By Reggie Connell
Apopka has a political history that spans three centuries. In 1882, James D. Fudge became Apopka's first mayor. John Land may well have broken a national record by holding that same office for over 60 years. (Note: One final tribute to Jerrell H. Shofner for writing the History of Apopka and Northwest Orange County. I refer to it often and revere its author. Thank you, Mr. Shofner).
Despite 135 years of elections, Apopka experienced a political first last week - a townhall meeting held by a member of the United States House of Representatives - Val Demings. She spent two hours fielding questions from Apopka residents and then announced she would staff an office at Apopka City Hall each week.
“It’s important to me that my office is accessible to everyone in Congressional District 10, and I’m excited about being able to offer these office hours in Apopka,” she said.
Demings also visited Apopka in October of 2016 at the VFW Community Center, but last week she returned after a November victory in the District 10 election with over Republican Thuy Lowe. A campaign visit is one thing, but why a return trip in only her first few months in office?
District 10 covers much of west Orlando and west Orange County, including the suburbs of Windermere, Apopka, Winter Garden, Eatonville, and Ocoee. It has transitioned through redistricting from a “leaning Republican” district to a “heavily Democrat” district. Democrats outnumber Republicans 45-27%. Demings won it with nearly 65% of the vote.
So why all the attention on Apopka?
For years the "I-4 Corridor" has been considered the gold standard of winning the state of Florida. Republicans dominate the panhandle and inland counties, while Democrats counter with pluralities in heavily populated counties like Dade and Broward. But those counties/cities that intersect I-4 (Volusia, Seminole, Orange, Osceola, Polk, and Hillsborough) will usually determine the majority.
Could it be that the battleground corridor is extending itself a few miles west down SR436 to a city of approximately 40,000 - 50,000 residents (depending on what you are calling Apopka) that recently mirrored the national electorate?
Take a look at these 2016 election figures:
Considering these electoral trends, could Apopka become a political destination for not only house candidates, but the Senate and even presidential campaign stops as well?
That's not to say Demings is a stranger to Apopka. Several times during the townhall, she said hello to and referenced by name people she knows who are from Apopka. But why put so much time and effort here?
Demings took questions on a range of subjects from national security to education, to family medical leave. Her views on President Trump were also referenced several times.
"I'm hoping our President... and he is our President. the crying time is over," she said. "We want him to do the right thing. He's the President of the United States. When you don't know how government works, you do whatever you want. We can't run government like a business. The government will go into the hole to protect people. Business won't do that. The government takes care of its people. I've spent the majority of my life taking care of people. I don't know how to do anything else."
In her remarks and throughout the townhall, Demings made it clear that national security was her primary concern.
"I'm a Democrat," she said. "And I love the Democratic party, but the security of our nation should be bigger than anybody's party. 27 years in law enforcement has taught me that national security is number one. We have to have a strong defense."
Health care is also a prominent issue for Demings.
"If we truly believe that America is the greatest country, then you should also believe that people should have access to affordable health care. Go out and talk to people with pre-existing conditions who were dying, but because of the Affordable Care Act (ACA/Obama Care), it saved their lives. You may have heard it before, but health care is complicated."
Demings was for the Syrian bombing by President Trump last week, but she also wants to include the Syrian refugee issue into the discussion.
"We have to be pro-active, not just reactive. My greatest strength as a police chief was that I care about people. It was also my greatest weakness. What makes this country great is that we care. And it's what could make us weak too, but I happen to believe we can be the lion and the dove at the same time. If we are truly moved by those images we see coming out of Syria, maybe the compassionate way is to open our doors. I think we are able to do both. We can be smart about both."
Demings could probably win District 10 for as long as it remains in its current Democrat-heavy state. Apopka is not the lynch-pin to winning it. However, it might well be a battleground for her in an election that involved statewide voting, or even elections involving mansions or white houses in Tallahassee or Washington.
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