First Coast Democrats recently demonstrated their determination to tip the region’s political scale from red to blue and win big in November at a gala held in the Republican stronghold of Ponte Vedra Beach.
Approximately 200 people attended the event held Saturday, Feb. 24, at the Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa and hosted by the Ponte Vedra Democratic Club. The “Paint the Town Blue” gala most prominently featured former U.S. Congresswoman Pat Schroeder as its keynote speaker, who represented Colorado in the House of Representatives for 24 years. Her address followed remarks from several congressional candidates and gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine, as well as entertainment provided by Rod MacDonald and the national anthem sung by Nease senior, Junior ROTC member and “Dreamer” Medina Blekic.
“It’s so exciting to see these candidates,” said Schroeder. “All of you are the most important people here tonight. You’re going to help get these candidates elected.”
The former congresswoman encouraged the gala attendees and Democrats, overall, to unite, get excited and rally behind those running for seats in November. Schroeder, who now lives in Osceola County, challenged the audience to follow in the footsteps of Central Florida, which she said recently elected three young Democrats to Congress. She reminded the audience that the primary elections are set for Aug. 28, which are often forgotten amid the beginning of the school year and Labor Day.
Schroeder also reminded attendees that Aug. 26 is the 98th anniversary of when women received the right to vote via the ratification of the 19th Amendment. In citing Ruth’s List, which supports Florida Democratic women in running for office, Schroeder noted that 1,800 women in the state have shown up for their candidate training so far.
Local congressional candidates
Prior to Schroeder’s remarks, local congressional candidates vying for the Florida 4th and 6th district seats — including two women — addressed the gala.
Monica DePaul, a transgender woman, author and former writing professor at University of North Florida, made her case for Florida’s 4th District seat, which is currently held by Rep. John Rutherford (R.). DePaul first focused on education, emphasizing the importance of investing in students, providing necessary resources for teachers and working to make college tuition more affordable.
“Decades ago, it was possible to pay for college with a summer job,” said DePaul. “Now, I’m still paying off my student loans.”
DePaul also discussed the need for wage equality, investments in infrastructure and solar energy (in opposition to offshore drilling) and Social Security expansion, among several other focus areas.
Ges Selmont, a Ponte Vedra Beach attorney and sports and entertainment entrepreneur also running for the 4th District seat, said Democrats thought they could accomplish anything when President Obama was elected, and consequently became complacent and cocky. Now, he stated emphatically, the Democratic party is back.
“We will prove to people that Democrats have energy, the ideas, the stamina, the endurance, the creativity, the technology, youth and moral imperative to lead this country,” said Selmont. “We don’t look backwards to make America great again. In 2018, the Democrats are going to make America greater.”
Selmont also said he believes the country is more united than the media portrays, citing recovery efforts after Hurricanes Matthew and Irma as an example of the country’s solidarity.
Following remarks from DePaul and Selmont, the candidates running for Florida’s 6th District addressed the gala. (Ron DeSantis, who has served as the U.S. representative for the 6th District since 2013, is running for governor.)
Dr. Stephen Sevigny, an Ormond Beach resident and radiologist, said he is running to reform the country’s health care system, which he believes is focused on profits instead of the health of the people.
In his address, Sevigny was critical of big pharmaceutical companies that he said spent $250 million in the 2016 election cycle on lobbying in Washington to influence policy in their favor. He also noted some of the “really disturbing policies” coming out of Washington, such as lifetime limits for Medicaid, which he said leaves families with special needs children in situations where they have to worry about bankruptcy.
“I want to go to Washington to fight for high quality, universal health care,” said Sevigny. “I will not disappoint you. I will fight for you.”
Ambassador Nancy Soderberg, who has served on four presidential campaigns, in the U.S. Senate, in the White House and at the United Nations, said she’s running for the 6th District to restore middle class opportunities for every American.
Additionally, Soderberg said if elected, she would focus on fixing the health care business by making health care more affordable and available. Currently a professor at UNF, she also said she’s concerned about education, which she believes must remain a public service and not be treated as a business. Among several other focus areas, Soderberg stated her opposition to offshore drilling.
“I’m running for Congress to fight for what is right,” said Soderberg. “We’re going to win this seat, we’re going to change this country and ‘paint the town blue.’”
Across the board, the candidates addressed the recent Parkland shooting and called for an assault rifle ban, background checks and increased investments in mental health.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine, the former mayor of Miami Beach, also discussed the Parkland shooting and suggested similar policy changes. In addition, he said if elected, he would pass a referendum in the state that would allow local leaders, mayors, council people and commissioners to pass their own local gun regulations. A gun owner and concealed weapon permit holder, Levine said this is not about taking peoples’ guns away, but rather ensuring that responsible people own them.
An entrepreneur that made his success in the cruise ship industry, Levine reflected on his mayoral accomplishments, which included a half billion-dollar program in Miami Beach to address climate change, an increase in the minimum wage and police reform. As governor, Levine said he would work to attract the best companies in the country to Florida by investing in education and environmental policy. He also noted that he would pass an executive order that would ensure everyone has equal pay for equal work.
In conclusion, Levine called the 2018 midterm elections in Florida the most important in the world.
“It’s not just the most important election in our country,” Levine said. “It’s the most important election in the world because so goes Florida this year, so goes the presidency in 2020.”