This week’s print edition of the Independent News features excerpts from interviews with the District 2 candidates as they head toward June’s special election in the wake of Rep. Clay Ford’s passing. Over the next few days the full interviews will be posted on Ricksblog. Let’s start with the race’s only Democrat …
Jeremy Lau is a lonely man, the only Democrat vying for the District 2 seat. He is an aircraft mechanic with L-3 Vortex on NAS Pensacola and the president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, Local 2777.
IN: Tell me a little about yourself and why you decided to get in this race.
LAU: I was born in Atlanta, really I grew up in Gettysburg, Pa., before I joined the Navy. I joined in 1991 and served through December of 2000. I got stationed here, in Pensacola, in 1997. So that’s how I wound up here. Other than a couple of year periods, from 2002 when I graduated UWF, to 2004, I’ve lived here ever since.
I moved back to Pennsylvania in 2002 and remembered that it snowed there and what it was like to shovel snow. So, once I figured out I don’t tolerate shoveling snow very well, I came back. And I haven’t left since. I don’t think I’ve even been back, but maybe once or twice, to even visit.
IN: You don’t like shoveling snow?
IN: It’s good on your back.
LAU: That’s the lie they tell everybody up there.
IN: Why did you get in this race?
LAU: I got in this race because I really think that it’s time to bring back a government that is responsive to its citizens, and respectful of its citizens. Republicans have been in charge of this state, almost in total, for 16 years and it’s not a very respectful government anymore.
You see what they did to Gulf Breeze with the city council passing the ban on the shooting range and, you know, the very next session special interest groups ran a bill through Tallahassee and the next thing you know they invalidated every local law regarding that issue across the entire state. If special interest groups had a problem with that they should have gone back to Gulf Breeze and taken it up with the City Council of Gulf Breeze.
IN: What do you consider the big issues in Florida and, more specifically, Northwest Florida and District 2?
LAU: The big issues, obviously in Florida there’s the retirement system bills that are going through. That affects not just Northwest Florida, but the entire state. They’re taking a perfectly good retirement plan and they’re planning on gutting it. And that affects teachers and firefighters and policeman and the ladies who sit behind the counter at the DMV office who aren’t making very good money. And now they’re not going to make a very good retirement if the bills go the way the Republican Party is wanting to push them through.
Here in Northwest Florida, jobs. Jobs here, especially in the district. We need to stimulate business growth and a good industry for us to target is the aerospace industry. We have very large, very talented, readily available workforce here in Northwest Florida for that industry specifically. We can lure them.
With EDAS going in to Mobile, that’s going to be a huge facility. They’re going to need suppliers. We have great infrastructure for manufacturing and development along those lines. I think we can probably lure those industries into Northwest Florida. And those are good jobs.
IN: I’m gonna throw out a few things here, kind of like word association, except you get to say more than one word.
LAU: Right. I love that.
LAU: I do believe in the Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. Guns, right now, are really a federal issue and I’m not sure I’m going to be called to address that issue in Tallahassee. We’ll just kind of have to wait and see what happens with the federal legislation that’s currently moving through and see how the courts come down on that issue.
IN: I guess the reason I ask is because there are a number of bills in play this legislative session.
LAU: You’re asking about the bills arming teachers and stuff like that?
IN: I’m just hoping to get a general feel of where you sit on that issue. Because that issue, in various forms, comes before state representatives.
LAU: Right. Well, I mean, ultimately it’s going to be decided by the Supreme Court. I know they just passed on the one from New York, and some of the ones that are moving through the legislature here in Tallahassee—the ones to arm the teachers, I mean I don’t think we should be arming teachers.
But, the other bills that are moving through, at this point most of them haven’t even made it out of committee and with only a couple of weeks left in session, if they haven’t come out of committee already they’re not gonna make it through this session.
And with the legislature made up the way it is right now, I don’t—even next year, when I win and get to Tallahassee—I’m not gonna be able to move some of these bills through committee. I mean, that’s just the political reality of the situation.
LAU: I think the bill that was passed by the Republicans, especially in the House, was shameful. Shameful. Why you would pass on $50 billion that would insure a million Floridians and thousands of people in this district because you have some ideological opposition to the whole program? Well, that program is the law of the land now. Like it or not, it’s the law. Why not take the money, insure the people.
But, you know, the federal government is going to come in and set these institutions up anyway. So, we can either do it the Florida way, or we can allow the federal government to come in here and set up their own program and do it their way. Take the money and set up your own program and insure the people.
There are certain things about the Affordable Healthcare Act that unions aren’t particularly favorable on, but it’s the law of the land. Let’s try to make it work for everybody the best we can.
