Former state Rep. Sean Shaw has had an extremely productive year.
The son of Leander Shaw, the first black Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court, Shaw retired from the Legislature in 2018 to become the first African American to campaign for Attorney General.
While Shaw left The Capitol, he has far from stopped working on the people’s business.
Before his tenure in elected office, Shaw — a longtime consumer watchdog — served as Florida’s Insurance Consumer Advocate, appointed in 2008 by then-Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink.
In that time, Shaw became a champion for policyholders and founded “Policyholders of Florida,” a statewide consumer advocacy alliance.
Elected to House District 61 in 2016, Shaw represented East Tampa, Ybor City, Progress Village, Seminole Heights, and parts of West Tampa. In Tallahassee, he continued to advocate for consumers, pushing for equal rights and opportunities for everyone.
Despite losing the Attorney General’s race — even though he received over 3.7 million votes, more than any other Democratic AG candidate in history — Shaw continued his public service for Floridians. He has stayed involved in both state and national politics as well as turning his focus on several progressive issues as founder of “People Over Profits,” an organization with the mission of putting “working people first.”
According to SeanShaw.com, People Over Profits “is fighting for those who work the hardest, not those who can afford to speak the loudest.”
Recently, I had an opportunity to speak with Shaw, catching up on what has been, for him, a very prolific year.
So … what have you been up to over the past year?
Since the campaign, I’ve made it a priority to spend more time on the water. I bought a saltwater boat and try to take it out as much as I can.
My first love will always be fishing and it’s therapeutic for me. Sometimes I even take it across the bay to visit my friend Ben Diamond in St. Pete. It’s funny because I’ve realized that politics was both my work and a hobby — and I needed some life balance. I think they call it self-care now.
But I’ve also been very busy with projects across the state: joining a new law firm, launching People Over Profits, and hosting my weekly radio show (Vanguards of Democracy).
Where are you working now?
I am enjoying the work that I am doing with Vanguard Attorneys. Vanguard is a personal injury firm that is based in Ybor City. Actually, my office in Vanguard is my old call time room from my Attorney General race!
I enjoy being involved with Vanguard’s marketing and community outreach efforts. I am joined in these efforts by my mentor Sen. Arthenia Joyner, who works there as well. As always, I find fulfillment in helping people who are injured in their fight for fair compensation.
How is your radio show going? And, why haven’t I been on yet?
I’ve really enjoyed my weekly show and talking about the critical issues facing Tampa Bay.
Vanguards of Democracy is a talk show that allows listeners to discuss current political events and to hear directly from community leaders involved in grassroots projects. We got started just as the Tampa city elections were ramping up.
We had most of the local candidates on the show, including Jane Castor, Orlando Gudes and Frank Reddick. Since the election, we’ve had Darryl Rouson, Wengay Newton, Nikki Fried, Janet Cruz, Ed Narain and quite a few others.
And, you’re welcome to come on soon. Maybe we can talk after Session in the spring.
Why did you decide to make an early endorsement in the presidential race?
I knew I wanted to find a special kind of candidate, one that stood in stark contrast to our current President’s moral shortcomings and erratic temperament.
But I was really looking for someone who spoke to the needs of my generation, who came of age around 9/11, during the failures of the Iraq War, the housing crisis, and a long recession that followed.
If you’re 40 and under, these are formative experiences that we still haven’t really grappled with.
When I first heard Mayor Pete Buttigieg on a cable news show, I knew he was different. I’ve come to understand is the kind of leader this country needs.
I reached out to endorse him because I believe he has the right ideas to address important issues like criminal justice reform through his Douglass Plan, affordable health care, and the student loan crisis.
For Democrats, doing more of the same hasn’t worked, and it won’t. If we want to take back the White House, we have to nominate someone who believes in our ideals and who can win.
I have done numerous media interviews on his behalf, and I have traveled to South Carolina.
I will be in Iowa to help with their last-minute efforts before the Iowa Caucuses. I am very excited!
Aside from Mayor Pete, what are you doing to stay involved in politics?
A commitment that I’ve made since the last election is recommitting to supporting the Democratic Party, Democratic candidates and progressive infrastructure.
You may remember that Terrie Rizzo asked me to co-chair the FDP’s “Path to Power” Committee. There were some real successes in 2018, from Fried and Cruz’s wins, plus a slate of great new house members, but too many heartbreakers at the top of the ticket.
