The race for Florida State Senate District 12 pits Democrat Veysel Dokur, a first-time office seeker, against Republican Florida Rep. Colleen Burton. The Lakeland residents are vying to represent a district that covers most of northern Polk County.
Both are running on their party’s platform, with Dokur promising to protect voting rights, women’s reproductive rights, and the environment; find solutions to the affordable housing crisis and skyrocketing insurance rates; and increase job growth and funding for public schools and teachers.
Burton said she will ensure “quality healthcare for all Floridians, educational opportunities that prepare Florida’s students to be career-ready, and control the state budget while keeping taxes low.”
Dokur, 56, is an engineer for an international company, who moved to Central Florida 21 years ago from his native Turkey. He is married and has two sons, 15 and 22.
He explained on his campaign website that he is running because he sees some of the same totalitarian restrictions he endured in Turkey starting to take hold in Polk County, particularly when groups are trying to ban books in schools.
“Soldiers monitored teachers and students, books were banned, and freedom of speech taken away,” he said of Turkey. “Recent book-banning attempts in Polk County remind me of the local police raiding my college apartment in Ankara, which I shared with three other students. They took our books and filed us into the national system as ‘politically suspicious people.’ The freedom that I sought in the United States is being taken away and I cannot just watch it happen. The horizon may seem bleak but we have the power to course correct and seek a brighter future.”
He said he supports common civility, public schools, and the environment and ending the degradation of infrastructure.
“Public education is the cornerstone of any decent community, yet our schools are expected to do too much with too little,” Dokur says on his campaign website. “Education funding fails to keep up with inflation and our schools suffer from a growing deficit that falls on the shoulders of teachers and families.”
Under Gov. Ron DeSantis’ direction, the Florida Legislature increased funding for beginning teacher salaries, but it has not provided the funding to bring up veteran teachers’ pay.
In an interview with LkldNow, Dokur said he will tackle affordable housing and home insurance rates first if he is elected.
“One of the things is make sure that the rescue plan is not raided anymore,” Dokur said, referring to the Sadowski Trust Fund.
In 1991, the Florida Home Builders Association and the Florida Realtors asked the Legislature to increase the transfer fee (or tax) on all real property transactions and dedicate that increment to the state and local housing trust funds, according to sadowskicoalition.org. These trust funds are referred to as the Sadowski state and local housing trust funds. The Legislature required that:
- The monies be dedicated solely for affordable housing
- 75% of the funds be used for construction-related activities
- Most of the local housing trust funds (65%) are used for home-ownership-related activities
They’re not restricted to new home ownership; rehabilitation or refurbishing substandard homes meets the home ownership requirement, the website states.
But Dokur said the Legislature keeps “raiding” the trust fund and he wants to repeal laws that allow that.
In terms of bringing down home insurance rates, Dokur said it is not an easy solution.
“One thing I can say is the emergency session was just increasing the funds for the insurance companies and they did not do anything for the actual homeowners,” Dokur said. “That involves a lot of other parties. It’s clear that insurance companies (are) wanting to be fully in charge of the rules and regulations. And I would like to work with other experts on this area to come up with a better plan. At this point, I don’t have anything specific of my own. But I’m aware that there are alternatives out there.”
He said he also wants to work on pro-choice issues for women and Medicaid expansion so that all Floridians can have affordable health care.
The Florida House and Senate excluded Medicaid expansion in its budget priorities this year, The Florida Phoenix reported. Florida’s Medicaid program is a federal-state partnership and provides health-care plans for many low-income residents. For years, fiscally conservative, Republican-led Florida Legislatures have refused to expand the program.
“I am asking why Republicans do not want to do this,” Dokur said. “If you have answers from them, please let your readers know how it is good, that not having that Medicaid expansion for Floridians, especially in Polk County — over a million and a half Floridians would benefit, 300,000 Polk County residents would benefit from Medicaid expansion.”
Dokur said he is aware that a powerful Republican coalition controls much of what happens in local politics and that it is difficult for alternative voices to be heard.
“As you may be aware, people don’t even want to become candidates that are very qualified people who, who can run and win seats in Polk County, but we just need to bring our voices out more and more, that we are here. Polk County’s not just Republican.”
His endorsements include: Charlie Crist, Polk County Democrats, Democratic Public Education Caucus of Florida, Florida LGBTQ+ Democratic Caucus, Vote Pro Choice.
Dokur has raised $15,000, including a $3,000 loan he made to his campaign.
In stark contrast, Burton has raised $406,000, with the bulk of that coming before the Aug. 23 primary. She is endorsed by: Business Voice (Lakeland Chamber of Commerce), Polk County Builders Association, Florida Police Benevolent Association.
Burton is 64 and has served in the Florida House of Representatives since 2014. Her campaign slogan is three words: “Proven. Conservative. Leadership.”