IN: What about gay marriage or domestic partnership?
LAU: This is another issue where we’re awaiting the Supreme Court decision. They’ve already heard the case and everybody is just kind of waiting for them to hand down their decision. That’s really going to decide the issue. Wherever they come down on that issue will affect every state, including Florida. So, any attempt we make to regulate that now, if the Supreme Court comes down on one side or the other, it’s going to invalidate any legislative issues we pass. And once that issue is decided, any attempts to legislate it here in Florida are going to be moot.
LAU: I’m very leery of any substance that has the potential to be abused. I think a good policy for us to adopt here in District 2 and in Florida is to watch what happens in Colorado and Washington State and see how they are able to deal with legalization and then make a decision on whether to continue prohibition, whether it’s cost-effective or warrants it.
I don’ t think any initiatives are going to gain real traction here in Florida to get it on the ballot. I’m aware of at least one initiative to try to get it on the ballot as a Constitutional amendment, but I don’t think it’s going to come before the legislature.
IN: Well, they’ve got two bills, one in the House and Senate, but—
LAU: Did they get filed?
IN: Yeah, they won’t make it out of committee, I’m not even sure they’ve gotten a hearing, actually.
IN: RESTORE money. Sen. Gaetz made a comment recently that inferred that it might not be a great idea to leave some of that money at the discretion of the county level.
LAU: I’m gonna have to read the bill honestly. I’ve been reading so much stuff right now; I’ve been getting flooded with it.
IN: I guess their position is, ‘Can we handle it at the county level?’
LAU: Well, they’ve been doing a bang-up job handling things in Tallahassee, haven’t they? If I had to trust a county commissioner to handle the money, or a bunch of people in Tallahassee, I think the people at the county level certainly know their constituency better and how to spend that money better than Tallahassee. I mean, Tallahassee’s been in charge of education and look how they’re doing with that.
IN: Sen. Evers and Rep. Broxson have both proposed drilling in Blackwater River State Park. What are your thoughts on that?
LAU: Really? Well, where are they going to refine it?
IN: That I don’t know.
IN: It never got very much traction.
LAU: I’m not a big drilling guy. Obviously, we need oil in this country. We’re an oil-based economy. Our cars run on it, our busses run on it, our trains use it, but we’re refining oil at like 97 or 98 percent in this country already. We couldn’t refine another drop of oil if we wanted to. So, all this oil they’re planning on drilling isn’t for refining here, it’s for exporting somewhere else. If you wanna talk about building refineries, then let’s talk about building refineries. You want to talk about poking holes in the ground where there aren’t any, well let’s talk about refineries. Have some place to refine it before you start drilling for it. There’s nowhere to go with it.
IN: How do you feel in this race as a Democrat?
LAU: Outnumbered six to one, apparently, at the current count. We’ll see if anybody else files between now and Monday.
IN: Do you see that as a good thing or a bad thing?
LAU: Well, I think competitive races, in general, are a good thing. I was actually looking forward to running in a primary. I was actually kind of sorry to see Councilman Johnson and attorney Gant drop out. But they have to make their choices, on their own, for their own reasons, and I respect that. I was looking forward to a primary, but I think competitive races are good for the people. Clear choices are good for the people of Northwest Florida. They haven’t had any for a while.
IN: You think a Democrat has a serious chance?
LAU: Yes, absolutely, a Democrat has a serious chance. I wouldn’t have gotten into the race—and, obviously, politics—and I’ve never run for political office before, and I’m new, but I would have put my family through what politics has turned into if I didn’t think I could win.
IN: What was the trigger that got you in this race, and what would you hope to accomplish if elected?
LAU: The trigger, it hasn’t just been one and it hasn’t just been recently, it’s an ongoing treatment of teachers and firefighters and public servants and working families.
I graduated with a degree in history and I taught social studies, including economics and things like that, over in Santa Rosa County, and one of the things that you learn in economics is that demands drive economics.
And what you hear from Tallahassee and from the other side is small business and corporations are the economic drivers of the country and that’s flat-out wrong. People are the economic drivers. The men and women of district two are the economic drivers of district two. If they’re not out spending money or they don’t have money to spend, there is no business. There is no demand. Nobody comes here.
So, you know, I believe in the economics of people. You pay people a decent wage, you treat them with respect and the demand grows and business comes. That’s what I believe. And that’s a message that I think has been lost in Northwest Florida, and Florida in general. People drive the economy. Not the other way around.
IN: You got anything else you want to throw in?
LAU: Nah, I better stop, I better stop before I get myself in trouble.