The race to succeed term-limited Rep. Colleen Burton in next fall’s Florida House District 40 election features two familiar names with long local legacies and two newcomers — a Libertarian educator and a 22-year-old pilot.
Allison Marie Kelly, 39, of Lakeland, filed her candidacy for the House seat with the Florida Division of Elections on Nov. 29. Unless other Libertarian candidates file by June, she will run uncontested in the primary and be on the Nov. 8 ballot as a third-party challenger.
Nicholas Poucher, 22, of Lakeland, who will soon be a commercial aircraft pilot, is one of three Republicans vying for the nod in HD 40’s Aug. 23 GOP primary. Previously announced candidates are Jennifer Houghton Canady and Phillip Walker. No Democrat has yet filed for the seat.
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Canady, 48, is director of RISE Institute at Lakeland Christian School with nearly 20 years’ experience as a classroom teacher and service on numerous state and regional boards. Her husband is Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles T. Canady, who represented Lakeland in the Florida House (1984-90) and in Congress (1992-2000).
Canady’s campaign had raised more than $203,000 as of Nov. 30, according to the DOE. In the first month after filing, she raised nearly $87,000, or nearly 45% of her war chest, and has collected three times the money raised by her three opponents combined.
Between Nov. 1 and 30, Walker’s campaign reported $1,875 in contributions. According to the DOE, he has more than $59,000 in his coffers.
Kelly’s campaign posted $41.59 in in-kind services on Nov. 30 as its only election-related transaction.
“What we lack in dollar signs we make up for in terms of engagement and value,” Kelly said Thursday, noting her campaign is supported by “volunteers with a wide range of expertise. They believe in causation — in making Lakeland better.”
A New Jersey native who has lived in Lakeland since 2015, Kelly said she can compete in the Republican-controlled district as a Libertarian despite limited funding.
“We’ll have a strong social media campaign that will reach voters in a fiscally responsible way,” she said. “People say, ‘You only have $41’ but I tell them I’m not hurting at all. There are a lot of things that are grassroots. I am really passionate about third-party politics and challenging the two-party system.”
Libertarian Party of Polk County Chair Brian Stevens told LkldNow he is assisting in Kelly’s campaign but not in an official capacity.
“She is incredibly bright and personable, and she is passionate about education,” he said.
A former English teacher, Kelly said her campaign will emphasize “solutioning” for improvements in the state’s educational system.
“My number one concern is education in the state of Florida,” she said, citing support for school choice and calling for more community engagement in improving K-12 students’ achievements scores and graduation rates.
“Students here need to be prioritized,” Kelly said. “The revenue stream is always going to be limited, which is part of the justification for teachers’ salaries and per-student funding. Both of those numbers are quite a travesty.”
Under Gov. Ron DeSantis’ fiscal year 2023 budget request, per-student funding would increase by $233 to $8,019 per student. That is still in the bottom 10 nationwide, according to Education Week.
DeSantis’ budget request also seeks $238 million for one-time $1,000 bonus checks for the state’s 179,000 teachers and principals and $600 million to reach a minimum teacher salary of $47,500.
The one-time allocations and adjustments make state’s teacher salaries competitive, but not for long without a revenue source for teacher salaries, Kelly said.
“No one gets into education to be wealthy, but teachers need a livable wage,” she said, noting while she is dubious of using gambling revenue for education, “the legalization of marijuana” could provide “an opportunity to put money back” into education.
Kelly said if elected she will protect seniors and champion common sense policies.
“As a Libertarian, one of the things I want to go after is the ‘war on drugs,’ which affects livelihoods, incomes, community stability. I want to have a very real conversation” about decriminalization and legalization, she said.
“Big picture: I have a global concern for the diminishing middle class,” Kelly said. “I am painfully aware of increasing property taxes and property insurance rates, especially for seniors and those on fixed incomes.”
As of Nov. 30, Poucher had reported $2,820 in campaign contributions, receiving $2,430 within a month of formally filing for the seat in early March.
A Central Florida Aerospace Academy graduate who has been a licensed private pilot since he was 17, Poucher earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of North Florida in 2019.
He caught the political bug as a Polk State Lakeland Collegiate High School student in 2016 when he volunteered for the Trump campaign. He also worked with former U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross’s 2016 and 2018 campaigns, interning in Washington, D.C., for the Lakeland Congressional rep before he retired in 2020.
“I thought it was really cool, dealing with constituents, helping solve people’s problems,” Poucher said. “I could see you could make a real difference and I thought I would be interested in becoming that person, the person the people elect to represent them. A lot of people who are elected are not representing the people they are supposed to be representing. They aren’t representing the best interests of the people they are supposed to be representing.”
The disadvantages of being a first-time candidate are daunting but won’t dissuade him from actively campaigning, he said.
“It takes money to run a campaign. The people I might be talking with to help me are mostly my age and they don’t have a lot of money for political donations,” Poucher said, noting his campaign will operate with “a little less money than more established people, but if I continue to campaign and talk with enough people, they will have the ability to make a decision and I hope they decide I am the one who will best represent them.”
While campaign literature touts his conservative Christian values and beliefs in “limited government, individual freedoms and personal responsibility,” Poucher said among specific issues he wants to address is vocational education and workforce development.
“We have people with degrees and no one knows how to fix anything anymore,” he said. “Student debt, it’s unfortunate. We subsidize these degrees that have no value to taxpayers.”
Poucher would reassess how the state manages its tuition assistance plans, including the Bright Futures scholarship program, an issue debated during the 2021 legislative session and likely to surface again in 2022.
A proposed bill, Senate Bill 86, sought to require the state university system’s Board of Governors and State Board of Education to approve a list of career certificate, undergraduate and graduate degree programs “that lead directly to employment” beginning the 2022-23 academic year. Those majors not on “the list” would receive diminished Bright Futures funding.
SB 86 was adopted by the Senate in a 22-18 vote but died on the House floor when the session adjourned in late April.
Taxpayers should not be investing in programs that are “not always a great economic return for them” and instead be financing more people “getting real skills. (Skills) that are producing higher income and are not taking on taxpayer subsidies.”
If elected, Poucher said he would advocate for the state’s aviation industry and support the continued job-generating growth of Lakeland Linder Airport as a regional logistics hub.
The state’s property insurance crisis is “very complicated,” as is the Legislature’s renewed effort to revamp Florida’s auto insurance laws as the nation’s last no-fault state, he said, noting while issues and specifics can vary from voter to voter, from election to election, one thing should always stay the same.
“It should be easy to get in contact with elected officials,” Poucher said, vowing to stage town halls frequently, including before sessions to “hear what people are concerned about. It will be different than the way it is. People will be able to contact me.”
The last time there was a tight contest in HD 40’s Republican primary was in August 2014 when Burton edged John Hugh Shannon by about 170 votes before easily cruising to victory over Democrat Ricky Shirah in the general election.
Burton ran unopposed in the 2016 and 2018 GOP primaries; 2020 primaries were canceled. She garnered between 56 and 60% of the vote as an incumbent in the last three general elections, defeating Democrats Jan Barrow in 2020 and Shandale Terrell in 2016 and 2018.
As of Dec. 30, a Democratic candidate had not filed to run in HD 40 election, but there are still six months before June’s candidate qualifying deadline.
After serving four two-year stints as a representative, Burton is term-limited in the House, but is not finished with Tallahassee. She is campaigning for the Florida Senate seat being vacated by term-limited Lakeland Republican Sen. Kelli Stargel.