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College student files to challenge Neil Combee in HD 39

Victor E. Sims spent much of his childhood in foster care, going from house to house. Now, as an adult with a college degree upcoming, he is running for the Florida Legislature challenging an incumbent state representative.

Sims, a Winter Haven Democrat, officially opened his campaign Thursday for House District 39 held by Rep. Neil Combee, a Polk City Republican seeking his third two-year term.

Now 20, Sims said he will complete his bachelor’s degree from University of South Florida St. Petersburg in May.

He will turn 21 four days before the Nov. 8 general election.

Republican Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam was 21 when he declared for his first elective office, the Florida House, in 1996 and won by a large margin in a heavily Democratic district.

Sims was born and grew up in Florida, spending most of his childhood in Central Florida among several foster homes. He was later adopted by a mother and father of seven children who, he said, gave him the support to succeed.

He graduated with honors from high school at Polk State Chain of Lakes Collegiate High School.

A Polk State release in 2014 noted that after his graduation from its high school he traveled to Washington to receive a national award as an outstanding foster care system alumnus and to talk with lawmakers about the growing foster care system.

He entered foster care in 1996, when he was just 3 months old, because of violence in his home, according to the school’s biography of him.

“His time in foster care can be measured in years — 11 — as well as families — eight,” the Polk State biography states.

When he was 11, Sims went to live with Violet and Ron Sims. It was his final foster-care move. The Sims adopted him in 2007. They had adopted his biological sister, Victoria, in 2004.

Asked whether he has concerns about running in a traditionally conservative district Sims said he believes that the district, which includes northern Polk County and a portion of Osceola County, is not as conservative as pundits believe.

“Many have not voted before or have not had the opportunity to vote for a progressive,”  he said. “I see a lot of people following in my footsteps (of his childhood), and they can’t get out of it. The things holding people back are education, the environment they live in and the lack of opportunity.”

He said he wants to bring out young voters and those who may have thought their vote might not make a difference.

Sims said working for Hillary Clinton before the New Hampshire primary confirmed a desire to run for office.

“I want to be the voice for people who have no voice; people who have been hurt by the system,” he said.

The district has about 4,000 more Republicans than Democrats and a large number of voters registered as no party affiliation.

Combee had a campaign fund of $53,905 at the end of February.

Written By

Former Ledger of Lakeland columnist Bill Rufty is Central Florida political correspondent for SaintPetersBlog and Florida Politics. Rufty had been with the Ledger from 1985-2015, where, as political editor, he covered a wide range of beats, including local and state politics, the Lakeland City Commission, and the Florida Legislature. Ledger editor Lenore Devore said about Rufty’s 30-year career: “[He is] a man full of knowledge, a polling expert and a war history buff … who has a steel trap in his brain, remembering details most of us have long since forgotten.”

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