A politically-healthy Fred Hawkins Jr. still might have trouble winning the open seat for Florida House District 42, even though Republicans like him have held it forever and the longtime Osceola County Commissioner has all possible backing from the business community.
But Hawkins, a St. Cloud businessman, is not politically healthy. He just reached an agreement with the State Attorney’s Office to suspend prosecution on a felony charge of impersonating an officer. He was assigned to a court-ordered diversion program for one year that includes impulse-management classes.
He’s also coming off a tumultuous term as Osceola County Commissioner, dealing with three highly-controversial issues that fragmented the electorate in Osceola: the county landfill’s acceptance of Puerto Rican coal ash, a transportation tax proposal that voters soundly rejected, and extension of the Osceola Parkway through Split Oak Forest Park.
Even without those, this is a district covering much of Osceola County and parts of eastern Polk County that, however long Republicans have held it, gives Democrats a five percentage-point advantage in voter registration.
HD 42 Democratic nominee Barbara Cady, a Lake Wales Consultant, sees the opening she never had when she first ran for HD 42 in 2018. She lost that contest big to longtime Republican Rep. Mike La Rosa, a candidate with no discernible weaknesses and similarly-strong business support.
This is a district that should be more of a battleground than it has been in past years. Much of the electorate is a balanced mix of old-Florida agriculture and small towns, and rising new Puerto Rican communities. It’s been hit hard by the tourism sector economic downturn.
This year the HD 42 contest has drawn considerable money and both candidates have put forward high-profile campaigns.
Despite his legal troubles, Hawkins has had no trouble continuing to attract business backing, raking in more than $340,000 in campaign funds, most of it from businesses and political action committees. He’s spent more than $325,000 of that, much of it to win a hotly-contested Republican primary in August, but has spent $100,000 since then. Some of his campaign advertising has sought to paint Cady as a radical, while also trying to push his pro-growth, pro-jobs record, particularly in high-tech.
Cady has focused on trying to characterize herself as a community leader, someone arguing for growth control in a county where traffic and lack of services have become problems recently, along with her opposition to the Split Oak, coal ash, and the sales tax matters. She had a modest campaign until national Democratic groups put her in a ActBlue-facilitated program, and she’s received $75,000 in recent weeks for a late push.