July 12--Five Republicans, all first-time office-seekers, are vying to succeed Bryan Nelson in Florida House District 31.
The five include the son of a former state legislator; the former president of the Lake County teachers union; an Apopka businesswoman; a fraud investigator; and a 22-year-old home-schooled daughter of Lake County tea-party activists.
An Apopka Republican, Nelson was unable to seek re-election to the Legislature because of term limits and is running instead for Orange County commissioner. He has not yet endorsed any of the five hopefuls who want to succeed him in Tallahassee.
The district, which includes Apopka, Mount Dora and Tavares, spans the northern parts of Orange and Lake counties. The job pays $29,697 a year.
The race, originally set up as a Republican primary in the conservative-leaning district, will be open to all voters regardless of party affiliation because no candidate from another party met the deadline to challenge for the seat. The Republican with the most votes in the Aug. 26 election earns the two-year term.
The tone of the campaign has been decidedly conservative.
In public forums and campaign stops, the candidates have spoken out against the Affordable Health Care Act, though there is little they can do to stop the federal law; declared themselves anti-abortion and anti-gambling; backed gun rights; and opposed Common Core education standards, all traditional Republican planks.
Though a first-time candidate, Eustis chiropractor Randy Glisson, 53, has political roots. His father, Jim Glisson, served in both the Florida Senate and Florida House of Representatives and ran unsuccessfully in 1978 for lieutenant governor.
The doctor owns the Lake Health Care Center and has been part of a family-owned health-care clinic since 1986, part of his motivation to run.
"We need a representative who has real business experience in job creation," he said. "I am a small-business owner who meets a payroll for 19 employees and understands how much work it takes to keep the doors open for business every day."
Glisson said he wants to reduce taxes and expand vocational education.
Including $15,000 of his own money, Glisson has raised $128,000 for his campaign, the race's biggest war chest.
Belita "B" Grassel, 66, describes herself as a moderate conservative.
Grassel switched from Republican to Democrat in 2002 to vote in the primary for gubernatorial candidate Bill McBride, a Democrat who grew up in Leesburg. She switched back to the GOP in January 2012, according to voter-registration records.
A nurse and former guidance counselor, Grassel served six years as president of the Lake County Education Association, the union representing the district's 2,800 teachers. Improving education would be a priority if she is elected, she said.
"Our Legislature is mandating education changes that continue to put bandages on our broken public-education system," she said. "We need an entire paradigm shift and focus on teaching and learning based on valid, reliable research."
Grassel has raised about $31,000 for her campaign, much of it from nurses and teachers.
Terri Seefeldt, 52, who has worked in the insurance industry for more than a quarter-century, says she can be a voice in the state Legislature for Florida's small businesses and their employees, who would benefit from her experience and expertise.
She has been invited to speak in Tallahassee on the effects of health-care mandates on small businesses.
"I've been laying the groundwork to do this for a very long time," Seefeldt said of her first political campaign.
Seefeldt said she hopes to reduce burdensome state regulations that stunt the growth of small and medium-sized businesses.
"I also would like to attract more venture capital here to help create better, more highly paid jobs," she said.
She said she also would work for tort reform if elected.
Campaign-finance records show she has raised $74,228, much of it from donors outside the district.
Joseph Stephens, 51, describes himself as a fraud examiner for his wife's company, based in Orlando.
"For far too long, the Republican Party has chosen to stand and defend but has done little to nothing to push back against the militant liberal agenda," he said in an email explaining why district voters should choose him. "We need to elect men and women of integrity who will not only stand but diligently worked to take back our nation, our rights and our honor."
The Army veteran has filed for personal bankruptcy twice, most recently in December.
Among the few assets he listed on the candidate financial-disclosure form was $3,000 in guns and ammunition.
"I'm 200 percent behind the Second Amendment," he said. "That's part of what we're supposed to be about as conservative Republicans."
Although he resides in Altamonte Springs, outside the district, he said he will relocate as law requires -- if elected.
At 22, Jennifer Sullivan is the youngest of the candidates.
She was born and reared in Central Florida, home-schooled by parents active in the tea-party movement and won praise as a teenager for organizing a Lake County charity that has provided food banks with more than 20,000 pounds of peanut butter.
"Some have asked if I was the official tea-party candidate, and it would be wrong to characterize me as such," the younger Sullivan said. "It's so important that we not divide the [Republican] party, but rather work diligently within the party to get back to our core values: fiscal responsibility, limited government and free-market solutions."
She resides in Mount Dora with her parents and siblings and is enrolled in online classes at New Jersey-based Thomas Edison State College, pursuing a degree in social sciences. She views her youth as an asset in her bid for office, though more than 40 percent of the district is age 50 or older.
"I don't have all the answers," she said. "But I can be the people's voice."