She sits on the powerful House Appropriations committee and is chair of the Health & Human Services Committee.
She has been married since 1980 to Brad Burton. The couple moved to Lakeland in 1993 and have three children and three grandchildren. Burton holds a bachelor’s degree in public administration from California State University, Sacramento.
When asked what her three top legislative priorities are when she is elected, she said in an email, “Quality healthcare for all Floridians, educational opportunities that prepare Florida’s students to be career-ready, and controlling the state budget while keeping taxes low.”
But when asked if she wanted to expand Medicaid or increase taxes on corporations, Burton didn’t respond to a follow-up email. She also said in a telephone call that she had no bills written and ready to introduce on the first day of session.
In addition to serving in the Legislature, Burton has served as the executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters, the Imperial Symphony Orchestra, and Polk Vision. She has served as president of the Lakeland Republican Women’s Club and served on multiple boards, including the Catholic Charities of Central Florida West Central Advisory Board, the United Way of Central Florida Community Impact Cabinet, the Central Florida Development Council Board of Directors, and the Polk County Workforce Development Board. She currently serves on the board of directors for Volunteers in Service to the Elderly (VISTE).
March 14 proved to be a busy day for Burton this year – 1:03 p.m. especially. That’s when she slipped into the Florida budget numerous items that meant tens of millions of dollars for Polk County and were passed when the budget passed. They included:
- HB 2245 – One More Child Anti-Sex Trafficking — $500,000 to the One More Child organization at the Florida Children’s Home to fund 24-hour mobile crisis intervention services and drop-in centers for at-risk or identified children, teens, and young adult victims of sex trafficking. Services include counseling, case management and survivor led advocacy and support, and prevention and education to various populations to include law enforcement, medical providers, hotel and hospital workers. Total funding also includes $560,000 from local government, $2.5 million from the federal government and another $1.08 million from “other.”
- HB 2785 – Parenting with Love and Limits Evidenced Based Family Stabilization and Trauma Model — $250,000 to the North American Family Institute for skills-based training in groups, individual and/or family therapy, crisis intervention, trauma, and case management services. Staff travel to residential facilities, to family homes, and/or provide transportation for clients and families to complete goal-directed activities. This program is supported by the regional, Judicial Circuit probation chief, and probation offices, as well as higher level DJJ leadership.
- HB 2975 – Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center Behavioral Health — $1,500,000 to fund some of the construction of Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center’s Behavioral Health Center
- HB 3235 – Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center – Graduate Medical Education Facility Construction — $1,500,000 to offset the $13 million in un-reimbursable costs LRH will spend to establish a Graduate Medical Education program. LRH plans to begin hosting residents July 1, 2023, and intends to annually host 190 residents in seven programs. Specifically, the funds will be used to build a multi-million-dollar Family Medicine Clinic that will provide primary care to member of the community regardless of ability to pay.
- HB 4891 – Polk State College — $5,000,000 for the expansion of Critical Health Sciences Programs, including equipment and construction renovation to simulate clinical experiences for Polk State Health Sciences students including beds, IV poles, simulation mannequins, associated software and licensing, and laptop and desktop computers. Additional hands-on teaching aids to facilitate instruction in workforce training programs. Renovations and enhancements of existing spaces critical to creating functional simulation labs and additional hands-on classrooms for these growing programs.
- HB 4893 – Polk State College – $16,689,627 to remodel/renovate Building 3 — The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity’s Regional Demand Occupations List data shows that by 2028, Polk County is projected to need an additional 4,788 registered nurses. Requested funds would be used to: update classrooms, laboratories, corridors, offices, and public spaces; bring restrooms into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act; and upgrade the building’s fire protection system. Polk State College District Board of Trustees has listed this project as the College’s first priority.
- HB 4895 – Polk State College – $13,800,000 for planning and site development of the Northeast Ridge campus for students in Haines City, Davenport, Poinciana, and the Four Corners region. Estimated budget of the entire project is $53,276,930 for “a modern, state-of-the at teaching and learning environment.” The scope of the development will consolidate health science programs, house general education, provide for flexible classrooms, computer classrooms, vocational and non-vocational, courses of study for hands-on training. Construction will include: one-stop student services areas, library spaces and collaboration spaces, meeting and community spaces. Polk State College District Board of Trustees has listed the Northeast Ridge project as the College’s number two priority.
Other Burton bills that passed were ones to help crime victims understand their rights and extend the protection of health-care providers from COVID-19 claims.
Two of her bills were vetoed by the governor: $5 million to build an education center at Se7en Wetlands; $450,000 to expand of the Community Paramedic Program that will reduce the 30-day hospital readmissions for a population with chronic medical conditions.
A bill to provide $1,900,000 to fund the Florida Rural Digital Literacy Program failed to pass the Appropriations Committee and didn’t make it into the budget.
Early voting in the Senate race ends Saturday. Election Day is Nov. 8.
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