I’ve joined a network of progressive donors throughout the state focused on building out infrastructure. The work we’re doing building out candidate development, GOTV, messaging and research is really exciting.
About your advocacy organization, People Over Profits. First, congratulations on making it a year, how did things go?
The People Over Profits (thepeopleoverprofits.org) organization was born out of the idea that things are out of whack with how we govern ourselves. The needs of international conglomerates are being put ahead of the needs of everyday people. So, POP allows me to engage in public matters and advocate for people that may not have loud voices.
We’ve worked hard to spotlight the progress still needed to be made in the policymaking process like Amendment 4 by creating a network of attorneys across the state and a guide to assist returning citizens with registering to vote, environmental issues and public education.
It’s crazy to think that we would need to be in this fight at this time, but it goes to show how much more we have to do to put people first.
After my Attorney General campaign, I knew I couldn’t just go home.
The energy and experiences the voters shared with me, I won’t ever forget. They believed in our message, but we came up short — which left me to consider who was going to advocate for everyday Floridians.
POP was created to do that.
I’ve noticed that you tweet a lot about Felon Rights and Amendment 4 implementation.
What Desmond Meade accomplished is truly inspirational and call-to-action for all of us.
You may remember that I campaigned on Amendment 4 and talked about in every speech I gave in 2018, and I haven’t stopped since it passed. The issue speaks to everything I care about in politics.
A lot of folks think of the Civil Rights Movement as a chapter in a history book, but it’s still being fought to this day. I was never going to sit out this fight.
Continuing to disenfranchise voters is a threat to our democracy and an erosion of our constitution. You can call it a poll tax or a fine or whatever else you want. I just call it wrong.
Respect the will of the voters and restore the voting rights of former felons.
Are you doing anything around any current legislation?
We’ve gotten very engaged in opposition to SB 894 and HB 857, pushed largely by lending giant Aura, and sponsored by Sen. Rouson and Rep. Juan Fernandez-Barraquin.
The whole thing is really outrageous and entirely designed to benefit a single out-of-state company. The bill creates an installment loan product with exorbitant rates for borrowers.
Even more concerning, the bill would allow the sales of these loans by unlicensed brokers, which opens the door to predatory practices.
I’ve supported some lender-backed legislation in the past so long as there is consumer-friendly regulation and fair practices, but this legislation would make it more likely that more low-income consumers would be caught in debt traps they are often unable to climb out of, and taken advantage of by unscrupulous lenders, all without any real oversight from the Official of Financial Regulation (OFR), the Florida agency designed to regulate consumer finance loans.
We’re sponsoring some advertisements and radio spots to draw attention to the issue and hopefully kill the thing.
Is there anything else POP has been focused on?
I had the chance to serve on the utility committee in the House, and I continue to have an interest in some of those issues, particularly around strengthening our grid, diversifying our energy mix and making sure the black and brown communities in East and West Tampa have the same access to affordable, safe power as those along the bay and beaches.
As part of the effort to defeat the electricity deregulation initiative, it really became apparent how misguided we are about our energy policy in general. We’ve got a situation in which low-income customers, like those in my former district, are literally subsidizing wealthy homeowners and their solar panels. How does that happen?
I’m all for residential solar, but you shouldn’t expect working people to pay for it.
Simultaneously, you’ve got a public counsel pining for a return to coal and trying to decrease our investment in solar. And, then, he sues to block the implementation of underground transmission lines, which was passed nearly unanimously in both the House and Senate and will help restore power faster after a hurricane hits. It’s baffling.
Weren’t you doing something energy-related at the FDP Convention?
Yeah, exactly, that’s when I appeared on your podcast at Disney.
As I mentioned, I was able to get involved in the fight against the electricity deregulation ballot initiative. POP held a forum at the FDP’s June conference with Rep. Dotie Joseph, (former President of League of Cities) Gil Ziffer, JB Clark from IBEW [International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers], and Scott Arceneaux. It was a well-attended event with over 200 party activists.
I’m glad the Supreme Court tossed that thing. It was really problematic. You can tell by the strange bedfellows who opposed it.
I mean, how often do you see AFL-CIO join with the Florida Chamber, the League of Cities partner with [Senate President Bill] Galvano and [Speaker José] Oliva, Ashley Moody agree with me!
But, seriously, that would have upturned the entire way that Floridians get energy and make us more like Texas and California, which were constantly in the news with their rate spikes and grid malfunctions.