HD 21 preview: Meeting voters is the key

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A Gainesville attorney and a Gainesville roofer competing for the House District 21 seat both say the key to victory is talking to as many voters as they can in the three-county district.

Incumbent Republican Keith Perry is seeking his third term, twice winning a district where Democrats have a two-digit advantage in voter registration.

“I’ve been able to build a relationship with voters by focusing on customer service, listening to them and then meeting their expectations,” said Perry.

Perry first came to Tallahassee in the 2010 Republican wave when he won 61 percent of the vote. In a newly drawn district in 2012, he carried 53 percent of the vote.

House District 21 runs from the Dixie County coast through Gilchrist County and into western Alachua County where its north and east boundaries track with U.S. 441 into Gainesville and then, for the most part, follows State Route 24 back to Gilchrist.

The Democratic Party enjoys a 16-point voter registration advantage over the Republican Party, 48 percent to 32 percent, but that edge does not seem to help its candidates. Gov. Rick Scott picked up 44 percent of the vote in 2010 and President Barack Obama received only 47 percent of the vote in 2012.

Jon Uman is a University of Florida law school graduate who was pursuing an Alachua County judicial position when he entered the HD 21 race. His campaign platform is built on opposition to prison privatization and support for health-care reform and protection of natural springs.

“Much of what is wrong with our state begins with the Legislature,” said Uman. “Perry’s priorities are with special interests, not people.”

The Uman camp implies that Perry is suspect on prison privatization because he supported the 2011 – 2012 state budget that included proviso language privatizing a third of the state prison system — there are three corrections facilities in the district.

When first elected, Perry went to Tallahassee interested in understanding what makes an economy and a society successful. He concedes his comments about government’s proper role may have created a wrong impression about his position on issues such as prison privatization.

“Not in any way am I promoting privatization of prisons at all,” said Perry. “I looked at a lot of things that government did and wondered whether private enterprises could do it better. But I’ve talked to the wardens . . . and I’m not promoting, looking at or advocating prison privatization.”

Through Aug. 1, Perry had raised nearly $150,000 while spending $83,000, according to state campaign finance reports. Caroline Anderson, a University of Florida graduate, manages his campaign. This is her third campaign.

Uman’s campaign is managed by Alex Klayman, who had worked on his judicial campaign. It has $134,154 on hand to spread Uman’s message through mailers and appearances.

“During his time in Tallahassee, Perry has alienated many conservative voters, including correctional officers, when he supported the privatization of our prisons, law enforcement and first responders, when he supported gutting FRS and physicians when he opposed receiving federal funds for health care,” said Uman.

Perry has received nearly 460 contributions to his campaign and a host of health-care interests are on the list of contributors filed with the state Division of Elections. Uman has received more than 440 contributions, with most coming from private citizens.

Perry brushes aside Uman’s comments on his voting record.

“Look at my numbers. You can’t be overly divisive and win campaigns like I did the last two times,” said Perry. “Some people are not pleased with the process unless they win the election.”

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.