Being part of a legislative caucus with little political power has been the plight of Democrats elected to the Florida House for going on two decades, but state Representative Sean Shaw told a town hall audience of about 40 people Monday night that it’s their job to hold him accountable in Tallahassee, regardless of his party’s minority status.
“Let me tell you what we do not as a community do very well – hold our elected officials accountable,” Shaw said while speaking at the Progress Village Civic Council’s monthly meeting. “Do not allow any of us – me included – to come to your communities and ask for your vote and you don’t see us again until re-election time. I don’t care if it’s me. I don’t care if it’s city councilman or a county commissioner, that is where you have the power.”
Shaw, an insurance attorney, defeated businesswoman and activist Dianne Hart by just 124 votes in the House District 61 Democratic primary last August (there was no Republican challenger). Greeting the audience who showed up for the meeting, Shaw said the votes he won in Progress Village last year secured his victory overall in the district.
Located east of Tampa, Progress Village was created asa a planned community for African-Americans in 1958. He told the all-black audience that it was important that they stay engaged.
“Our community has the most to lose,” he said. “We don’t have a cushion for error. Our people have to be doing what meets the needs of our community.”
In reviewing how his first session as a state Representative went in Tallahassee, Shaw was vehement in denouncing the bill that will allow Floridians the chance to expand their homestead exemptions via a constitutional amendment in 2018.
“Do not vote for the homestead exemption that’s going to be on the ballot,” he sternly said. “It is a trick! I want to make sure that no one here thinks it’s a good idea, because it’s not.”
County Administrator Mike Merrill has predicted an annual reduction of $36 million if the measure passes. Looking over to several Hillsborough County Sheriff officials who had earlier addressed the crowd, Shaw said that if the vote is approved there would be “less of them” patrolling the neighborhoods.
“That means your libraries are open less. Your roads are in worse shape. This is a direct impact because Hillsborough County has to make up for that revenue.”
Shaw said his 2016 campaign platform consisted of advocacy for criminal justice reform, affordable housing, education and vocational training. He boasted of his support for legislation that makes it easier for affordable housing companies to get insurance, which in turn makes it easier for them to build affordable housing.
On his other issues of interest, however, Shaw’s proposals, like most House Democrats didn’t get too far in the overwhelmingly GOP-controlled Legislature. Among his bills that didn’t get support was a measure that would have prevented someone whose primary offense upon being arrested was possession of a controlled substance.
“That bill actually got one hearing, which I was shocked that it even got that,” Shaw said, adding that he’ll bring it back in 2018.
And like every other Democrat in Tallahassee, Shaw is still bemoaning the passage of HB 7069, the omnibus education bill that includes the controversial ‘schools of hope’ provisions for charter schools.
“They want to essentially turn our public education system private. This is the privatization of our education system, and we can’t allow it.”
In signing the bill last week, Governor Rick Scott touted the fact that it includes a $100 increase in per-student school funding. Shaw was unimpressed.
“That $100 was a farce,” he declared.”And don’t let anybody tell you that we went up to Tallahassee and did anything for public education. We. Did. Not.”