Candidate Feature: Val Demings running for Florida Congressional District 10
Florida Congressional District 10 candidate Val Demings visited Apopka last month at the VFW Community Center, and before a small but vocal crowd she conveyed her thoughts and ideas while listening to the community’s as well.
“I’m a Democrat, but the agenda I move forward will be the people’s agenda," she said. "And a community involves everyone."
Demings is running against Republican Thuy Lowe, but Lowe's name never entered the discussion.
"We are in a great position," she said of the election. "But I’ll be fighting until the last vote is counted on November 8th.”
And perhaps her victory in the Democratic Primary will prove to be the bigger challenge.
Demings won a hard fought primary election against three other Democrats with 57% of the votes on August 30th. It was a comeback after a different result in the last election cycle for the seat.
In 2012, Demings narrowly lost to Daniel Webster in District 10 despite outperforming an incumbent president. Webster edged her 51.7%-48.3%. In comparison Republican challenger Mitt Romney beat President Barack Obama 53.4%-46.6% on the top of the ticket in District 10.
However in 2016, Demings will enjoy a different landscape.
District 10 now 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%.
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It was billed as a “Lift every voice listening tour", but it felt more like an incumbent stopping by her hometown to talk to a few friends. Demings facilitated discussions on issues almost as much as she answered questions from the audience. She was warm and authentic and seemed comfortable with the diverse crowd. Demings isn’t from Apopka, but she displayed a knowledge of the city. She called on Mayor Joe Kilsheimer to elaborate on a local school program. She brought local pastors Hezekiah Bradford and Richard King into several discussions. She hugged Sister Ann Kendrick of the Hope Community Center when she entered the building and sat down in the front row. She interacted and joked with City Commissioner Billie Dean.
And she took on issues that were specific to the local community. The very first question she fielded was about crime in South Apopka.
“I knew this question would come up. I was thinking about South Apopka. And the question I ask you is how much do you love South Apopka? And the families? And the people who are there? Because every community regardless of ethnicity, gender, how much money they have in the bank, deserves to be loved. So are we serious about saving the children of South Apopka? Are we serious about providing after-school programs that will help them to develop into productive citizens? Or do we leave them to be raised by the street corners? Because the street corners will certainly do that. Many children before they can get to the bus stop will pass four or five drug dealers. And then we put them into the classroom and expect them to perform. We used to meet children where they were…in terms of their pace of learning… because the goal was to make sure everybody graduated. And everybody succeeded. If we know that 68% of the people in state prisons around the country did not graduate high school, could that be a clue? Could it be as simple as making sure every boy and girl graduates high school?
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Her name was Valdez Venita Butler. She was the youngest of seven children born to a poor family in Jacksonville. Her mother Elouise was a maid, her father James, a janitor. She attended segregated schools in the '60s, graduated from Wolfson High School in Jacksonville the 70’s, and became the first in her family to earn a college degree from Florida State University.
But that was not her last accomplishment.
After graduating from college, Demings worked as a social worker in Jacksonville for 18 months. In 1983, she applied for a job with the Orlando Police Department, and during her 27-year career she served in virtually every department before being appointed as Chief of OPD in 2007, the first woman to lead the department. As Chief, she was credited with reducing violent crime in Orlando by 40%. She retired from the position in 2011.
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“17-million people who did not have health care coverage are now covered," she said "It’s not perfect, but it really boils down to this: If you don’t believe that every family living in the greatest nation in the world deserves access to quality health care, I want to hear from you which families should not be covered. Remember it was created to regulate the insurance companies so that quality health insurance would be affordable for everyone. No monster or boogey man created it for bad reasons. It was created so Americans could have access to quality health care. So I will vote to not repeal it, but help to improve it.”
Immigration is also a national issue, but with a large Hispanic population in Apopka, it is also a local topic. Demings praised the compassion of the United States in her response.
“We are not just the greatest nation, we are a compassionate one too. It’s impossible to deport 12-million people, but it’s also not compassionate or humane. We need to create a system so that people who are here undocumented can attain citizenship.”
Demings has not decided on which congressional committees she will join, how long she will stay in congress, or what her congressional journey might have in store for her, but she is certain of the reasons she is running for the District 10 seat.
“When one in four children go to bed hungry in the United States, I know I want to be a part of solving that. I want to be a part of significant legislation. I take public service serious. I am on a mission in this congressional race to make sure that everybody... every family that is willing to work hard and play by the rules has an opportunity to succeed. Because that's the opportunity I had. This is a calling for me."
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