When state Reps. Ronald “Doc” Renuart and Janet Adkins ran for re-election in 2010, they cruised to victory in neighboring Northeast Florida districts – with Adkins not even facing opposition, reports Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida.
But two years later, after lawmakers redrew district lines, Renuart and Adkins are battling Republican primary opponents as they seek to return to the House.
Renuart, a two-term lawmaker from Ponte Vedra Beach, faces a major challenge from St. Johns County residents Mike Davis and Kim Kendall in District 17. The state Republican Party is backing Renuart, but he is running in a newly drawn St. Johns County district and has lost a chunk of his old district that included three beach cities in Duval County.
Each of the candidates comes from a distinct part of St. Johns — Renuart from the northeast corner, Kendall from the northwest part and Davis from St. Augustine. Former Rep. Joe Arnall, who represented parts of the area in the House from 1988 to 2000, said he thinks voters are “going to be fairly parochial, almost sticking with people who live closest to them.”
“In this particular case, it’s going to boil down to who they’ve known, who they’ve worked with,” Arnall said.
That could create an interesting dynamic, particularly because the candidates indicated during a forum last month that they disagree on few major issues. During that forum, hosted by the St. Augustine Record and the local League of Women Voters, the candidates offered similar views about issues such as backing school vouchers and performance pay for teachers.
“We need to find and identify those teachers who are doing the best and recognize them for it,” said Renuart, an osteopathic physician.
With St. Johns County going through a housing boom during the past two decades, the candidates also expressed support for limiting the role of the state in development issues.
“The local level should be where the growth management decisions are made,” said Kendall, a former air-traffic controller who has been heavily involved in St. Johns County schools.
Davis, who owns a construction company, touted his business experience and the need to reduce regulations.
“I’m running because I continue to see government strangle small business,” Davis said.
Renuart had raised $180,982 in cash contributions through July 20, with $49,500 of that coming from the party. But Davis had raised $98,756 and also won the endorsement of term-limited Republican Rep. Bill Proctor, an influential figure in St. Augustine. Kendall had raised $53,853.
Just as redistricting has helped shape the District 17 race, it also plays an important role in Adkins’ attempt to win in the newly drawn District 11. In the past, Adkins, a Fernandina Beach resident, has represented a district that included Nassau County and went west into largely rural areas such as Baker, Union and Bradford counties.
Now, she is running in a district that includes Nassau County but goes south along the coast in Duval County, picking up the three cities — Jacksonville Beach, Neptune Beach and Atlantic Beach — that Renuart lost during reapportionment.
“We’re not taking anything for granted,” Adkins said Monday. “We are going after every single vote.”
Neptune Beach attorney Cord Byrd is challenging Adkins in the GOP primary and, though she has a huge fund-raising lead, Byrd said his campaign has knocked on thousands of doors to reach voters. He said the race is coming down to “Tallahassee money versus local grass roots.”
“We have just worked tirelessly in getting our message out and meeting voters,” said Byrd, a first-time candidate.
Adkins has the backing of Republican leaders, such as incoming House Speaker Will Weatherford of Wesley Chapel, and had received $49,500 in cash from the state GOP as of July 20. In all, she had collected $206,320, more than 10 times Byrd’s total of $19,184.
Arnall, who lives in Jacksonville Beach, said he doesn’t know if Byrd has raised enough money to get his message out and is trying to use retail politics to offset Adkins’ ability to reach voters through such media as advertisements or mail pieces. He said Byrd would probably like to make it a “parochial” race, as members of Byrd’s family have lived in the Duval beach communities for 75 years.
Adkins said she has developed relationships in Tallahassee that would help her get things done. Also, trying to appeal to conservative voters in the heavily Republican district, she said she has been endorsed by a variety of major business groups, while Byrd has been endorsed by some public-employee unions.
But Byrd contended that Adkins is a “single issue candidate” focusing on education and that his legal experience gives him a broader background. He also said his campaign focuses on a message of limited constitutional government, a popular theme in Republican politics.