QUINCY — More than 50 residents met with the newly elected Gadsden County Legislative Delegation last week in the Chambers of County Commissioners across Jefferson Street from Courthouse Square.
Sen. Corey Simon, R-Tallahassee, ousted Democratic incumbent Loranne Ausley from Tallahassee in November, and Rep. Gallop Franklin, D-Tallahassee, won the vacated seat when former Rep. Ramon Alexander, D-Tallahassee, resigned after harassment refused to seek re-election allegations reported by the Tallahassee Democrat.
The Gadsden County Commission introduced a $33 million bill of statutes to raise money for a new government center, a multipurpose center, the Boys and Girls Club, and parks and recreational facilities.
“We had an old swimming pool here that tended to drain before you could get into the pool. This is something we are looking at in relation to public health needs,” Commissioner Brenda Holt said of a plan to tackle the prevalence of hypertension and diabetes.
Gadsden is Florida’s only majority-black county. The 43,000 residents are scattered across six towns within 529 square miles of fields that once grew cotton, tomatoes and watermelons but are now left uncultivated due to changing economic conditions.
Residents earn about $25,000 a year on average — a per capita income that’s 35% lower than the rest of the state, and the poverty rate is almost twice as high at 21.9%.
The opening remarks gave the impression that the two rookie lawmakers were a bipartisan team focused on economic development.
On the campaign trail, Franklin said he spoke about economic development, healthcare and education. In his first delegation meeting with constituents and local officials, he clearly made quality education a key pillar to attract business, create jobs and bring resources to the community.
“When it comes to economic development, I really believe the reason companies are moving to the area is because of a talent pipeline. That is why we need to invest in early childhood education; Pre-K through 12, as well as trade schools so people can learn skills as well,” Franklin said.
Simon said he and Franklin had talks about how to lay the foundation for sustainable economic development. He chairs the Pre-K-12 Education Subcommittee and sits on the Appropriation Committee, and said he knew his job was to bring resources to “a district that has struggled for far too long.”
“It’s not about me filing a bunch of bills. It’s the means; it ensures that the dollars flow back into this rural county,” said Simon.
Simon said his immediate focus will be vocational technical education and touted the Gadsden School District Technical Center as an “underutilized gold mine”.
“One of the things we struggle with is that parents understand where the needs of the workforce lie. We also need to break the stigma we’ve built over the last 50 years that every kid has to go to college to be successful,” said Simon, adding that his son is in a Lively Vo-tech welding program.
Former Congressman Al Lawson was unveiled as the district’s newest lobbyist. Lawson represented the county in the Legislature and Congress for 34 years and told the audience they could help him, Franklin and Simon by working together to prioritize a list of legislative requests.
More:Al Lawson went on to work as a Gadsden County lobbyist in Tallahassee
The 2023 Florida Legislature begins March 7th.
James Call is a member of the USA TODAY NETWORK-Florida Capital Bureau. He can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @CallTallahasse