Nearly 250 candidates are vying for state House and state Senate seats in 2020. Try as we will, Florida Politics can’t interview all of them.
Just like in 2016 and 2018, we’re again asking every candidate 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 [email protected]
Today’s feature: Kathy Lewis, a Democratic candidate for Senate District 20.
In 25 words or less, why are you running for office?
The citizens of Florida in Senate District 20 need representation, Medicaid expansion, education, secure housing, a clean environment, access to unemployment, and COVID-19 protections. Public safety is our immediate priority.
I grew up in poverty in Baltimore, Maryland and scratched and clawed my way to Johns Hopkins University and graduated with a Bachelor of Liberal Arts.
What was your first job?
At the age of 14, I was a community organizer. I organized a litter campaign for our neighborhood and surrounding parks.
Significant other? Kids?
I have been married for 28 years to Bertram A. Lewis, Jr. MD, PhD, MBA. We met while we both were attending Johns Hopkins University. We have two daughters. An interesting fact about our family is my husband also graduated from Johns Hopkins University. He has a BS, MSE, MD, and PhD all from Johns Hopkins University and he also has an MBA from Saint Leo University. Our oldest daughter also graduated from Johns Hopkins University. She is a Rhodes Scholar finalist and a Fulbright Scholar and she spent a year in Seoul, Korea and is fluent in Korean. She is currently enrolled in the MFA program at the University of South Florida. Our youngest daughter also graduated from the University of South Florida – The Learning Academy. Our youngest daughter has a disability which is one of the reasons why I decided to run for office. Once she became 18-years-old, accessing benefits for her was such a horrific experience that I wrote to the Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price (in 2017), and 75 other people in the Medicaid, Medicare, Medwaiver system late one night, and the next morning I was on the phone with the Health and Human Services’ office. It took getting Washington, DC involved to get our daughter’s benefits approved. I was appalled by this and decided to run for office and these challenges exist in other areas as is demonstrated by our ineffective unemployment system. Our safety net systems should not be as hard to use as solving Fermat’s Last Theorem and I am running for everyone who could not get the services they needed because of legislative mandates and application systems that are designed to turn people away.
Did you speak with anybody in your political party before deciding on running? Receive any encouragement?
Yes, numerous people: Mike Coleman, FDP Campaign Committee Chair and others encouraged me to run.
Who do you count on for advice?
I receive advice from future constituents, political advisors, my family and friends, and of course, I listen closely to myself and evaluate the conditions we are experiencing.
Who is your political consultant? Campaign manager?
I take advice from many sources and at this time of COVID-19, there isn’t any existing expertise to guide any campaign from a historical point of reference. Mike Coleman has analytical perspectives that I am following. Our Campaign Manager is Luis Pereira-Hernandez.
Who was the first person to contribute to your campaign? Why did they donate?
Mike Coleman donated the maximum amount allowed. He donated because he believes in our policies and our ability to win against the myth of insurmountable odds. Escaping poverty has given me great practice at winning when very few believe you can. My favorite quote is:
“You have to believe in yourself when no one else does, that’s what makes you a winner.” – Venus Williams
Who, if anyone, inspires you in state government?
Our Agricultural Commissioner, Nikki Fried.
Why do people mistrust elected officials and what are you going to do about it?
Because the language of politics is loaded with nice sounding words that disguise intentions in manners that obfuscate the intent but allow the politician to later say, “I told you exactly what I was going to do, you must have misunderstood”. I will not hide behind words that are designed to confuse.
What are 3 issues that you’re running on?
Covid19 has required me to change my priorities and to focus on the critical needs most every Floridian family faces. This is our second time running for Florida State Senate as we ran in 2018 and overperformed with 46.5% of the vote. The 2018 election began with a horrible shooting and our 2020 campaign is beginning in the middle of a pandemic which clearly shows a trend in the wrong direction for the people of Florida.
What is a “disruptive” issue you are interested in?
Facing the challenges of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, which has completely disrupted our way of life and will require effective leadership. What Florida’s leadership does now and in the very near future, will determine our state’s future success for decades. If our leaders do not believe COVID-19 is the most disruptive element we are encountering, they won’t have to wait long for the evidence, it will present in forms none of us have ever witnessed.
What does your legislative district need from Tallahassee?
District 20 needs security in all forms, opportunity to see a better future and the emergency relief to survive the COVID-19 pandemic. Leadership, in crisis proportions, is needed to solve the problems we are facing. This leadership must have the vision to navigate us into a future that is less concerned with protecting monied interests. Florida’s leadership must be devoted to seeing its citizens through the COVID-19 pandemic crisis and do their duties openly, honestly, and without bias of any sort.
Who was the best governor in Florida’s modern history?
Charlie Crist because he did listen to everyone more closely than the others.
If you could amend the Florida Constitution, what would you change?
I would amend the Constitution to place harsh criminal penalties upon legislators who thwart the intent of Florida’s voters when they pass Constitutional Amendments. Florida’s legislators like to say “the people spoke when they elected me to make the decisions for them.” Constitutional Amendments trump (excuse the pun) representative government. Citizen Amendments are Florida’s legal form of direct legislation from the people themselves. Legislators who do not respect the will of the people violate the trust of the electorate and I believe that is criminal.
Are yard signs an important part of campaigning in your district?
In 2020, yard signs may be more important than they have been in a decade. Yard signs do not do much more than bring name recognition but during a pandemic the name recognition that yard signs provide will be valuable.
What’s the first thing you read each morning?
The first thing I read in the morning is our daughter with a disability sleep report and the care-provider’s notes for the previous night and day as her condition requires monitoring and these reports are prepared nightly.
Where do you get your political news?
Various sources: Florida Politics, Local, State, and National media sources, news aggregators and on the Internet.
Social media presence? Twitter handle?
In 280 characters, what’s a Tweet that best describes your campaign message?
@KathyLewisforFl disability rights advocate which is a healthcare issue and COVID-19 has highlighted the problems, gun responsibility (my mother was shot with a stray bullet), living wage of at least $18, increase teacher salaries, behave responsibly environmentally and update our social programs.
Fighting injustice has been an avocation of sorts but I have now turned it into a candidacy for State Senate in District 20. I am also a tennis player and have played on leagues throughout Pasco and Hillsborough counties. I also enjoy crossword puzzles and trivia games (that’s where mental challenges belong, not when your child or spouse or you need vital health or other safety net needs). Before our children moved out Friday night was game night and our scrabble games were epic! My husband remains undefeated.
Favorite sport and sports team?
My favorite sport is tennis. My favorite sports team is Venus and Serena Williams in a doubles match.