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The two Democrats competing to fill a Palm Beach County opening in the Florida House of Representatives can’t be pigeonholed.
On the surface, one seems more liberal and the other is more moderate. But Jervonte “Tae” Edmonds and Clarence “Chief” Williams each advocate a mix of more liberal, progressive policies and espouse more conservative views on some issues.
They’re also personally and professionally different. Williams, 69, is a retired Riviera Beach police chief and lawyer. Edmonds, 30, is a former legislative aide and founder of Suits for Seniors, a program mentoring program for high school students.
The winner of the Jan. 11 special Democratic primary election is the odds-on favorite to join the county’s roster of state representatives. Though a Republican is running in the March 8 special general election, 60% of House District 88′s registered voters are Democrats and just 14% Republicans. (The rest are registered with no party affiliation or in various minor parties.)
When the candidates answered questions during a joint video interview with the South Florida Sun Sentinel Editorial Board and submitted detailed answer to written questionnaires, neither was overwhelmingly critical about the way Tallahassee is operating — despite the fact that they’re competing to serve as members of the minority party in a state government dominate by Republicans, and in which Democrats’ issues and complaints are largely ignored.
Edmonds gave the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature a grade of C. He said Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ performance “has been a mixed bag,” adding that his “response to COVID was horrible.”
Williams gave the Legislature a B minus. He said DeSantis’ performance has been “adequate,” adding that he found the governor “accessible” and sees him as someone who moves on issues. “I like his movement on various issues, not that I agree with them. But at least there is some response and movement.”
Coronavirus: “The state’s response has been poor. Florida has one of the highest death rates and lowest vaccination rates in the country,” Edmonds said, faulting DeSantis for spending money on “frivolous lawsuits and an unnecessary special legislative session to block local governments from enacting legislation to protect their residents and placing restrictions on small businesses.”
Williams said the “overall response has been adequate. He said access to services could have been made easier and more services provided in underserved neighborhoods.”
Death Penalty: Edmonds said the death penalty “is warranted in extreme cases.” Williams said he opposes the death penalty “because of its historical abuses and miscarriages of justice and application.”
Gun violence: Edmonds and Williams both said they want comprehensive background checks on all gun sales, including those made privately, online and at gun shows. Edmonds also said he supports limiting high-capacity magazines and favors repealing the state law that limits local governments’ ability to pass gun legislation.
Marijuana: Edmonds said he supports full legalization of marijuana. As a college student, he said he was twice charged with possessing small amounts of marijuana. Charges were dropped, he said.
Williams opposes full legalization of marijuana “Greater exploration and studies are required as to lasting impacts of prolonged use beyond that determined for medical purposes,” he said.
School funding: Edmonds opposes the state law under which future tax increases for education must be shared with charter schools. “Most charter schools are owned by for-profit entities and are not subject o the same rules, regulations and accountability standards as traditional public schools. Public taxes should go to public schools.”
Williams, who sits on the board of a charter school, said he supports sharing tax money with charter schools.
Abortion: Edmonds opposes additional state restrictions on abortion. He said Florida should “look closely at repealing some of its existing restrictions like requiring a woman to obtain a medically unnecessary ultrasound prior to obtaining an abortion.”
Williams doesn’t advocate any changes in current state laws governing abortion. “I am comfortable with the provisions of the current law.”
Each qualified to appear on the ballot with his full name and a nickname. Jervonte “Tae” Edmonds and Clarence “Chief” Williams.
Edmonds is founder of Suits for Seniors, which teaches financial literacy and leadership, and offers guidance in pursuing college and career exploration to high school students. At the end of the program, students receive suits.
Edmonds is paid a salary from Suits for Seniors, but said he wouldn’t be beholden to the organization’s corporate donors, such as foundations run by Florida Power & Light Co. and Comcast, when voting in the House. He said the not profit is not overly reliant on any single source of financial support.
He’s also the former CEO of the Police Athletic League in West Palm Beach, former legislative assistant to state Sen. Bobby Powell and state Rep. Al Jacquet, and an analyst for the Palm Beach County Criminal Justice Commission.
“I have the experience in Tallahassee that is needed to draft legislation and make positive change for the residents of District 88,” he said.
Edmonds listed endorsements from more than 30 currently elected officials in Palm Beach County, including county commissioners, School Board members, mayors, state legislators and city commissioners as well as additional endorsements from multiple former elected officials. He’s also been endorsed by the Florida AFL-CIO.
“We are in a state of emergency. And what we need is someone who has done this job before, someone who has the experienced relationship with the legislators to make a change and tangible difference, someone who has been around this community servicing in this community his entire career,” Edmonds said.
Williams was the police chief in Riviera Beach from 2002 to 2018. He touted the run as a successful, but the end of his tenure was controversial. The police union voted no confidence in him and WPTV-Ch. 5 reported he had participated in a secret meeting with City Council members over the firing of a city manager and attempting to make sure that manager didn’t get his job back.
Before he moved to Florida, he practiced civil rights and employment law. He said he’s helped draft legislation in the past, including working with Powell.
Williams said he is running “because this important House District is ready to move in a new direction, a direction that includes working to resolve real-world issues, using my skill set to offer real-world solutions.”
He’s been endorsed by the Palm Beach County Black Caucus and the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council.
“Voter of District 88 deserve a choice. They don’t deserve an anointing of candidates. They deserve choices,” he said. “This is not a stepping-stone for me. I don’t need another job. I don’t need another award. I don’t need another pension. It’s about service. It’s about choices. It’s about having an individual in Tallahassee who can hit the ground running articulating your positions, your issues and advocating for them as I’ve done historically throughout my career in public service.”
The Jan. 11 special primary, in which mail voting and in person early voting are already underway, is one of the ripple effects that started with the April 6 death of Congressman Alcee Hastings.
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State Rep. Omari Hardy ran in the special Democratic primary for the nomination to succeed Hastings. The state’s resign-to-run law required him give up the House seat. Even though Hardy lost, his resignation, effective at 11:59 p.m. on Jan. 10, is irrevocable.
Florida is a closed primary state, which means only Democrats can vote in the Democratic primary. Whoever wins the Democratic primary will face Republican Guarina Torres in the March 8 special general election.
Riviera Beach and West Palm Beach are major population centers in the 88th House District, which runs along or near Interstate 95 from Delray Beach to Lake Park