Rep. Jackie Toledo is running for reelection against a Democrat who, despite their differing political parties, offers similar messaging heading into the Nov. 3 General Election.
Toledo, a Republican, has served in the Florida House since 2016. Her opponent, Julie Jenkins, is a long time community leader and advocate with deep roots in Tampa-based House District 60.
Both are running to represent all constituents regardless of party affiliation.
Toledo touts experience. As the incumbent, she has a record to run on.
Her top legislative accomplishments include getting a long-rejected texting while driving ban passed, a $1.4 billion appropriation for the Westshore interchange on Interstate 275, ongoing work to reform the Pharmacy Benefit Manager industry and overall work on transportation and infrastructure projects.
“Having a united voice was so important,” Toledo said on the 2019 appropriation for the Westshore interchange. “It’s about telling my colleagues, we have got to be on the same page if we want funding. We’re not going to get funding for controversial projects.”
Toledo knew funding for transportation projects was a competitive game. Her district is competing with projects in Orlando and Miami for a piece of the pie. That’s why she focused on projects where there was already broad consensus, like the Westshore interchange where bottlenecks clog traffic exiting and entering the Howard Frankland Bridge.
Toledo, an engineer by trade, also ushered in a law allowing graduating engineers to take their professional engineer exam as soon as they graduate.
“I had to wait five years. After five years, I had kind of forgotten a lot,” she said.
By that time, Toledo was pregnant with her second child and her world had changed significantly.
“Allowing graduates to test sooner allows more engineers,” Toledo said, an industry that needs qualified professionals.
But Toledo’s biggest win was the texting while driving ban, which took effect last summer.
Lawmakers had been unsuccessfully running bills for years. Eventually, the Legislature passed a ban, but it lacked teeth and made texting a secondary offense, meaning drivers could only be ticketed if they were pulled over for some other reason like speeding or running a red light. If texting was the only observable offense, drivers were off the hook.
“It was an immediate priority,” Toledo said of the ban when she first entered the Legislature.
But she took her time, “getting to know the lay of the land.” By the time she first proposed a ban in 2018, she was starting conversations and changing minds. Her first attempt failed, but the 2019 bill worked its way meticulously through the Legislature, earning bipartisan support through a series of compromises that strengthened the bill without watering down its implementation.
“That was a testament to what I can do,” Toledo said. “And it saved lives. This is one of the biggest things that will help save lives for pedestrians, motorists, across the board.”
But she faces potentially tough competition from Jenkins who has spent years building relationships in the community.
Any race against an incumbent is an uphill battle. They’re typically better funded and carry the advantage in name recognition.
Jenkins acknowledges the challenge, but is up for it. She doesn’t see name recognition as a particularly difficult obstacle to navigate. Jenkins touts an impressive list of community partnerships and work over the last 25 years.
Jenkins, who does marketing for her family’s small business, has served or currently serves on more than 20 boards like school PTAs, the Sierra Club, NAACP, the League of Women Voters, trade associations and a host of others.
“I’ve raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for public schools. As a neighborhood association president, I’ve had my foot in the community for a while, so I think that because of my background as a community advocate, I think that’s definitely helping me,” Jenkins said.
Like Toledo, Jenkins is messaging herself to voters as someone who will work with them to find meaningful solutions in the region regardless of party affiliation.
But her campaign priorities reflect a Democratic ticket. They include health care, improving the state’s COVID-19 response, environmental protection and sensible gun reform.
She contrasts herself with Toledo, pointing to Toledo’s record on various issues that fall more in-line with conservative talking points.
“She says our kids are safer now-a-days,” Jenkins said, noting Toledo supported pro-gun legislation like student carry on college campuses and the school safety guardian program that allows certain qualified teachers and staff to carry guns at school.
“I beg to differ there.”
Jenkins also wants to see more work on environmental protection.
“If we don’t start working on building a resilient coastline, in 20 years we’re going to be in big trouble,” she said.
Jenkins also takes issue with Toledo’s silence on Hillsborough County’s All for Transportation sales tax, which earned more than 60% support from voters last year. Toledo didn’t come out against it, but didn’t vocally support it either. Jenkins said there were “crickets” on the issue, which she finds troubling, particularly now that the tax faces potential overthrow at the Florida Supreme Court.
Jenkins also said she has support from a lot of teachers.
“They’re worried, and I get it,” Jenkins said regarding challenges with COVID-19 in schools now that the new school year is underway.
It’s worth noting, Toledo strongly supported teacher raises in this year’s budget, which were approved as one of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ top legislative priorities.
But the COVID response among Republican leadership troubles Jenkins.
“I ran for the health and safety of our community and it’s now even more so,” Jenkins said. “Until we get COVID under control nothing is going to be right in our universe. Unemployment is part of it and listening to health experts.”
Jenkins said her campaign is strong, with dozens of volunteers helping to get her message out and more than 1,000 individual donors to her campaign.
While Jenkins’ grassroots support is strong, she still faces a funding challenge in a difficult district. Toledo has raised nearly $330,000 over the course of her campaign, according to Florida Division of Elections data current as of Aug. 21. Jenkins has raised less than $100,000.
Both have received hefty support from their parties. Toledo has benefited from nearly $30,000 worth of in-kind support, much of it from the Florida Republican Party. The Florida Democratic Party, meanwhile, has funneled the bulk of more than $38,000 of in-kind support for Jenkins.
Republicans have about a 5,000 voter advantage in voter registration in the district with 49,069 registered voters compared to 44,081 registered Democrats.
Independent voters are key in the race, with 35,201 voters registered with no party affiliation.