Longtime Osceola County Commissioner Fred Hawkins Jr. overcame a mid-year arrest and challenges of his record from his Democratic opponent to win House District 42 in a tight, hotly contested election Tuesday.
In unofficial results, Hawkins, a St. Cloud businessman, overcame Lake Wales community activist and consultant Barbara Cady by a vote of 47% to 46%, with independent candidate Leroy Sanchez pulling 7%.
The margin between Hawkins and Cady was 1,383 votes, while Sanchez received 7,269 votes, meaning his candidacy could have played a deciding role in Hawkins’ victory.
“I want to thank my family for their unwavering support and my incredible campaign team and volunteers who worked tirelessly on this race. Thank you to the voters of House District 42 who saw through all the negative attacks and cast their ballot for someone who is a proven leader and will always have their back,” Hawkins said Tuesday night. “I look forward to representing the people of Osceola and Polk counties and fighting to protect Florida’s water and natural resources, and for public safety and education.”
The win keeps the seat in Republican hands.
The district covers much of Osceola County and parts of eastern Polk County.
Hawkins spent 12 years on the Osceola County Commission and campaigned on his record, focusing mainly on economic development accomplishments that include rapid growth, the NeoCity high-tech manufacturing center, an industrial park in Poinciana, manufacturing development and a new Valencia College campus.
In August he won a four-way Republican primary.
From the start, Hawkins had drawn strong backing from the business community, and that never ended, not even after his arrest in July on a charge of impersonating a law enforcement officer. The arrest led to his accepting a diversion program in lieu of prosecution. Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended him from the Osceola County Commission.
Cady also ran on Hawkins’ record, criticizing his controversial vote to approve a road extension through the Live Oak Forest Park, his support of the Osceola County landfill accepting coal ash from Puerto Rico, and his vote to put a transportation sales tax on the ballot in 2019. Voters soundly rejected that tax. She also campaigned for smarter growth in a county struggling with sprawl.
Cady won the popular vote in Osceola County, but only by a few hundred votes. Hawkins’ margin in Polk County was more than 2,200 votes.
Cady ran in 2018, losing to Republican Rep. Mike La Rosa, who’s leaving because of term limits.
Much of the HD 42 electorate is a balanced mix of old-Florida agriculture and small towns and rising new Puerto Rican communities. It has been hit hard by the tourism sector economic downturn.
Despite his legal troubles, Hawkins 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.
Cady had a modest campaign until national Democratic groups put her in an ActBlue-facilitated program. She received $75,000 in recent weeks for a late push.