By Katie Garwood | firstname.lastname@example.org
West Augustine resident Jaime Perkins knows how steep a hill it will be to the District 17 Florida House of Representatives seat.
The last non-Republican state representative in the district left office in 2004. St. Johns County voters are more than 50 percent Republican. And Perkins’ challenger is Republican incumbent Cyndi Stevenson, who served in that position since 2015, after serving as a St. Johns County Commissioner for 11 years prior.
Not only is Perkins trying to break the Republican trend in District 17, but she’s also vying to become the first black woman elected to the seat.
Perkins, 34, said she’s always known she would run for office at some point, and when she saw that the District 17 seat for the Florida House of Representatives was up for re-election, Perkins “felt like there was no time like the present.”
Perkins has lived in West Augustine her whole life. To help improve her neighborhood, she’s done volunteer work in the area, served on various governing boards and now is taking on a new challenge: running for public office.
Throughout her time in West Augustine, Perkins had gotten used to her community being neglected by elected officials. Running for office was the best way to stand up for her neighbors in West Augustine, as well as those throughout the district, Perkins said.
“I felt like that legislation was where I could have the most impact for things that I care about and things that people around me care about,” Perkins said. “I just feel like everyone deserves to have someone represent them that truly cares and has been in the shoes of people who have been struggling and going through things. They deserve someone who can relate to them, who is speaking for them.”
To make up ground in a red district, Perkins has been hard at work phone banking, hitting the streets to canvass and attending events in the area, as well as hosting her own.
“A lot of times our elected officials forget who put them in office in the first place and they kind of have their own agenda when they get elected,” she said. “We have to keep the people in mind, I think that’s the most important part of being an elected official is just working for the people and knowing what it is that’s important to them and taking those values to Tallahassee and implementing them.”
It’s not common for political candidates to receive friendly messages on a daily basis. But Perkins said the support for her campaign so far has been “through the roof.” She was confident that those in West Augustine would support her. But encouraging texts, emails and letters from people throughout the county – even some from outside the district – have been unexpected.
“It just builds you up,” she said. “It makes you feel like it’s worth it that people are really just excited for you and pulling for you, it kind of makes it all worthwhile.”
Though on the ballot, Perkins will be listed as an independent, she’s been a registered Democrat her whole life. But because she briefly registered as a Republican to vote in a primary less than a year ago, she was unable to run as a Democrat because of a rule that states candidates must be registered in their party for 365 days prior to filing for candidacy.
“Running as a nonpartisan candidate, it gives me the opportunity to reach across the aisle and say I don’t care about red or blue, I just really want to help the people,” she said. “That’s the most important part anyway. I think partisanship gets in the way of what we should be really focusing on.”
As for Perkins’ platform, she wants to focus on decriminalization of marijuana, getting public schools proper funding, ensuring people earn livable wages, developing small businesses, bolstering public safety, funding environmental protection and getting people affordable, adequate healthcare. She said her most pressing concern though, is making sure her constituents’ needs are met.
But even if Perkins doesn’t get the chance to serve as a state representative and put her plans into action, she feels she’s already accomplished a lot for her community. Since she announced her candidacy in March, Perkins said she’s already seen a shift in the way elected officials interact with West Augustine residents.
One West Augustine resident Perkins spoke to had been trying to reach their state representative for a while, and didn’t hear back until Perkins qualified to run for that same representative’s seat.
“I hope to get [elected officials’] attention that there’s a group of people that want to be heard, that want to be represented and want to have their values taken seriously,” Perkins said. “Hopefully they’ll have a more broad, enlightened frame of mind and sit down and open those doors and talk to us and do the work that we’re asking for.
“I want to win, but if I can just get them to say ‘uh oh, there’s competition, maybe I should be paying attention,’ then I think I’ve accomplished something. And I’m fine with that too.”
There’s a lot Perkins has learned from stepping into the world of politics. Running a campaign isn’t an easy task, she said. It takes a dedicated, strong-willed, caring person to succeed.
“I think I’m built for it,” Perkins said.
“You don’t have to be a career politician to actually impact change,” she said. “You don’t have to be perfect in every way to actually go out and work for people. I think that we’re all indebted to some kind of service to one another. We should all be proud to serve our friends and our family and people in our neighborhoods and communities.”