that clearly resonated with the voters who were looking for a servant leader, not a business-as-usual politician.
Q: As a black conservative, you’ll be in demand for leadership in the House — are you interested?
HILL: I do not know why simply because I am black and a conservative that I should be considered for leadership. I want to be considered for any position based solely on the content of my character, my commitment to conservative principles, and because I have the courage to not waver from providing good public policy in the face of special interests who might demand otherwise. If I am a leader among my fellow members, it should be because I have the character to stand firm on my values.