The race for House District 61 has been rather cordial to date between attorney Sean Shaw, activist and businesswoman Dianne Hart and environmental engineer Walter Smith.
That’s a far cry from two years ago, when Shaw engaged in an intense battle with Ed Narain. Shaw accused Narain of being too Republican-friendly, while Narain and his supporters essentially called Shaw a carpetbagger, emphasizing his lack of roots in the district. Narain ultimately took the seat, winning by a 41%-35% margin.
Narain looked like a sure bet for re-election in the seat this year, but he surprised many by announcing in March he would take on Betty Reed and Darryl Rouson in the Senate District 19 election (a race now joined by Augie Ribeiro). Shaw immediately seized the moment, and announced his candidacy for the seat, which encompasses downtown Tampa, Ybor City and Seminole Heights.
An attorney with the Merlin Law Group, Shaw said last week at a fundraiser in Seminole Heights that his campaign has knocked on over 3,500 doors and spoken to more than 1,500 people on the phone as he attempts to win the Aug. 30 primary, which will essentially decide the race in this overwhelmingly Democratic district.
Speaking on a day when the death of 32-year-old Philander Castile by the hands of a police officer in Falcon Heights, Minnesota had dominated cable news (but before the assassination of five Dallas police officers), Shaw said he was hearing from citizens in the district about the killing of black men by the police, which led him to talk about the one time his own father – former Supreme Court Justice Leander Shaw – talked to him about how to conduct himself around the police.
“Where to keep your hands. How you make eye contact. What you reach for, what you don’t. Where you keep your wallet. That’s a conversation that I don’t think all of America understands that we have in our community, and that’s something that these types of incidents show why we have to have those (conversations),” Shaw said. “And we’re supposed to be past that. It’s 2016! I’m not supposed to wake up from a nap at 1 a.m. to hear that two black men have been killed under suspicious circumstances . Were having vigils and prayers – let’s have some action.”
However, Shaw knows that sensible gun control legislation isn’t at the top of the agenda of the GOP-controlled Legislature. While Democrats have unsuccessfully lobbied for a special session to address gun violence in the wake of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando that killed 49 people last month, the only proposals coming from Republicans in the wake of the violence has been a “Blue Lives Matter” bill that would alter the state’s definition of a hate crime to include law enforcement officers and firefighters.
“You used the word sensible, which means reasonable, which means closing loopholes, which means people on the watch lists don’t get guns, which means it’s harder to get a gun when you’re on a watch list,” Shaw said when asked if he thought any type of such gun regulations could be enacted by state lawmakers. “Those seem to be reasonable approaches to closing loopholes, but apparently that’s too much even for Tallahassee. But as a Democrat, I’m committed to work for that, and that’s why I’m a Democrat. I’m also a lawyer, and I know what the Second Amendment says. I know what it means under the court of law, but I also know that it does not mean that I’m allowed to have an assault weapon on a person and be able to kill 50 people , shoot up to 100 people before the police have a chance to get there. This is absurd.”
“Even if we Democrats don’t get a special session even with we can’t control the House of Representatives in the Legislative branch, we need to make sure that we’re at least the moral compass of the state because apparently that’s where we are on the issues of guns,” he added.
Immediately after the shooting massacre in Orlando, Republican state Senator Greg Evers announced he was giving away a “Homeland Defender” AR-15 rifle on on Facebook on the 4th of July, before the social media site pulled his post about the contest after receiving numerous complaints for “promoting graphic violence.” Evers is running for Congress in Florida’s 1st District.
“This is what you’re dealing with up in Tallahassee,” Shaw says with disdain, calling the idea “insane and ridiculous.”
Shaw says that while it may be impossible for Republicans and Democrats to come to terms on issues like guns or Medicaid expansion, he says there are other issues that should transcend partisan lines. “When I go up to Tallahassee when I talk about economic development and bringing home dollars for vocational programs or expanding mentor programs or incentives for small businesses to grow in my district, those are things that we can work with Republicans on,” he says. “Just because I can’t work with them on those other issues doesn’t mean I’m not going to be talking about them, because my constituents aren’t sending me to Tally not to talk about the issues that need to be talked about.”
Shaw says that he makes the rounds visiting with the people in HD 61, transportation is something that is often discussed, though specifics differ, depending on where he is in the district.
“Where we’re standing right now, it means light rail, it means anti-TBX signs,” he says. “When I’m in Progress Village, I don’t see TBX signs. They want expanded bus routes. They want to get to their job when it starts in the morning and get home after the job ends, something as simple as that.”