State Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, a conservative lightning rod who opposes the movement to remove Confederate statues from places of prominence, is campaigning to keep his District 12 seat against self-described “Harry Truman Democrat” and first-time candidate Gary McKechnie of Mount Dora.
District 12 comprises the northern two-thirds of Lake County, along with Sumter and southern Marion.
Who they are
Where they stand
Baxley said the state has been highly focused on funding and supporting universities to the detriment of some state colleges and technical schools.
“We have unmet skilled jobs that we need to prepare people for that could drastically improve their earning power and we need to make a significant capital investment in our facilities,” Baxley said.
McKechnie vowed to fight for affordable health care by increasing state funding of Medicaid and advocate for higher job wages — two intertwined factors that affect a person’s quality of life, he said.
“If we’re not looking out for these other people — the least among us — what good are we as a government if we’re only looking out for the people who control the levers of power? That’s absolutely sinful,” McKechnie said.
Baxley said he would work to continue Florida’s reputation as a friendly state to the active-duty military and veteran community by improving the delivery of vital health care services by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
“I favor trying to move the VA towards giving these folks a health card that they can get services and not be delayed,” Baxley said. “They don’t all have to be delivered at the VA health center. We could supplement that by giving them access to the private sector health care.”
McKechnie said he is opposed to fracking and offshore drilling and would support legislative efforts to protect Florida’s ecosystems.
Republicans “treat the environment like its disposable, that it’ll come back,” he said. “We need to take care of our waterways. We need to look at new methods of providing energy. Why don’t we use solar power in the Sunshine State?”
How they differ
The incumbent, a Southern Baptist, said his faith is the foundation of his public service and proposed that “controversial theories” such as evolution be taught in a “balanced” manner.
Baxley, a descendant of a Confederate soldier, has defended the Confederate flag and preservation of memorials, opposing any removal efforts in the wake of a national movement after three people died last year at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va.
“I will keep up my effort to protect our foundation values of faith, family, freedom and opportunity,” he said.
McKechnie said his work as a travel writer has taken him all over the state, allowing him to see firsthand the inequities caused by state government decisions.
“I go to the rural counties — with populations of 12,000 — and it’s like two different Floridas,” he said. “You see who is getting served on the good china and who is being served on the paper plates.”
McKechnie says on his website the state has a responsibility to hard-working Floridians to help them achieve success “through better training, better education, better jobs, and better wages.”
Baxley said Florida is in an “enviable position in the country right now,” with continuous job growth, financial stability and low unemployment.
“We need to keep Florida on track, so I’m ready to go back to work and make sure we keep all these factors moving in the right direction,” Baxley said.
But McKechnie believes it’s time for new representation in Tallahassee.
“You’ve got Republicans who have been running the state and you’ve got nothing better to show for it other than we’ve got a good Moody’s rating,” he said.
Baxley leads in fundraising, with $253,435 in contributions and about $125,814 on hand, according to records for the most recent reporting period.
McKechnie has raised $46,563 and has $32,183 left to spend, records show.
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