Democrats to Face Off at the Polls

It’s no secret that candidates in next Tuesday’s Democratic primary have their own support channels throughout Florida’s 2nd congressional district.

Florida A&M students, faculty and alumni know Alfred “Al” Lawson as the former state senator and congressman and alumnus after whom their new gym was named.

Bay County democrats know Alvin Peters from his eight years as chairman of the Democratic Executive Committee.

Florida State students know Mark Schlakman as the senior program director for FSU’s Center for the Advancement of Human Rights.

Lawson, Peters, Schlakman and a fourth candidate, Leonard Bembry, want to unseat incumbent U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland, a republican, in Florida’s 2nd district.

But first, one of them must win enough support in the primary to compete in the Nov. 6 general election.

Lawson said his experience working with diverse communities throughout the state puts him in a better position to help Florida residents.

“I worked hard over the years to provide jobs, to fund higher education and K-12 for the students here. Some of my opponents have not really been involved in,” said Lawson, who hopes to make history as the first African-American congressman in the district. “And I think I bring a broader perspective. I’ve been able to work on both sides of the community, both in the white and black community and really have distinguished myself.”

In 1982, he won a seat in the state House of Representatives, which he kept for 18 years. In 2000, he won a seat in the Florida senate and remained a senator for 10 years. He lost the democratic primary two years ago to then U.S. Rep. Allen Boyd.

Lawson contended that he could do more to serve the African-American community and fight for affordable health care in the district. He said he wants to boost funding for pell grants (scholarship money fro Florida students), provide easy-to-access loans for students, create jobs and support environmental initiatives for the Gulf. 

Peters said his understanding of early childhood education gives him greater leverage in working to improve services to the district. He is president of Early Education and Care, Inc. in Panama City, Fla., and he was the chairman of the Bay County DEC.

Peters blamed the fierce primary battled between Boyd and Lawson in 2010 for fracturing the party and leading to Southerland’s election.

“I think that I offer a way to appeal to all democratic constituencies in the primary and unite our forces and appeal independents and republicans in the general election,” said Peters.

Peters said he wants to revive small businesses while focusing on renewable energy and to provide returning war veterans with education and jobs. He said preserving jobs is essential for the long-term viability of the districts.

“The economic recovery is too fragile to go about firing police officers and firing essential state workers and laying off school teachers, so we need to retain those folks and that needs to be a part of the recovery plan,” Peters said. “Reclaiming jobs that have moved overseas is a function that democrats and republicans should work together on to change the tax and trade policy so we ‘incentivize’ the return the manufacturing jobs to the United States.”

Schlakman, the last man to enter the race, has an impressive résumés that includes serving in the White House and under three Florida governors. Schlakman has never held public office, but he worked behind the scenes. He was a counsel to Gov. Lawton Chiles and a senior adviser to Gov. Kenneth “Buddy” MacKay, both Democrats. He remained an adviser after Gov. Jeb Bush, a republican, took office. He served as a White House special envoy to the Americas and then was credited as a Foreign Affairs Officer of the U.S. Department of State.

He said he took an unconventional look at congress and decided the country needs to redefine what it is to be bipartisan.

“Given that I’ve worked in democratic and republican administrations… and I’ve had diplomatic background, I think those types of skill sets are relevant today. And who we send to congress, should be a function of what the immediate priorities and needs and concerns are,” Schlakman said. “I think we need familiarity with the federal government with congress in particular. Beyond all of the hyper-partisan rhetoric, there are some aspects of congress that needs to be reformed.”

Schlakman said he plans to focus on, among other things, national security, the environment and restoring the civil rights of ex-felons.

All three of these men’s résumés show much and varied experience. Lawson has the name recognition and legislature experience. Peters understands the law and the legal process and Schlakman has worked at the federal and state level. Bembry couldn’t be reached for comment for this article. 

It will be up to the voters to decide when they go to the polls on Tuesday, Aug. 14.