Apopka City Commissioner Doug Bankson surprised a lot of residents when he announced his intention to run for Florida House District 39, a new seat created in the Legislature that includes all of Apopka. Bankson, who served over six years in Seat #3 on the City Council, thought the timing was too good to pass on the opportunity.
"When I was approached, I said I want to finish out my term [on the Apopka City Council]. This is what people asked me to do. And I take it to heart - service. But because of the district change, that was really the impetus behind it. It became an Apopka-centric district. It brings us together as a city and really helps to encompass all the issues we've dealt with here locally. There are kinds of two ways of looking at it - the ground up and the 30,000-foot top-down view. And so from the ground up, how can we best serve the City and of course, now region, district, to have that voice in Tallahassee."
Bankson also referenced the missed opportunities there have been in the Legislature for initiatives that would enhance Apopka.
"Just knowing the issues that we've had here, different funding that we've tried to get in years past for really important things such as Harmon Road, having an advocate there, I think would have really helped."
He sees the move from municipal to state government as an opportunity to extend Apopka's reach at an opportune moment in re-districting the legislative borders.
"I love our City. And I've enjoyed serving here. It will be about six and a half years by the time that I have to step down. Also, I was really encouraged, because it's an open seat. Now is the time, because if you get someone in there as an incumbent, it becomes partisan... so if there was someone of the party that would get in there, then to try and come against them is difficult."
On the Apopka City Council, Bankson is the most senior member, a two-term commissioner, and the vice-mayor. He is one of only five votes and an influential voice during Council-level discussions. However, in the Florida House, he will be one of the most junior members (among all first-term representatives) out of 120. Bankson says it's a transition that does not concern him.
"There's actually going to be quite a freshman class I believe, and I've been meeting a lot of them. We go in together with the new Speaker of the House.
Paul Renner, the incoming speaker, is a Republican representing the 24th District, which includes Flagler County, St. Johns County, Putnam County, and northern Volusia County since 2015. Bankson's first visit with Renner went well.
"I met with him. We hit it off. We just really clicked. It's a team effort. So just like going to high school, there's the newness of those things. But for me, I'm a people person. I love to work together. I love to find consensus. I love to find what we can agree on and move forward. Let's try and get something done."
Bankson will represent his district with local issues at the top of his mind, but he has concerns that rise to a national level - such as the Bill of Rights.
"Our first and second amendments really are under attack," Bankson said. "And if we lose those, we've lost our nation. It troubles me that even our comedians have to check their jokes at the door because of the politically correct atmosphere. People are afraid to just have a conversation. People are shouted down when they're not agreed with... that's not the way to do this. The first and second amendments were in that order on purpose. The founders saw those as the most important things... after the original articles. This was our Bill of Rights, which was to limit the federal government most of all from intrusion. We don't want a king. The people are really supposed to be the king. So protecting those things, I think, protects the integrity of our nation.
He also wants the government to call balls and strikes while allowing successful businesses to prosper, rather than choosing winners and losers or guiding an outcome.
"Economic stability is huge for me. It's why I approach things as I did here on the local level, and I'll carry those same values. I believe that we do carry a fiduciary responsibility when it comes to taxation. Obviously, we need to have enough to do the job right, but we need to stay focused on what is the purpose of government. To me, the philosophy of government is an umpire in a baseball game. Everybody loves baseball, but I've never once heard anyone say, 'Hey, let's go watch the umpires', they're the afterthought. Government should be small on purpose. But it's necessary. It's valuable. Government is there to make sure the rules are fair, and people play fair. But we're not there to adjust the scoreboard. We're not there to hamper one side so that the other side can catch up. That's what the free markets are for. And again, if we lose that we get into places of government overreach that become dangerous to the foundation. This made us great. So I believe in the free market system, and I believe it works. However, it does need checks and balances to make sure that things are fair."
At a statewide level, Bankson is concerned with the survival of agencies that provide property insurance.
"We have so many companies that are closing down. They're literally 120% to 200% in the negative. In other words, if they doubled their prices, they still would not be making enough for the claims that are going out. Whether it's storms or how that's approached we need to be careful. I think there's bad legislation that's in place that needs to be at least adjusted or replaced. That will help to curb that while still protecting people who insure their properties, so they can weather the storm."
Specifically, he thinks frivolous lawsuits are one of the culprits harming the insurance industry.
There are things on the legal side. Everyone needs the right to practice what they do, including attorneys. But when we look at the statistics, Florida, compared to all the other states, is astronomical, and that is breaking us. We've got to make sure that it's fair. There's a ditch on both sides of the roads, and both ditches get us stuck. So we've got to find that place that keeps us moving forward that allows people to prosper, but not to take advantage of loopholes that cause the system to collapse."
Bankson is a natural fit as a Republican candidate in District 39. He is arguably the best-known conservative in the area, coming off two victories in commission races in 2016, and 2020, and is from the district's largest city. But Bankson was not approached by the Republican Party of Florida officially.
"Not so much the party, just individuals who were in the party that encouraged me, because they knew who I was. They knew this seat was coming open, and they felt it would be a good fit."
He weighed the potential run with his wife Jeri, who encouraged him to pursue the opportunity.
