Orange County Democratic House newbies seeking practical issues

Geraldine Thompson, Anna Eskamani, Joy Goff-Marcil

Orange County Democrats flipped three seats in the Florida House and, as state Reps. Geraldine ThompsonAnna Eskamani and Joy Goff-Marcil make their debuts, they’re looking for practical starts.

On Nov. 6, the three Democrats flipped the partisan strength of Orange County’s delegation from five Republicans and four Democrats, to seven Democrats and two Republicans. Thompson has been there before, representing another district. Eskamani and Goff-Marcil are new.

They did so as Democrats also took control of the Orange County Commission, already control the city of Orlando, and already hold all three Florida Senate seats representing the county. So the Orange County agenda for the 2019 Legislative Session is likely to be focused among local officials and their state lawmakers.

Yet aside from longterm, mostly defensive goals on broad issues ranging from public education to environmental protection, the trio of Florida House newcomers are focusing mainly on fairly practical issues that have chances of bipartisan support.

That may be their only hopes for success, as the Florida House remains solidly controlled by Republicans, along with the Florida Senate and executive branch.

Yet Thompson never has been timid about partisan issues in her previous tenures in the Florida Senate and Florida House, and Eskamani has never been timid about anything.

Thompson, the new representative for Florida’s House District 44 in southwest Orange County, has been here before, serving as both a state Representative from another district and a state Senator for a district that covered much of HD 44.

But in 2016 she chose to run for Congress and lost, and for two years she has been on the outside looking in. Earlier this month she toppled Republican incumbent state Rep. Bobby Olszewski.

On Tuesday, hours after she was sworn in, Thompson took up the Democrats’ leadership in the House for elections reform, along with House Democratic Leader Kionne McGhee. The move runs parallel with a call by Republicans for elections reform, though time will tell if the two paths will converge down the road.

“Cycle after cycle of elections have shown Florida to be ill-prepared, whether it’s the fact that we don’t have state-of-the-art machinery, whether the design of our ballots is problematic, whether it’s the voter purge, it’s all of those things that need to be addressed,” Thompson said. “So I came with an interest in working on that and I expressed my interest.”

She also wants to pursue the idea of turning the Secretary of State once again into an elected position and addressing the signature-matching issue and the timings of mail-in ballot acceptance and recount timings. These may keep the paths apart.

Her first priority, she said, is one she hopes the new administration of Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis and legislative Republicans will also be pursuing: Addressing polluted water runoff that ultimately spills into Lake Okeechobee, and then into the coastal waters, shocking the water.

“I’m interested in some restrictions on fertilizer to protect the environment. We have all of these fish kills and algae blooms and red tides, and I think that’s a beginning. The environment is something I want to focus on. And it’s a bipartisan issue, and I want to work across the aisle to get something done.”

Thompson, who initiated the legislation that eventually became a bipartisan, unanimously-approved measure to express remorse and seek pardons for the Groveland Four, said she would like to take it a step further. She wants to pursue establishment of a state civil-rights museum. She noted that other states including Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi have such museums.

“Florida has nothing, even though Florida was at the forefront, with the demonstrations at St. Augustine, with Dr. [Martin Luther] King there, the first martyrs to Civil Rights movements, Harry T. Moore and his wife, Harriette,” she said.

“And so I think that we are short-sighted and we don’t honor the sacrifices of so many people who brought us to where we are when we don’t celebrate our civil rights history. So I’m going to work on getting a civil rights museum established in the state of Florida,” she added.

Eskamani, of Orlando, defeated Republican Stockton Reeves to flip Florida’s House District 47 in north and central Orange County, overcoming a barrage of negative campaigning that painted her as too radical.

Eskamani said her goal is to position herself as someone who does her homework and is prepared to take on practical issues she believes can draw bipartisan support, while at the same time being prepared to play defense on issues that go to the core of her progressive being, on topics such as abortion and LGBTQ rights.

For now, it’s all about practical matters and seeking across-the-aisle alliances with the Republican-controlled House, Senate, and administration on such matters as health care access and the environment.

“I think that I am a partnership legislator. I work really hard to build relationships,” she said. “At the same time, I’ll work really hard to hold people accountable. So I think what works with me is, first, my ability to work with people across the aisle and work toward common ground when we can.”

First up, she’s interested in how to increase access to health care, including seeing whether local health departments could and should have more independence from the Florida Department of Health, as well as expansion of telemedicine, and less-controversial ideas for women’s health.

“There is such a tight grip on what our health departments can do because there is such a tight grip out of Tallahassee,” she said. “We all know that good policy, especially good health policy, is place-based. … I’d like to see more local freedom for changes that can be made at the county level.”

Eskamani said she sees an opportunity to address women’s health issues – her professional policy specialty – with discussions of pre- and postnatal maternity care, something she expects could help women’s health while avoiding conflict over more controversial issues such as abortion.

“That’s a conversation I had with both (Republican) state Rep. Scott Plakon and state Sen. Joe Gruters about, if you really want to be a state that helps women, then let’s focus on prenatal and postnatal care,” she said.

