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Friday, January 27, 2023

Republican Keith Perry beats Rodney Long, taking the District 9 Florida Senate seat

Perry will represent the newly created District 9

<p><span id="docs-internal-guid-1eb07461-7fff-012e-5c8a-436028c24f59"><span>Senator Keith Perry speaks to rally attendees Tuesday afternoon at the Red Wave Rally in Turlington Plaza. Perry said, “Give me a call and we’ll discuss issues.” State Rep. Chuck Clemons and Congressman Ted Yoho also attended the event to interact with students and get them to vote.</span></span></p>

Senator Keith Perry speaks to rally attendees Tuesday afternoon at the Red Wave Rally in Turlington Plaza. Perry said, “Give me a call and we’ll discuss issues.” State Rep. Chuck Clemons and Congressman Ted Yoho also attended the event to interact with students and get them to vote.

Republican Keith Perry defeated Democrat Rodney Long winning the District 9 Florida Senate seat with 65.6% of the vote, as of 10 p.m. 

The newly elected state senator will represent Alachua, Marion and Levy counties. 

“My goal to myself was I will not be outworked by my opponent,” Perry said. “Hard work paid off.”

On the top floor of Spurrier’s Gridiron Grille, about 100 of Perry’s supporters were packed so tightly they struggled to move across the room. Steve Spurrier, a former UF football coach and player, sat by the bar, taking pictures with attendees as everyone waited for the future District 9 Florida senator to arrive.

Perry, 63, wandered through the floor, mingling with his supporters as everyone anticipated his race’s result. As precincts continued reporting and the race neared its end, Perry collected his guests to show his appreciation for their support.

He also called attention to single-member districts — an initiative that passed later in the night — which garnered an emphatic roar from everyone gathered around. He closed with thanks for his campaign team and their effort.

Perry previously held the District 8 state Senate seat. After Florida redistricted, he ran for the District 9 position. Long spent time with different committees at the local and state level before he ran for the State Senate 9 seat. 

Perry replaces Jason Brodeur, who has previously held the seat since 2020. Perry became a Florida House representative in 2010, and was voted into the Florida Senate in 2016.

President Joe Biden won District 8, Perry said, but former President Donald Trump would have won District 9, Perry’s new seat.

“If all things are equal,” he said, “that certainly makes it a much better seat for me.”

He’ll focus on three main issues as he enters office: local business, criminal justice work and early childhood education.

Perry’s first point of emphasis stemmed from seeing mom-and-pop businesses while he was growing up in Gainesville. Most businesses used to be owned by individuals, he said, and many young individuals who want to start businesses don’t have the same opportunities today.

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He also wants to help incarcerated people develop skills and earn degrees while in jail. Many of these individuals have similar backgrounds, Perry said, such as family and education, and he wants to help them develop skills they may lack.

One way Perry hopes to help prevent this lack of education and skills is by helping them early and instilling beneficial skills at a young age, he said. The most cost-effective way to do so is by teaching music and arts in early childhood education, he said.

Outside of these issues, Perry has always focused on agriculture and supporting farmers, he said. Levy County would be a new responsibility for him due to redistricting, and he said he wants to work to understand the area's priorities.

He said Levy is very rural, so its issues are different from those of Gainesville and Alachua. He specifically wants to improve transportation and health care access. He said he has been working with Levy’s county commissioners and property appraiser.

“I come into these things like a sponge,” Perry said. “You’ve got to tell me what’s going on, and I'm ready to learn from them.”

John Meeks, a Levy County county commissioner, was supporting Perry because he knew he would rely on him to help complete projects that the county might not be able to afford otherwise. He said Perry’s new position will give him power and enable him to bring in more support for upcoming projects in the area.

Meeks specifically pointed to property owners’ rights, gun rights and his conservative approach as reasons he supports Perry. He also appreciates Perry’s experience because he has built valuable relationships.

“It can help this part of Florida thrive,” Meeks said.

Perry has garnered support from organizations like the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the Fraternal Order of Police and the Florida Alliance for Arts Education.

He got his start after state senator Steve Ulrich asked him to run for state House. His initial answer was simple: “No.” 

He had his hands full balancing his roofing company, Perry Roofing Contractors, which he still runs, and his 8- and 11-year-old daughters.

“I tell people the compelling reasons not to run — a struggling business, two young daughters — became the compelling reasons to run,” Perry said.

Tony DiCarlo, a neighbor and friend of Perry, said his home was destroyed by Hurricane Frances, and no roofing companies were able to help him as he was rebuilding his home. However, he turned to Perry and his company for help.

“He came to my aid when I was in dire need and made my life sweet,” DiCarlo said.

Over the years, he said he has seen Perry grow through his experience as a member of the state house and senate.

“It’s like watching a five-star recruit turn into a Heisman trophy winner,” DiCarlo said.

Perry’s father was a UF professor for 38 years, and Perry worked on an early childhood education study with the university. However, he doesn’t think this will translate to more votes from the student body.

“I don't get a lot of help,” Perry said. “There's not a lot of love at the University of Florida.”

Perry has received $340,432 in campaign contributions, according to the Florida Department of State Division of Elections. His top donors include the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, Inc., the Realtors Political Activity Committee and Ronald L. Book, the founder, president and CEO of the Ronald Book PA law firm. 

As for his opponent, he said Long and himself have been friendly and known each other for the past 30 years, but they are very different.

Long, 65, served on the Gainesville City and Alachua County Commissions.

Long campaigned for 19 months, he said, and felt people knew of him throughout north central Florida. His campaign started before the new District 9 existed, he said, so he’s spoken to residents in counties no longer in the newly designed district.

The race didn’t go the way he expected, Long said, but he respected the wishes of the voters. 

“It was disappointing,” Long said. “I live with the results.”

Long thought voters didn’t get to know all of Perry’s values and hopes they will hold the new state senator accountable, Long said. 

He was thankful for the opportunity he was given to meet so many people throughout the district, he said. It was an uphill battle with redistricting, Long said, but he refused to drop out and finish out the race.

His hope is that Perry will not put a toll road in Marion County and will bring more healthcare facilities to Levy County. 

Dwayne Williams, a 59-year-old Williston resident, attended Long’s watch party. He was disappointed with how the election went, and said he wished more people participated in local government.

“Until we get involved, we really don’t know what it is that we need to know,” Williams said. 

Long raised $71,508 in campaign contributions, according to the Florida Department of State Division of Elections. His top donors include Ross Ambrose, the High Springs Seat 1 commissioner, Chris Snodgrass, a UF English professor and Manal Fakhoury, the chief executive officer of Vestech Partners.

Contact Jackson Reyes and Kyle Bumpers at jacksonreyes@alligator.org and kbumpers@alligator.org. Follow them on Twitter @JacksnReyes and @BumpersKyle.

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Jackson Reyes

Jackson Reyes is a third-year journalism major and one of the assistant sports editors for the Spring 2023 semester. In his free time, he enjoys collecting records, long walks on the beach and tweeting about Caleb Williams.


Kyle Bumpers

Kyle Bumpers is a fourth-year journalism major and the sports editor of The Alligator. In his free time, he cries about Russell Wilson and writes an outrageous amount of movie reviews on Letterboxd.


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