Two Lakeland natives — Jennifer Houghton Canady and Phillip Walker — are preparing to square off in a Republican primary 18 months from now for a chance to succeed Colleen Burton in the Florida House of Representatives.
Both are planning campaigns promoting their conservative credentials. In addition:
- Canady, 47, director of the RISE Institute at Lakeland Christian School, is emphasizing her 17 years as a classroom teacher and her work on statewide civic boards.
- Walker, 67, an 11-year member of the Lakeland City Commission and former owner of an insurance agency, is emphasizing his experience in elected office. He will become president of the Florida League of Cities later this year.
Both filed during the last month to run for the District 40 House seat that Burton will vacate at the end of 2022 at the end of her fourth term. Burton plans to run for the Florida Senate seat that will be vacated at the same time by Kelli Stargel. Both Burton and Stargel are Lakeland Republicans who are coming to the end of term limits for their current elected positions.
District 40 (map) encompasses most of Lakeland, stretching from Medulla to Lake Gibson and east from the county line to Combee Road. It is possible the boundaries could change when the Legislature redraws districts starting this spring.
Canady’s husband, Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles T. Canady, represented a Lakeland-based Florida House district from 1984 to 1990 before being elected to the U.S. House and then joining the judiciary.
It is unknown whether other candidates will enter the race; candidates don’t qualify for office until mid-June 2022. There are currently no Democratic candidates for the seat. Primaries take place on Aug. 23, 2022, and the general election will be Nov. 8.
So far there is only one other contested Polk County legislative race on the 2022 ballot. Democrat Michael Harvey Sr. of Tampa has filed to challenge Republican incumbent Danny Burgess of Zephyrhills for the District 20 Senate seat, which represents portions of northwest Polk County.
Canady grew up in Lakeland, attending Scott Lake Elementary School, Lakeland Highlands Middle School and Kathleen High School. She has two education degrees: a bachelor’s from Florida State University and a master’s from the University of South Florida.
She said her campaign will focus on preserving the conservative leadership that has made Florida a great place to live.
She emphasizes that she is not a politician and will run a campaign that prioritizes jobs, low taxes and support for law enforcement.
“I am a conservative Republican. I am focused on jobs and rebuilding the economy, helping Floridians get back to work and provide for their families and keeping taxes low. I believe there’s too much red tape,” she said. “I will support law enforcement and I believe in the right to life and defending the freedoms found in the Constitution.”
As a Republican teacher, she said, she believes she will bring a perspective not often heard in Tallahassee.
Canady says she has not yet named a campaign manager. Her campaign treasurer is Noreen Fenner of Tallahassee, a Florida campaign finance specialist who has worked with several area Republican House members, including Burton, Josie Tomkow and Ben Albritton.
Canady had expressed interest last year in running in this spring’s election to fill the remaining months in the Lakeland City Commission term of Scott Franklin, whose resignation from that office took effect the day he was sworn in as a member of the U.S. House.
However, she said she decided to focus instead on state office because of her expertise in education and the statewide network she has developed. Canady was appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in 2019 to the Florida Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission. In 2017, then-Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam appointed her to the Florida Commission on the Status of Women.
If she’s elected, Canady says, she hopes to continue teaching at Lakeland Christian School, where she directs a program using design thinking to teach problem-solving skills to science-minded students. To her knowledge, there are no current teachers in the Florida Legislature.
Walker is midway through his third and final term representing Northwest Lakeland on the City Commission. A major focus of his final term has been advocacy for Lakeland’s minority communities.
His push for a Lakeland African-American History Museum led to the creation of a Historical and Cultural Center focusing on the various ethnic groups that have contributed to Lakeland. Construction begins soon within the Lakeland Public Library’s Lake Morton branch.
Walker grew up in Lakeland, attending Rochelle Elementary School, Lakeland Junior High School when it was first desegregated, Lakeland High School, and he graduated from Kathleen High School. He has a bachelor’s degree in history and political science from Morris Brown College and a master’s in criminology from Rollins College.
Walker started his professional career as a Lakeland police officer and later owned an Allstate insurance office for 26 years, selling it in 2017.
Walker said the theme of his campaign is “principled conservative leadership.” He said he wants to help small businesses recover from COVID-19. “Education is important. Health care is important. Certainly we want to make sure we do what we need to do to keep the economy going and not make businesses suffer because of Covid,” he said.
In August, he starts a one-year term as president of the Florida League of Cities, a 99-year-old organization that advocates for city governments in Tallahassee. The league has been at odds with legislators in recent years over the issue of home rule, and Waker said he intends to remain an advocate on behalf of municipal governments: “We know what’s best for ur communities.”
Walker said his campaign has a local steering committee and he’s hired political consultant Mark Zubaly. Campaign treasurer is Daryl A. Johnson, a local CPA who serves with Walker on the city Utility Committee.
Experience is what differentiates him from Canady, Walker said. In addition, he says he has a track record of getting a wide variety of people involved in civic issues.