She’s also looking slightly outside of her district to working with Brevard County Republicans, particularly Republican state Reps. Tyler Sirois and Thad Altman, on developing Florida’s space economy.

“I did meet with some of our Brevard County legislators and asked about their interests, like a Space Coast caucus, and making sure we are competitive with our spaceport, but also not losing sight of the importance of research when it comes to space exploration,” she said.

Goff-Marcil expects to focus on public education reform “as the most likely” area to get anything done and playing defense against any state efforts to limit Home Rule powers for cities and counties.

They are the two issues that Goff-Marcil focused on throughout her campaign which led to an upset victory in Florida House District 30 over two-term Republican incumbent state Rep. Bob Cortes. The district covers a piece of northern Orange County, where Goff-Marcil is from, and a swath of south-central Seminole County, which was Cortes’ home.

Her district, which includes at least pieces of several cities including Maitland, where Goff-Marcil was a city councilwoman, and throughout the campaign and before Goff-Marcil said she was aware of the deep frustration of city and county officials who felt they were under attack by the Florida Legislature seeking to pre-empt local authority in areas from community redevelopment agencies to local ordinances regarding tree canopy protection.

“And then there were a lot of funding issues where they tried to pass these laws limiting [local] funding … taking away money from local government, meaning they would have to find money somewhere else,” Goff-Marcil said. “So that means a reduction of services, or somewhere else they’re going to have to try to get a fee or a tax to make up for it.”

Coming from a city council, Goff-Marcil sees the struggle for local control, particularly in pressing for higher standards in local communities compared with state rules, as a bipartisan issue, something she and her Republican colleagues on the city council agreed upon.

She also ran on an environmental platform, particularly seeking to make sure the Flordia Forever Fund is not raided for purposes other than conservation land preservation. When reminded that she might have a supportive governor in Republican Gov.-elect DeSantis, who pledged environmental protection during his campaign, Goff-Marcil responded, “That’s great. If he’s willing to work on this problem, I am happy to work on it with him.”

Scott Powers

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at [email protected]

One comment

  • Christopher M. Kennard

    November 26, 2018 at 3:19 pm

    Greeting newly elected members of the Florida State Legislature,

    I am writing you as the FLORIDIANS FOR FREEDOM (FFF) North Central Volunteer Coordinator for the RIGHT OF ADULTS TO CANNABIS [Initiative Serial # 15-20] [] in the effort to connect with newly elected public officials around the State of Florida, seeking your assistance and guidance as we move forward.

    In return, you will become known as a “cannabis civil rights campaign” activist and supporting Florida legislator. Although we cannot support or endorse candidates for elective public office, we need your help on behalf of your constituents and this issue can provide you some positive publicity ‘as you make your mark’ between now and in 2020.

    ALS patient and internationally known medicinal cannabis advocate, Cathy Jordan, with her husband, Bob Jordan​’s assistance, beat back Governor Scott’s attempt in state court to deny Medical Marijuana patients from “smoking their medicine,” despite the people voting to approve full use of medicinal cannabis in 2016. Scott did not succeed!

    In a Florida State court ruling issued in August of 2018, the Judge found Cathy Jordan’s testimony credible, accurate and in compliance with emerging medical science’s research on cannabis use, and denied Gov. Scott from interfering with Cathy Jordan, and the hundreds of thousands of patients like her, who “smoke their medicine.” Cathy and Bob Jordan, or any other medical marijuana patient will no longer be arrested for doing so.

    However, this ruling only includes those authorized to use medical marijuana . . . not the vast majority of people living in or visiting Florida, many of whom do use it, both for personal use and/or medicinal purposes .

    It is why the FLORIDIANS FOR FREEDOM (FFF) formed in 2015, to bring return this right back to all adults in Florida over the age of twenty-one to possess, use and grow their own cannabis, for personal use or for medicinal purposes. Cathy and Bob Jordan are Florida Cannabis Action Network (FL CAN) leaders and icons as well as our first president of the statewide non-partisan volunteer citizen’s organization, FLORIDIANS FOR FREEDOM.

    Come join us in our people’s peaceful “political revolution” to pass this right of adults to cannabis law, in order to resolve this issue as we can.

    Go to Print out a petition to read.

    If you agree, please sign one and pass along two more to two other registered Florida voters to sign and to do the same . . . sign one, pass along two more . . . .

    RIGHT OF ADULTS TO CANNABIS [Initiative Serial # 15-20] is a state constitutional amendment law that was written by ordinary, average citizen volunteers who formed the non-partisan group, the FLORIDIANS FOR FREEDOM (FFF), as medical marijuana faltered in 2014, before passing in 2016. However, we saw other problems developing.

    This law restores the right of adults in Florida over the age of twenty-one to possess, use and grow cannabis on private property, for personal and/or medicinal use. All plants of the genus, Cannabis, including hemp crops, would be legalized.

