The race for Florida Senate District 9 features two seasoned politicians from Gainesville.
Republican state Sen. Keith Perry served three terms in the Florida House from 2010 to 2016, when he won election to the Senate in a newly drawn district. Perry won reelection in 2018 and is now seeking another four-year term.
His opponent, Democrat Rodney Long, has a long history of political involvement, including stints on the Gainesville City Commission and the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners.
The two are facing off in a newly drawn district. Perry’s current area, District 8, covers Alachua County, Putnam County and the north half of Marion County. After the Legislature redrew district lines earlier this year, the new District 9 covers the south half of Alachua County and all of Marion and Levy counties.
In a phone interview, Perry said the top issue on the campaign trail is inflation.
“I own a roofing company, so I deal a lot with working class people,” said Perry, owner of Perry Roofing. “They’re hurting.”
He cited education and homeowner’s insurance as two more top issues with voters. He said the cost of homeowner’s insurance has skyrocketed in large part because of attorneys who are pursuing costly litigation.
“We have 8% of the nation’s homes, but almost 80% of the litigation,” Perry said. “These lawyers have set up these scams.”
If given another term, Perry said he would seek to limit one-way attorney’s fees, which he said are incentivizing litigation. He also wants to give homeowners more choice in home insurance plans, including the ability to replace a partial roof instead of all of it.
“We just passed last year a change allowing some of the newer policies to allow some more choices, but we need to make it complete consumer choice,” he said.
Long cited a mostly different set of issues as the top items on the minds of voters, following meetings with more than 35 local governments across the district.
“I have visited every local government and city in this district,” Long said in a phone interview. “I believe in local government holding authority.”
Long said affordable housing, improving public education, healthcare and stopping the turnpike extension are his top issues. Among other things, Long wants to boost education spending to put Florida in the top 10 percent of states. He also wants to expand Medicaid and bring a healthcare facility to Levy County so its residents do not have to come to Gainesville for care.
On the toll road, Long said he will seek to defund the extension study that is currently on hold.
“I oppose the toll road, because it would impact the quality of life in Marion and Levy County,” Long said.
In a right-leaning district, Long said he has had success converting Republicans into supporters.
“When we get beyond the culture wars, and the crash and burn things, we have things in common,” Long said.
While neither candidate mentioned it as a top issue, Perry and Long have been outspoken on the voter referendum to potentially replace at-large districts with single-member districts for the Alachua County Commission.
Long helped lead the effort to create single-member districts for the Gainesville City Commission in the 1980s, but he does not support the current effort because the county has had minority representation since the 1970s, unlike the city.
Perry supports single-member districts because he says students in Gainesville are swaying elections at the expense of residents in outlying areas.
“It’s incredibly unfair,” Perry said. “The rural communities of the county are absolutely left behind in the process.”