As director of community partnerships at the University of South Florida, Jennifer Webb knows her way around the cacophony of dissent. She cuts a friendly character when we meet up in St. Petersburg, but she’s got the wonk-like traits that make a candidate a real politician, a life in academia notwithstanding.
“I went back to get an advanced degree, specifically because I wanted to have one foot in academia and one in the real world,” she says. “We need more really thoughtful people engaged in our process, whether that means coming up with common sense solutions through community work or through developing policies, that’s where I think certain people do the impact. That’s why I went back to an advanced degree for anthropology. And the anthropology that I do is anthropology in public policy, which is how certain policies can impact local communities and local businesses.”
In essence, Webb is trying to pull partisanship out of a region which is so heavily immersed in conflict, whether that stems from gun rights or environmentalism. Her opponent, incumbent Republican State Rep. Kathleen Peters, has walked the middle road through much of her brief tenure in the legislature (she was elected in 2012), sponsoring legislation on revising laws regarding mandatory minimum prison terms for convicted offenders, strengthening laws against sex offenders and trying to curtail human trafficking and sex offenders in the Sunshine State. Peters comes off as a centrist, but, according to Webb, appearances may be deceiving.
“I looked at Representative Peters’ voting history,” Webb says. “I knew she had voted poorly on some of the bigger bills, but I wasn’t sure overall that she was just as partisan as she seemed, and she really is. She’s a partisan. … So I thought, ‘OK.’”
And so the vetting process began. She came out against guns. She came out against discrimination. She came out against fracking on the gulf coast.
“Generally, the environment is everyone’s third most important issue: It falls behind economy or something else. In district 69, the environment is people’s most important issue, because we live right on the coast and our economy depends on the environment. About 70 percent of our constituents in district 69 are against fracking; they want to ban on fracking and to a greater degree want solar and access to solar, and to portable solar, and to help out the solar effort and make sure that we don’t get stuck with the bill for protecting Duke Energy and Florida Power and bond holders. I really carry the message about knowing that one cause I think that one’s really important. I think that is confusing to people and intentionally confusing to people. I think something needs to be done so that”
Also, she came out.
“It was my community partners that asked me to run for office,” she says. “They said, ‘You’re really good at coming up with common sense solutions – you don’t use polarizing language, or political language – so what would you think about running for office?’ And I looked at the race and I looked at the district and it swept to Obama with a plus-two for both of the presidential elections, and I looked at Representative Peters’ voting history.”
Among the key issues on Webb’s to-do list are fighting fraudulent charter schools, revisiting the unnecessary heft of homeowners’ insurance and taking on homelessness. She’s a liberal, but not one that tends to turn off voters on either side. However, she’s also strong on gun reform.
“You don’t take someone down with an automatic rifle. You take them down with a sharp shooter held by someone who is skilled at keeping people safe,” she says. “I think it’s so important that we also on the Democratic side not use language that will cause resistance outright from people who will worry about having their Second Amendment rights removed. Prior to my sister’s death two-and-a-half years ago, I grew up shooting guns. I’ve had a gun. I’ve been hunting. It’s a cultural thing. For us, we really have to check, and it’s not something that I care to do anymore. It’s important for me to know that my preference for not owning a gun or not going out in the woods and shooting is not somehow better than someone else’s preference. That’s when it riles up the base, and then nothing gets done.”
“What we’re really talking about is how we ensure our safety – and not just in the LGBTQ community, but in the broader community,” she says. “In my district, there are some very active Second Amendment voters who constantly challenge me to think about things.”
And that says a lot when you consider that it was reported – and confirmed by Webb in our interview – that her sister took her own life with a firearm just two-and-a-half years ago.
Webb is a married lesbian, though she prefers the term “queer.” It’s a fact that is important to her on several levels.
“I would be the first lesbian legislator in the state of Florida, so that is a huge thing,” she says. “Your readers are from the LGBTQ community. I identify as queer, and that’s with great respect to the lesbians and gay guys who came before me and fought really hard battles that are full of identity politics so that I can call myself queer.”
Watermark is proud to endorse Webb in her run for the state legislature in District 69.