Dr. Kayser Enneking’s years of work as a physician have opened her eyes to issues in Florida’s communities, such as lack of nutrition and education and homeslessness, which are roots of the disparities in the healthcare system.
The Gainesville native and UF anesthesiology professor is the Democratic nominee for the Florida House of Representatives District 21.
Enneking’s policies are based on affordable health care, COVID-19 recovery, education, economic opportunity, protecting the environment, reforming gun laws and putting families first.
She is running against Republican nominee Chuck Clemons. Clemons is running for his third term in the Florida House of Representatives. He won his last bid for re-election in 2018 by 2,000 votes.
Enneking first ran, and lost, in 2018 as a first time candidate against Republican Keith Perry for Florida’s 8th district senate seat. She said it was a bruising election and believed many people in the community felt like the vote had been stolen from her.
“It didn’t feel like it was a fair n’ square race,” Enneking said. “I couldn’t go to Publix without seeing someone and them saying ‘Ah they robbed you, you should’ve been state senator.’”
She lost the election by 1%. She said losing made her think she wasn’t cut out to run as a politician. However, she said there were a lot of people who pushed her to run again.
“I kind of had an obligation to use the name recognition I had and all the time and energy and money that people had put into me to make sure I did something good with it,” Enneking said. “And so, that's how I find myself running again.”
The basic care of our communities is lacking, Enneking said. Through experiences with patients, she has seen the healthcare system fail at the basic levels.
Enneking said she wants to emulate a North Carolina program called NCCARE360 in Florida. It allows health care providers who notice patients who are dealing with food insecurity, housing security, education security or homelessness, to make a referral to a hub, she said. This hub can then refer patients to programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or housing and education sites for them to receive better care.
“There are a bunch of services that are out there for people, but they're just not very well connected up,” Enneking said. “And oftentimes, folks who have some of these problems are not the most savvy at navigating our system.”
In March, when the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, Enneking said she worked hard at her hospital preparing for what she thought would be a rush of patients. She believes it was extremely arrogant and short-sighted of Gov. Ron DeSantis to push to start re-opening in May.
Although new teachers did get a pay raise in Florida in June, Enneking said there are veteran teachers, bus drivers, office staff and employees that need one too.
“Schools are important, they're important for our kids, but they're important part communities as well, and our communities, and they're part of the sort of fabric that knits us all together,” Enneking said.
In terms of gun violence, she supports the “Moms Demand Action'' approach, which is helping to understand issues that will help with gun safety. She said it’s really important to not propose ideas that cut off conversation and talk about these common sense policies that actually reduce gun violence.
Ground zero for climate change is here in Florida, Enneking said. She said Florida needs to get to the root of this problem and needs to be investing in a different energy source than fossil fuels.
“Climate change is real, baby, and it is an existential crisis,” Enneking said. “...I'll be damned if I sit around and I don’t do anything about this.”
Amanda Rivera, a 23-year-old UF political science master’s student, is Enneking’s field director. She said she is really passionate about getting a good Democrat in the House District 21 seat.
Rivera said voters of House District 21 will see that Enneking is not the average politician, and she has Florida’s best interest at heart.
“She really is a doctor with Florida's best interest at heart and the district's best interests at heart, and I think that voters will see that, and we will be victorious on November 3,” Rivera said.
Chuck Clemons, who has represented Florida’s 21st House District since 2016, is running for a third term this November.
The 63-year-old incumbent Republican is running against Democratic nominee Kayser Enneking to represent Florida’s 21st House District in Tallahassee. Enneking lost a race for Florida Senate District 8 against Keith Perry in 2018. Clemons’ platform emphasizes protecting the environment, funding education and supporting agriculture. He won his last bid for re-election in 2018 by about 2,000 votes.
As the Chair of the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee in the Florida House of Representatives, Clemons said the environment is vitally important to him. In 2018, he proposed a bill to ban fracking in Florida. Fracking is a natural gas drilling method considered to be harmful to the environment. The bill died in committee without ever reaching a vote.
“We have to push back on some of the pressure that human beings are placing onto our environment in Florida,” Clemons said. “That's why I’ve been staunch about banning fracking.”
Environmental conservation is one of the campaign’s major focuses, Clemons said. He helped secure $200 million in Florida’s annual budget to go towards natural spring restoration. There are multiple springs in Clemons’ district, such as Ginnie Springs in Gilchrist County.
Education is an important and personal issue, Clemons said. He is a first-generation college graduate. Clemons attended Lake City Community College, now known as Florida Gateway College, and then graduated from UF in 1979 with a degree in advertising.
In March 2020, Clemons voted in favor of budgeting $500 million to increase teacher salaries in Florida. The bill passed unanimously through both the House and the Senate.
“I'm proud to have been a part of that progress,” he said.
Clemons also works in higher education. He is the Santa Fe College vice president of advancement where he helps secure scholarship funding for first-generation students, underrepresented populations and non-traditional students.
Much of Florida House District 21 is rural, and agriculture is a large part of Clemons’ platform. Clemons said he continues to fight for the state to provide local farmers with guidance on issues such as pesticides and regulations.
Clemons does not always vote along party lines. He said he is proud of voting against two of the first five House bills of the 2020 legislative session. These bills were favorites of House Speaker Republican José Oliva and voting against them was breaking party lines, he said. Clemons was a Democrat up until 1998, when he said the party began moving too far to the left.
In wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Clemons’ campaign adjusted its tactics. The campaign shut down in-person canvassing in the spring but has since resumed the practice. Clemons said the campaign is knocking on doors and standing up to 15 feet away in order to physically distance.
“We've had several people say, ‘You know, you're the first state representative that’s ever knocked on my door, and I've lived here for 32 years,’” Clemons said. “So that's very rewarding.”
Clemons said he has utilized Zoom to campaign to groups such as the Florida Nursery Growers and Landscape Association and the Builders Association of North Central Florida. He said he’s had to get used to the digital platforms, and he’s spoken with dozens of organizations through Zoom.
Nicole McEwan, a 20-year-old UF political science junior, is an intern for Clemons’ campaign. McEwan said he cares more about education than other candidates she’s seen. This in turn makes him more receptive and considerate to his student campaign interns, she said.
Clemons is passionate about what he does, McEwan said, and it’s one of the main reasons she supports him.
“I've gotten to see how passionate he is about what he is doing,” McEwan said. “He's really dedicated to changing the community and representing the public interest.”
Monetary contributions: $497,735.40
Total spending: $273,338.28
All information from Florida Department of State Division of Elections.
Monetary contributions: $386,109.20
Total spending: $165,262.86
All information from Florida Department of State Division of Elections.
Anna Wilder is a second-year journalism major and the criminal justice reporter. She's from Melbourne, Florida, and she enjoys being outdoors or playing the viola when she's not writing.
Steven Walker is the Fall 2021 Editor in Chief of The Alligator. He has previously worked at the Orlando Sentinel; and has bylines in the Miami Herald, Associated Press and Florida Times Union. In his free time, he likes to take long walks with his dog Luna and watch his favorite sports teams, the Orlando Magic and the Green Bay Packers.