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Mathis Seeks To Make History In State House Race

Sandra Averhart
WUWF Public Media

The District 1 seat in the Florida House of Representatives will have a new face after the November General Election, and it will be a woman.

The race features Democrat, Franscine C. Mathis, who is making her second consecutive run for the office and Republican, Michelle Salzman, a political newcomer.

In this report, WUWF checked in on the Mathis campaign.

“Today, I have my signs; I’m on (Hwy) 29 and I’m waving, trying to make myself visible to the people and let them know that I’m still running,” said Mathis, who set up on U-S Highway 29 near the Wedgewood community.

She says she’s proud to be the first African-American female in this area to win a primary election for State House of Representatives. In the General Election, she’s hoping to make history, again.

“So, now on Nov. 3, 2020, I want to be the first Black female to go to Tallahassee to represent our district.”

The last woman to represent Northwest Florida in Tallahassee was Republican Holly Benson, who left office in 2006. The last Democrat was Dee Dee Ritchie, who served one term after her election in 1998.  

Mathis’ path to running for the Florida House is rooted in her social justice activism.

Credit Photo courtesy of Franscine Mathis
Candidate Franscine Mathis wants to close the landfills operating in the Wedgewood area. This image from Mathis' Facebook page asks voters to vote on Nov. 3, like their lives depend on it.

One of her main priorities is closing down and cleaning up the disposal sites and borrow pits in the Wedgewood area, where she lives.

“We’ve had several people to die from cancer, lung diseases,” she stated. “The children are getting mental disabilities more than ever from breathing that toxic air that they’re breathing out in Wedgewood. It’s contaminating our water.”

Enforcement action by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection led to closure of the Rolling Hills landfill. DEP says drinking water in the community meets federal standards, but data from the agency has revealed elevated levels of arsenic, ammonia, and other toxic chemicals in the groundwater monitoring wells.

In addition to environmental justice, criminal justice is another issue that Mathis is passionate about and is working to reform.

“People can go back and see that I have stood before the (Escambia) County Commission and got the resolution on direct file, which is adjudicating minors to adults. I’ve stood before (Pensacola) City Council and got the resolution,” Mathis proudly declared. “I took that resolution, and because I am a member of the Southern Poverty Law Center, I took it to Tallahassee and we fought and wrote a bill with that.”

Direct file bills taken up during the 2020 Florida Legislative session died in committee.

More recently, Mathis has put her focus on issues related to the coronavirus, concerned about proper and fair COVID-19 testing and protocols for prison inmates, as well as a safe, quality education for all students, both in-school and via remote learning.

She’s particularly committed to safeguarding under-represented communities in the district to ensure they aren’t forgotten when it comes to getting their fair share. Case in point is the town of Century.

“It’s a very poor, low-income town,” Mathis began. “We have a prison in Century. I’ve seen people come from New York to visit their loved ones and when they come there, they’re like, ‘what do we after we visit them?’ There’re no restaurants in this town, no activities to do.”

Her question: where is the money for District 1? In 2020, it’s an issue that’s has been amplified by the toll of the pandemic and the recent hurricane.

“You have people that have lost their jobs. Where is the grant money, state grants, local grants,” she asked. Where’s that money at to help the people rebuild their businesses? As far as Hurricane Sally goes, where’s the money at? You have people that have lost their homes.”

As for how the state might recover from the lost revenues due to the coronavirus, she expects budget tightening and suggests that a small increase in taxes might be an option.

Credit Image courtesy of Franscine Mathis

“In my opinion, if it’s being used and put in the proper places, I don’t really think the people will have a big problem with it,” she said, qualifying the need for transparency.

COVID-19 also has put a damper on Mathis’ election bid. She’s taken the disease seriously, wearing a mask and curbing in-person campaign events. In short, she has a campaign budget totaling a mere 1%, of the nearly $206,000 in campaign contributions collected by her opponent.

This lack of funds to pay for campaign materials has added to the steep, uphill climb she’s already facing as a Democrat running for office in a district that has more Republican Party voters and traditionally votes GOP. According to the Escambia County Supervisor of Elections Office, 46.6% of the voters in House District 1 are Republican, 32.6% are registered with the Democratic Party, and 19 percent have No Party Affiliation.

Back at her Highway 29 sign-waving perch, she acknowledged the challenges.

“It’s just been a really tough run, but I love my district,” Mathis proclaimed. “So, whatever I’ve got to do to go through and get this and to make it through, and to be that person going to Tallahassee to fight for us, I’m willing to do it.”

Franscine Mathis is the Democratic candidate for Florida House District 1. Tomorrow, we’ll catch up with the Republican challenger Michelle Salzman. For all of our election previews, visit our website, wuwf.org.

Sandra Averhart has been News Director at WUWF since 1996. Her first job in broadcasting was with (then) Pensacola radio station WOWW107-FM, where she worked 11 years. Sandra, who is a native of Pensacola, earned her B.S. in Communication from Florida State University.