Education needs to prepare all students for the future, not just the college-bound. That’s a major plank in Williston businessman Joe Harding’s bid for Florida House District 22.
“I support a two-path education for high school, and we need to do better for the 40% of high school graduates who don’t go to college,” he said.
It’s something he plans to focus on once he’s in the Florida House of Representatives, along with protecting the unborn and defending the Second Amendment.
The platform motivated him to run in a largely rural district that includes Marion and Levy counties. A business owner who runs a landscaping company and a small horse farm, he also wants to help boost the voice of agriculture in Tallahassee.
“I think we need some help,” he said. “It’s Florida’s No.2 industry but that gets overlooked a lot. As someone who owned a farm and grew up with an understanding of agriculture, that’s part of my core values. I not only know the role agriculture plays on the local economy but the role it has in Florida’s future.”
He notes Levy County, while a low population community, leads Florida agriculture in five different areas.
“I support doing everything we can to make sure we are providing opportunities for Americans and not allowing illegal immigrants to take jobs from legal citizens or American-born citizens,” he said. “But also with my agriculture and construction background, I understand the workforce issues and shortages. There’s a balance needed.”
“Look at watermelons and blueberries, two categories that employ immigrant labor the most. I know there are not enough workers for those seasonal crops. But we need to make sure to do it legally. The legislation that went through this year was a good start but there is room for improvement, and I look forward to being part of the discussion.”
He also boasts the support from two sheriffs, Gilchrist County’s Bobby Schultz and Levy County’s Bobby McCallum. That’s been important as voters ask about law enforcement. support ahead of the primary.
Harding notes, though, that in the Ocala area, recent Black Lives Matter protests remained peaceful. That’s something the media and urban leaders should notice.
“What’s not covered in the media is that in a lot of areas in rural Florida, we get along,” he said. “We don’t have racial divides like those playing out in urban areas. We have a lot of sense of community and a trust of law enforcement. You don’t see the divide that’s in our large cities, and our large cities don’t represent the values we have in rural Florida.”
Harding faces Russ Randall in the Aug. 18 Republican primary, the winner faces Democrat Barbara Byram in November.