More than 300 candidates are running for the 160 seats in the Florida House and Senate. And, try as we will, FloridaPolitics.com won’t be able to interview all of them.
So we are asking every candidate, including incumbents, to complete a questionnaire we believe offers an interesting, albeit, thumbnail sketch of who they are and why they are running. If you are a candidate and would like to complete the questionnaire, email Peter@FloridaPolitics.com.
Today’s candidate spotlight features Marihelen Wheeler, Democratic candidate for Florida’s House District 21, covering Dixie, Gilchrist and part of Alachua counties.
Here is Wheeler in her own words:
Significant other? Kids?
I am married to Dr. Paul Wheeler, and I am the mother of three sons.
Education background? Professional background?
I have an MAEd in Art Education from Eastern Kentucky University and an MA in Exceptional Student Education from the University of Florida.
What was your first job?
My first job was recruiting students from the mountains of Appalachian Kentucky by convincing their parents to allow them to attend a small community college in Jackson, Kentucky.
In 25 words or less, why are you running for office?
I am running for office to balance the conversation about public education needs, the environment and the economy of North Florida.
Did you speak with anybody in your political party before deciding on running? Receive any encouragement? From whom?
I spoke with several members of the progressive community and our current House representative in District 20. All were encouraging — environmentalists I have been working with for over 13 years, as well as the teachers with whom I have been working for the last 22 years in Alachua County.
Who do you count on for advice?
I look to my colleagues and fellow activists for advice as well as my husband and my son, Jeremiah.
Who is your political consultant? Campaign manager?
I work with Edwin Enciso and Dr. Ferguson Reid, Sr. as consultants. Our campaign manager is currently Edwin Enciso.
Who was the first person to contribute to your campaign? Why did they donate?
I was the first person to contribute to my campaign. I considered it an ante into the pot because I believe in this effort.
Who, if anyone, inspires you in state government?
Although he’s no longer in office, I have a great deal of respect for Bob Graham. He launched the most extensive environmental protection program ever in Florida. He was also focused on education. He did a lot to improve our public universities. While he was governor, the state added over a million jobs, and our per capita income exceeded the U.S. average.
Why do people mistrust elected officials and what are you going to do about it?
People mistrust elected officials because elected officials often make decisions and recommendations about things they know nothing about. Too often these decisions, made in blatant ignorance, have devastating effects. I always make sure to have the information needed to make educated decisions.
What are 3 issues that you’re running on? (You’re not allowed to say education or “improving the schools”)
Interesting that this question will not allow education. Aside from having been an educator of more than 37 years, I strongly believe good education is the foundation of a successful society. Without a good education, our graduating young people will not be able to get good jobs. Nor will we, as a country, be able to compete globally. I will definitely run on this issue as Florida is not properly funding its schools so that we can prepare our children for the future that is going to be difficult to navigate economically. Another issue is environmental protection. I will work with scientists and urban planners to prepare for the rise in sea level that will affect our coastal areas and our fresh water supply. The economy of Florida depends on agriculture, aquaculture and ecotourism. I will work to protect these areas of industry that are vital to Florida’s economy. I will also work for the funding of basic public services.
What is a “disruptive” issue (i.e., ride-sharing) you are interested in?
I am interested in the disruptive issue of energy corporations coming to Florida without regard to the fragility of the environment and the support those companies receive from legislators who benefit financially at the expense of our environment. That is truly disruptive! Farms being divided by gas pipelines through eminent domain is terribly disruptive as well as that same pipeline running under the most important Suwannee River system. That is extremely disruptive.
What does your legislative district need from Tallahassee?
Among other things, our district needs environmental protection for farmlands and watermen in the Gulf. The ecotourism industry should be promoted with the reclamation of our springs and rivers. We need more funding for schools. The new Dixie County High School needs additional funding to be completed. The old high school in Cross City should be refurbished to serve four counties with a vocational school. That same building could also house mental health services that are now only available in Alachua County. The correctional facilities in the district need funding so that high levels of professionalism can be maintained. Immigration reform is needed to help protect groups of workers who are here to work in agriculture and horse and cattle industries.
Who was the best governor in Florida’s modern history?
I would have to say Lawton Chiles. I say him because of his health care and education reforms, and his leadership of the recovery efforts after Hurricane Andrew devastated South Florida in 1992. I remember a story about him hiking more than 1,000 miles from the Panhandle to the Keys, taking notes of the thoughts of voters he talked to along the way when he was running for the Senate. That story has always stuck with me. I can relate to it. I think the thing I enjoy most about campaigning is meeting people.
If you could amend the Florida Constitution, what would you change?
I would make capital punishment unconstitutional.
Are yard signs an important part of campaigning in your district?
Although there’s some debate over how important yard signs really are, I think they’re important in a district like 21 which is mostly rural. In District 21, people are spread out over wide areas. Yard signs help a candidate get their name out in these areas and also remind people of an election. Yard signs also serve a less obvious purpose. People who are unable to do volunteer work often put up yard signs as their way of supporting a campaign. We get requests for yard signs all the time.
What’s the first thing you read each morning?
I read the local newspaper daily.
Where do you get your political news?
I watch local and national news daily. I also get magazines donated to me for reading: The Week, Christian Science Monitor, Newsweek and Time come to our home, and I watch MSNBC most evenings.
Who do you think will be the next President of the United States?
I believe Hillary Clinton will take election 2016.
60 Minutes or House of Cards?
Neither. Madame Secretary.
Social media presence?
In 140 characters, what’s a tweet that best describes your campaign message?
Vote for Florida Families.
Painting and theatrical costuming. Outdoor activities including camping, hiking and kayaking. I also host “Straight Talk,” a bimonthly talk show on African Network TV.
Favorite sport and sports team?
I enjoy student athletics — high school and college. My favorite sport is basketball. University of Florida boys and girls teams are exciting to watch.