Mike Clelland: Democratic Upsetter, 'Conservative Kind of Guy' with an Eye on Election Reform

By: Eric Giunta | Posted: December 14, 2012 3:55 AM
Rep. Mike Clelland,  D-Lake Mary

Mike Clelland
Date of Birth: December 18, 1963.
Birthplace: Washington, D.C.
Residence: Lake Mary
Education: Florida A&M University College of Law, Juris Doctor; University of Central Florida, B.A., Political Science
Occupation: Attorney.
Previous Public Office(s): None.
Family: Wife, two children
Did you know? Was a fire-fighter for 26 years, before retiring to go to law school.

Fresh on the heels of his upset victory over a Republican incumbent and anointed future House speaker, freshman Rep. Mike Clelland, D-Lake Mary, says he’s a “very conservative kind of guy” who will make electoral reform his chief legislative priority.

“I don’t want to be lumped in, necessarily, with every other Democrat; I’m a very conservative guy,” he tells Sunshine State News. “I believe in small government.”

The 48-year-old attorney from GOP-leaning Seminole County pulled off one of the more surprising victories of the November 2012 election: he unseated Rep. Chris Dorworth, the next-in-line to succeed Will Weatherford as speaker of the Florida House, the first time in a generation that such a feat had been pulled off in the Sunshine State.

And Clelland won the newly drawn House District 29 by a hair: a mere 146 votes, of some 74,000 cast in total.

A newbie to the political arena, he is humble and unassuming about what he’s managed to accomplish so far.

“I’m a pretty boring guy actually,” Clelland tells the News. “I go to bed real early and I wake up real early.”

A former firefighter who retired after 26 years of service in order to attend law school, after which he represented workers in workers' compensation cases, Clelland says he’s long been concerned about electoral reform and what he claims is a dearth of funding to his district’s public schools. When A-rated Longwood Elementary was forced to close its doors in May 2011, that was the final straw that motivated him to run for Dorworth's seat.

“This district is where I’ve lived since 1974, and the state has underfunded our public education system,” he tells the News. “In Seminole county, schools need everything, and we have great schools, some of the best in the state.”

Clelland is a self-styled “social moderate” and opposes Republican-favored alternatives to public education like charter schools and private school vouchers, but believes he can find common ground with the Republican majority in what he says is his shared commitment to limiting government and propping up the business community.

“I’m fiscally conservative; you can just look at my personal financial history: I don’t extend myself beyond my means, that’s just the way I am,” he says. “I want to explore giving tax breaks, tax incentives, and closing tax loopholes.”

Besides increasing funding to public schools, Clelland’s other legislative passion is election reform. He tells Sunshine State News he plans to introduce legislation that would require candidates for office to file more comprehensive financial disclosures, and would require the state to make those available in a public, online database. He suggests that Florida ought to model its disclosure forms after those of states like Louisiana, whose forms he says are “more broad and comprehensive.”

“I think elected officials and others who hold public office should disclose more, by way of an online database, of their voting records as they may relate to campaign contributions or business transactions, stock trades, and the like,” he says.

Clelland is well-placed to make an impact: he sits on the important Ethics and Elections Subcommittee, set up for the first time in several years in their respective chambers by both Speaker Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz as a signal that ethics reform will be a major priority in the upcoming session. Clelland specifically requested placement on the subcommittee.

Clelland has also been assigned, fittingly enough given his professional expertise, to the Civil Justice Subcommittee, the Criminal Justice Subcommittee, the Economic Affairs Committee and the Joint Select Committee on Collective Bargaining.

Reach Eric Giunta at egiunta@sunshinestatenews.com or at (954) 235-9116. 

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