Tea party leader Mike Hill of Pensacola is Florida's newest state legislator, and the Florida Legislature's only black Republican, cruising to an easy victory in the House District 2 race to replace the late Rep. Clay Ford, R-Gulf Breeze.
With 72 percent of precincts in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties reporting their results, Hill was declared the winner against Democratic opponent Jeremy Lau, taking 58 percent of the vote to Lau's 42 percent.
Lau, also a Pensacolan, is president of the local chapter of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.
This is a great victory for the people in Northwest Florida and for all of Florida, an emotional Hill told Sunshine State News shortly after the results were published by the Florida Division of Elections. They've made it clear that the conservative message of limited government, low taxes, personal freedom, and individual responsibility is what they want out of government. They voted for me because they knew I was the candidate that best fit that bill for them. I'm just honored to be able to serve them in Tallahassee.
Hill, 54, is a small-business owner (a State Farm insurance agent of 23 years), Air Force veteran, president of the Northwest Florida Tea Party, and board member of Integrity Florida, a bipartisan government accountability watchdog.
"I've known Mike Hill for a while; he's a great guy, of tremendous character," Bill Herrle, Florida executive director of the National Federation of Independent Business (on whose board Hill also sits), tells SSN."I look forward to him being a true conservative business leader in the Florida Legislature."
The campaign was not an easy one for the new representative. The first to announce his entry in the race to replace Ford, he was one of a half-dozen Republican candidates, and was an underdog to former Gulf Breeze mayor and front-runner Ed Gray until just days before the May 14 primary.
Hill's meteoric rise, propelled by numerous prominent conservative endorsements, accompanied a series of harsh attacks against Gray by a conservative electioneering communications organization (ECO) called the Committee for a Better Florida. Mailers from the ECO attacked candidates Gray and Jack Nobles (a former Pensacola city councilman) as career politicians and deal makers, and alleged they "raised our taxes and our fees" and "spent our tax dollars on big boondoggles.
During the general election campaign, Gray donated $500, the maximum allowed under Florida law to Democrat Lau.
That's behind us, Hill tells SSN. Part of a campaign is, you have to understand that you're gonna take some hits. Thats' just part of the process. For me, I don't worry about it. [My opponents] have not, and never have been, my enemy. In fact, I hope I'll be able to reach out to them and serve them also. I must be a representative of all the people in my district. Let's get the campaign behind us and work to solve the problems before us.
On Sunday, two safes were stolen from the South Santa Rosa Service Center, containing 33 completed early voting ballots, two completed absentee ballots, 850 blank ballots, and a touch-screen device. The Pensacola News Journal reported that as of 12:52 p.m. Tuesday, all but three of the 35 voters had been contacted for an opportunity to recast their votes. Their combined total wouldn't have been enough to swing the election.
Police say they don't believe the theft was politically motivated.
Reach Eric Giunta at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (954) 235-9116.