"My wife and I had a real discussion because we don't do anything unless we're in agreement. 100%. She's just my heart. And really my secret weapon. She is such a trooper. And at first, when we were approached with this, we were in the middle of expansion and different things that we're doing with our school, and this wouldn't be the time that I would choose it."
Bankson, the lead pastor and founder of Victory Church in Apopka, drew on Old Testament, wisdom, in part, to arrive at his final decision.
"Using my biblical background where David said, 'Is there not a cause?' When I see the cause is worth fighting for, that moves me. Her [Jeri's] first thought was, 'Is he crazy?' She just wrestled that night just with the thought, and by the morning, she said, 'We can do this'. We have a strong team here at our church. I love our church and our staff, and associate pastors that can step up and step in. Our church is behind it. And so there's just a real positive and in every measure."
Bankson also thinks Florida is in a critical stage in education.
"Education is about scholastic knowledge, not social experimentation... and we're seeing the challenge of this. You know, I respect every family, but we've got to make sure to protect the parent's rights. We've got to protect school choice. I love education. My 103-year-old grandmother is a lifelong educator in the public school systems. She put that love of education in my heart, and I support education... however, I see a real challenge there. Because of what's happening, our teachers are not just allowed to teach. And we're being thrust into some of these issues that should be up to the families to deal with. We should teach our kids how to be successful in the business field, in whatever, and wherever their dream carries them. But we're getting into areas that I don't believe it's the government's business and responsibility to get into."
He is also concerned with the plight of law enforcement in today's climate.
"Being a chaplain with the police department, I have a real heart for what they face. These are real people. And if we're not careful with our rhetoric, we actually put their lives at danger. We tend to latch on to emotional issues and shout down the other side. You can't reason with emotion. We are emotional beings. And we have that right. But we need them to say 'okay, I understand the emotion of this'. But then what do we do? What's the answer? How can we truly see positive change? I have that in my makeup, to want to seek answers... to want to work together, but to stand strong for things that are important for my principles."
And of all the principles currently in the national conversation, Roe v. Wade is high on his list.
"I'm unashamedly pro life, and we are seeing a trend change in society. We're seeing more where science proves what to me, we know in our hearts. I understand that there are those who have fears and concerns on the other side of that issue. But to me, it goes to the right of the individual. And we are endowed by our creator with inalienable rights. All men are created equal. And so it goes to the individual... does the individual have rights? Of course. As a Christian, I believe that God knew us in our mother's womb. But there are those that don't have that same viewpoint. This is who I am, and this is what I will fight for. I believe its time has come. Just like slavery. In 1857, the Supreme Court had decided that a man with dark skin was property. We look at that now. We know it was evil."
As for issues in Apopka, Bankson would start from the ground up. He thinks he will be a better advocate for Apopka issues than some before him.
"Infrastructure needs are key. And part of our challenge... some of these things that they were able to bring up were good and legitimate things, but they ultimately got cut because of budgeting. And not because of what it was they were trying to bring forward. So I think there's already an open door. For the specific needs that are there. Obviously, our biggest challenge is the workforce. Apopka is in a tremendous place when it comes to growth. And I know it's the the frustration about when will we see the restaurants, but it has to be jobs first. The government is not a job creator. But government can create an environment where jobs can grow."
He's glad South Apopka is a part of District 39. It gives him an opportunity to go to bat for them directly in the Legislature.
"I have a heart for South Apopka. Obviously, being here, we're considered South Apopka, you know, in our own church. And I've driven these streets and literally prayed what can be done. And I've had different ones say, we don't just need a handout. This is not what we're asking for. We need opportunities. And so to bring meaningful jobs and employment, so again, all those facets, whether it's the housing that can support it, whether it's the education, whether it's bringing those jobs and those kinds of work in tandem. That was one of the things that I really liked about it before Apopka was split. District wise, as well as historically. And so I love the fact that we're finding that way to overcome the mistakes and errors of the past, yet do it in a responsible way. We can't make an emotional move that ends up not being sustainable, but we need to do it the right way. There's so much that's been made available, because of the COVID funding and everything that has happened there. We really did not get our fair share. So obviously, whenever that type of funding comes along, we say 'hey, wait a minute, it's our turn'. We really got the short end of the stick, so we should get the big end of the stick this time."
With the potential move from municipal to state government, what might be next for Bankson? Could he follow the path of Apopka Mayor Bryan Nelson and run for County Commission and then Mayor of Apopka? Could he shoot for state senate or US Congress? Bnakson doesn't take anything off the table.
"We don't know where the future leads and what those things will be. So no, I wouldn't take them off the table. Because, you know, I never expected this. The commission... when I got to this juncture. So it all was based upon where we're at at that time. It's all about what the need is, and can I make a difference?"
Bankson will keep his opportunities open, and looks back at his time on the Apopka City Council with joy.
"It's been an honor to serve. It's been something that I think has helped me grow as a person and prepare me for the opportunity to serve, going forward. I'm very grateful to the people of Apopka. I've even had enemies become friends along the way, which is wonderful. I'm just excited and optimistic to look at the horizon. I'm an optimist at heart. And I'm excited for the opportunities that lie ahead."
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