Redistricting ended the longtime split of Orange County’s second-largest city by creating the new House District 39, and three Republicans are vying Tuesday to be its Representative.
Apopka City Commissioner Doug Bankson, Orange County Republican Party Chair Charles Hart and Republican activist Randy Ross have turned the campaign into a rumble, with Bankson and Hart offering their own definitions of what it means to be a “true conservative,” and Ross preferring to focus on his crusade to improve senior care.
As redistricted, HD 39 is much more than just Apopka. It takes in the old town half of Winter Garden, the farming and greenhouse areas of Zellwood, the lush conservation areas of Wekiva Springs and the western ends of Lake Mary and Longwood in Seminole County. The mix runs from farms to country club communities to suburbia to low-income neighborhoods.
The last couple of General Elections suggest the voter base is pretty evenly split between Democrats and Republicans.
The winner Tuesday gets a November General Election showdown with Democratic nominee Tiffany Hughes.
Bankson, who’s lived in Apopka 30 years, is founder and senior pastor of Victory Church World Outreach Center. He’s also a board member and past chairman for the Apopka Area Chamber of Commerce. He’s been on the Apopka City Council for six years and said he and the community know and trust each other well.
“Obviously, people are concerned about the economy. When you have to choose between the gas tank and the table, things are not good. I do have a record, having served for six years, standing firm, keeping our budget in check, and making sure our taxes do not rise and run away,” Bankson said. “That resonates with people.”
“I really believe I’m the most conservative Republican on the ballot. These are core values to me. I don’t have to read a script to know what I believe. These are very strong purposes, such as our First and Second Amendment. I absolutely won’t bend on those things. But I believe in having the conversation with people who don’t agree,” Bankson added.
“Whether it’s that or standing for life. I believe life begins at the moment of conception. I’m going to be who I am, no matter who I’m with. We can have those conversations. We can do these things with great compassion for people. Those are core values to me. I think people can sense that.”
Hart is a lawyer with his own general practice in Seminole. He has overseen numerous campaigns during his tenure as Orange County GOP Chair. He moved to Apopka a couple of years ago after a divorce. He said he arrived heartbroken, then was overwhelmed with how welcoming the community was to him.
“They showed me love. And I will never forget that love. And this makes me want to go and fight for them, and fight for their interests. And not just for the people of Apopka. The people of Longwood. And Winter Garden,” Hart said. “I view them as my people and I will do anything for them.”
“On a political basis, look, I’m tired of people getting elected and forgetting about the common folk, the common guy, who has a normal job. He goes home. He wants to put his feet up. He doesn’t want to be overwhelmed by government interference and crushed underneath the weight of Joe Biden’s overreach, the federal government. He wants to make an honest buck and have some honest fun with his family. That’s the guy I want to represent,” Hart continued. “That’s why I’m running.”
Hart said his record as a conservative is clear, and he reflects that on issues from abortion to border protection. He said he looks forward to backing up Gov. Ron DeSantis.
“He takes a lot of hits for us. He carries the ball. People want to see some more blocking for him up in Tallahassee. People want to see someone fight alongside him and fight for him, and shoulder some of the burden that he carries so much for us,” Hart said.
Ross is a political consultant, a former Orange County chair of Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, a longtime thorny rival to Hart in the Orange County Republican Party, and someone who’s spent much of his recent years caring for his ailing, elderly mother.
He said he got into the race because somebody in the Legislature needs to make reforms of senior care a top priority, ranging from making health care delivery simpler to reforming the guardianship program.
“A lot of people said the senior care issue is a one-issue vote. But I can tell you that every door I knock on from Longwood to downtown Winter Garden, the senior care issue is resonating. And I think it’s because whether you are a senior or you’re caring for a senior you know what it is like,” Ross said.
On other issues, with a few exceptions, Ross said there is little difference between himself and his rivals.
“My opponents and I, we’re all going to agree on the Republican issues. I bend a little more on than they do on the abortion issue. I’m on the record as saying I support abortion in the areas of rape, incest and life of the mother,” Ross said. “But outside of that, we’re all going to agree on needing to deal with illegal immigration. Or how to navigate certain parts of the conservative process.”
“More importantly, I am the only person in this race, and I think in many races, that I don’t have any interests beyond being a state Representative,” he added. “And very few of them know why they want to go to Tallahassee. My goal is not to be President one day or Governor, or a Congressman. My goal really is to try to help, do what I can do, with my own experience, at the state level.”