Democrats Battle for Central Florida's District 12
August 09, 2012 | WMFE - The Democratic primary for the State Senate in west Orange County is one of the most heated contests in the August 14th primary election and it's sharply dividing the mostly African-American residents in the district.
Lawmakers created Senate District 12 during the reapportionment process last year. It includes the Parramore and Pine Hills neighborhoods west of downtown Orlando as well as the cities of Apopka, Edgewood and Windermere.
State Representative Geraldine Thompson and first time political candidate Victoria Siplin both enjoy strong name recognition among voters.
In 2006, Thompson became the first African-American woman elected to represent Orange County in the state House. Victoria Siplin is married to State Senator Gary Siplin who is leaving the legislature after 10 years because of term limits.
63-year-old Thompson has a background in education working for the Orange County School System and at Valencia Community College before being elected to the House. She says she would continue to work on educational issues in the state senate.
“I’m going top continue to advocate for education at every level” Thompson said. “And I’m also going to work on job creation. We have invested as a state in east Orange County in the Burnham Institute, the medical city there and it’s a very wise investment and we need to be doing some similar kinds of things In West Orange County.”
Specifically, she would propose construction of a photovoltaic solar energy plant that would train area residents to compete for well paying jobs and generate energy for the region.
Thompson says her experience in education and in the state House gives her an advantage in the race. She says state Senator is not usually an entry level position, noting that her opponent’s husband, Sen. Gary Siplin, had a law degree and a term in the state House before running for a Senate seat.
“If you contrast that with his wife who has never held elected office at all, who has a high school diploma and who has not had an opportunity to build that relationship and to go through the learning curve,” Thompson said. “I think it’s going to be very difficult for this area to be well represented and to have things getting the attention that they need.”
Victoria Siplin declined repeated requests to comment for this story and has mostly ignored the media throughout the campaign preferring to canvass the district door-to-door accompanied by her husband.
For some voters that approach seems to be effective. Lee Garner cuts hair at the J.Rogers barbershop in Orlando’s Parramore neighborhood.
He said a personal appeal convinced him to vote for Siplin.
“They did an actual personal drive by just last week” Garner said. “I almost got a little personal investment in them as far as the candidate actually coming by my house and her husband, Gary Siplin. It kind of touched me a little bit so I feel like I’m going ahead, first for them, for her.”
The 38 year old Siplin previously worked as an aide in Tallahassee for former Democratic State Senators Arnett Girardeau of Jacksonville and Carrie Meek of Miami.
On her campaign website, Siplin says, if elected, she would fight to reform the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test and work to fund employment training for the district’s young people.
State Representative Scott Randolph, Chairman of the Orange County Democratic Party, isn’t taking sides in the primary but says he expects it to be a very close race. Both candidates are well known and each has wide support but, Randolph says, there are no federal, county commission or other high profile races on the ballot.
Randolph says turnout is likely to be low.
“So it will be the state Senate and then you’ve got two state house races underneath it that have primaries and that’s basically going to be the race.” Randolph said. “So it’s really going to be the motivated voters, who can motivate their voters to get out there.”
Democrats outnumber Republicans by a margin of about 2 to 1 in the new district. The winner of the primary will face Republican Fritz Jackson Seide in November's general election.