    Sales and purchases of cannabis and hemp (all commerce and business activities) will be governed by State of Florida law. Once legal after our proposed law is approved by over 60% of Florida’s voters, it will be easy to fashion these laws.

    Returning the right of adults to use cannabis in Florida is up to the voters in Florida to do, same as we are did to restore the right of felons to vote; as we did for approving our 2016 MEDICAL MARIJUANA Amendment, ending gerrymandering of our election boundaries, enact our land and water conservation state law, our Sunshine laws and other important legislation.

    Now we focus on restoring the right of adults to use cannabis (and hemp) as well as to promote the use of taxes and other revenue derived from cannabis and hemp agricultural and related business enterprises to fund our own world class, top-of-the-line “Made in the USA” universal single-payer health care system, from pre-natal care on through to the grave.

    Both issues now have over 60% voter support — in the polls and at the voting booth!

    As I handed out RIGHT OF ADULTS TO CANNABIS [Initiative Serial # 15-20] petitions for Florida voters to sign over the last 2018 election, next to the Marion County Elections office, I notice how voters who are supporting different candidates and all the different political parties are all coming to sign them.

    There is no division or partisan bickering among these voters as they speak together while signing these petitions, because legalizing cannabis is no longer a partisan or divisive issue — in fact, a majority 62% to 65% of voters do support cannabis.

    I notice how black, white and Hispanic voters stand together, signing these petitions, nodding their heads and agreeing with one another that it is time to stop people from being arrested for using cannabis . . . and how the politicians messed up our Medical Marijuana Amendment by making it too expensive and too difficult to obtain for many patients.

    If you not a “qualified” patient, cannabis remains illegal to use in Florida. Buying cannabis “on the street” is less expensive and easier to do, yet it also remains illegal to do so.

    The time has arrived when the use of cannabis for personal use or for medicinal purposes is no longer a partisan issue nor hotly contested . . . medical “marijuana” was approved by 71% of the vote in 2016 and today 62% to 65% now support legalizing cannabis . . . the right to possess, use and grow it.

    Independents, Republicans, Green Party people, Libertarians and Democratic voters all come to sign these ballot initiative petitions now collected by various groups beginning to form coalitions with our non-partisan volunteer FLORIDIANS FOR FREEDOM citizen’s group.

    Join us in our people’s peaceful “political revolution” to take our state and country back and restore rights we once had.

    Politicians won’t enact a law that would fully protect as well as restore the rights adults once had to possess, use and cultivate cannabis crops, including hemp, that people grew and used before the racist, immoral, corrupt conspiracy by a few pushed through the “prohibition of marijuana” in 1937. Most folks did not know until recently that marijuana was cannabis.

    Given the political make-up of the Florida Legislature, even after this election in 2018, no Florida State legislator would likely muster the political support to accomplish this feat on their own.

    Although our volunteer group of Florida residents is non-partisan and does not endorse or support political candidates campaigning for elective public office in Florida, by approving our RIGHT OF ADULTS TO CANNABIS state constitutional amendment we fully intend to provide the incentive legislators may need to help the people accomplish this goal.

    Therefore, the people of Florida are currently engaged in a statewide campaign to take the next step to do this through the ballot initiative process whereby voters, themselves, can vote to approve new state constitution amendment laws that politicians cannot delay, deny, or dismiss . . . although they may try!

    FFF is building a statewide movement to “petition” our state government for the right of Florida voters to vote whether or not to approve legal cannabis by signing petitions this year, in order to vote on this issue for themselves in the 2020 election. We will break through the barriers.

    We create our “daisy chain” of signed petitions to now flow in from all 67 counties of Florida to have the million needed to “petition” the State of Florida in order for us to vote in 2020

    FFF encourages voters to sign all legal cannabis petitions with which they agree to abide by and under which we shall all live. Once such proposed laws are on the ballot, then voters can pick and choose the best . . . at least 60% must agree on one.

    Our groups are found on Facebook, listed by county name first, followed by our FFF name. [Ex. Alachua Floridians For Freedom]. Our website is

    This is an example of people, themselves, who live in Florida, stepping up to the plate to take charge of our state because the politicians have not. FFF believes our state constitutional proposal not only will pass the Florida Supreme Court review, according to one of our nation’s top civil rights attorneys who signed a petition himself, but is what most folks really want.

    Passing a good, clean legislative bill by politicians is not going to happen today, not with the “hateful” partisan division among politicians that exists. Voters must and will lead the way past the political divide to enact some laws; cannabis being one.

    Enacting the right of adults over the age of twenty-one to possess, use and grow cannabis in Florida must become a Florida State constitutional amendment to protect citizens from our own politicians who continue to try to stop us.

    Come join us in our people’s peaceful “political revolution” to pass this right of adults to cannabis law, in order to resolve this issue as we can.

    Chris Kennard FFF North Central Florida Volunteer Coordinator
    4315 SE 10 Place Ocala, Florida 34471
    (352) 375-0375 [email protected]

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