OR Conversations is a weekly Q&A featuring conversations with local newsmakers.
I. Stockton K. Reeves VI, 52, of Winter Park, is a Republican candidate in House District 47, covering central Orange County including Winter Park and downtown Orlando. Reeves spent decades highly-active behind the scenes in Republican politics at all levels, starting with a stint as national president of the College Republicans in the late 1980s. In recent years he has focused on his family’s businesses, Architects Design Group and The Center for Public Safety in Winter Park, providing consultation, planning, architecture, and project management for police, fire, and other first-responder facilities construction. In HD 47 he faces progressive Democratic activist Anna Eskamani in a swing district being vacated by Republican state Rep. Mike Miller, who is running for Congress.
Orlando-Rising: Why have you decided to re-enter politics in a big way, running for the Florida House of Representatives?
Stockton Reeves: Please read further to see my answers to the questions you have asked and I hope it will be clear why I am running and hope to serve.
O-R: You’ve been a businessman through good times and bad times. How has this prepared you for service in the Florida Legislature?
Reeves: Everyone thinks that when you own a business, life is easier when in fact it is more difficult. Being a business owner, no matter what the business or industry means you work longer hours, you face difficult decisions and every decision you make is critical. All this and more while managing for today and planning for tomorrow.
I have never missed a payroll even when those with whom I worked with me got a paycheck when I did not. Sometimes for weeks, sometimes for months. They might not have known this but my wife did. And there were difficult times.
The businesses in which I have worked in have all been susceptible to fluctuations in our economy. This makes you plan for the future, budget accordingly, save money, train those around to be efficient and make good decisions. It teaches the value of good client relationships, how to build a brand, expand your marketing all while providing the best service to your clients you possibly can.
One of the most important, if not the primary goal, of our legislators is to create and pass a budget. In Florida, we are constitutionally mandated to have a balanced budget.
And here is a staggering fact, 57.7 percent of the state’s budget is taken up by education and Medicaid spending. Only 42.3 percent of our budget is discretionary which you can see from one of two perspectives. The first suggests that since there is far less money to allocate, spending decisions are easier. The second suggests that because discretionary funds are limited, budgetary decisions then take on a greater importance.
I believe that my work experience, life experience and education have best prepared me for this primary responsibility, working toward a balanced budget.
O-R: House District 47 is a changing and diverse district. Your Democratic opponent is an unabashed progressive. How do you view the district and how you compare with her in representing it?
Reeves: District 47 is a diverse district but there are several things that tie it together. I have been active in our political process and as such, have spent time knocking on doors and speaking to residents from Winter Park to Pine Castle, Edgewood, Belle Isle, Conway, Lake Eola, downtown Orlando to Baldwin Park, meeting with residents and listening to their concerns and learning what mattered most to them.
I would list public safety is a primary concern. Ensuring that the men and women who serve in law enforcement, fire, fire rescue and emergency medical services have access to the very best in training whether that is in a classroom setting, in a vehicle or in tactical operations is a priority.
There are many residents in this district who are concerned about their financial future. Taxes and fixed incomes are issues about which I hear. I firmly believe that we should keep as much of what we make as possible.
My opponent has her own primary election with which she must navigate. I understand that she may face significant opposition. I remain focused on securing the nomination of my party and being a candidate in the general election.
O-R: Your family is very close. Tell us about it.
Reeves: I am the third generation of my family to live and work in Central Florida. My son and my daughter are the fourth. I have been very fortunate to live very close to my grandparents, my parents, my uncle and aunt, my brother and his family, and have cousins nearby. My children can walk to see their grandparents.
And we work together and we vacation together too. There are two kinds of families that work together; those that get along and those that don’t. I have been fortunate to work with my father and my brother and to help build not one but two family businesses.
Has it been easy? Not always, but it has been rewarding and I wouldn’t trade experiencing that success with my family for anything. For example being in another state and making a presentation to a client, hearing from that client that our firm was selected for the project, and being able to call your father and brother, and share that news with them, is a great feeling that I cherish and never take for granted.
And then there is our family’s connection to our nation and our armed services. I have six direct relatives in two sections of Arlington National Cemetery. Some served for their career, others whose lives were shortened by their sacrifice.
Growing up in my family, you were constantly reminded that service to our nation was what defined us.
Every generation of my family going back to the Revolutionary War, served our nation. And service took several forms. My father’s eyesight prevented him from serving in the Navy but he went to North Africa as an architect in the Peace Corps. I didn’t see him for the first time until I was ten months old.
My professional career took me from military school to Washington and back to Central Florida to work with my family. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
O-R: In business, you’ve worked closely with police and fire departments throughout the country. What do they need most from the state of Florida?
Reeves: I have been blessed to work with many men and women in public safety but that also includes people in emergency medical services and operations as well as cities and counties across the nation. Years ago, I approached my father and shared with him that all of the people we were dealing with in public safety needed help in addressing their facility needs.
From this shared experience we created a seminar titled “Planning, Funding and Obtaining New Public Safety Facilities”. We are now in our 16th year of hosting this seminar which is taught three times a year. To date, we have had almost 1,000 people from 800 cities, counties, boroughs, and towns across the nation, and the Caribbean basin, attend.
Over the years, I have learned the following. Most of the communities across this nation provide their public safety personnel with the minimum training needed to secure certification for police, fire, and EMS technicians.
Think about that for a second.
Yes, they are training, but only to meet the minimum level for achieving certification.
Some communities are large enough or have the resources to provide more training, more equipment and certifications. I firmly believe that all communities deserve to have the best-trained personnel to meet the challenges they face each and every day.
Public safety is a fundamental service provided by local governments.
So here is the challenge. These dedicated women and men need access to a classroom, to live action training in order to benefit from a learning environment what they will be expected to experience in our world, when we need them to perform their best when our lives, our families, and our property are at stake.
In order to provide this highest level of education, training and firsthand experience, I am committed to helping our first responders have regional facilities that provide the best training to protect our communities and residents regardless of the man-made or natural disasters they may face.
O-R: You’ve met and worked with a long list of prominent Republican leaders over the decades. Whom among them are your political models?
Reeves: I am sorry this answer is so verbose but these are people I know, people I have studied, worked with or supported. I believe in them and the lessons I have learned from them.
The men and women I respect and look up to transcend political boundaries.
Winston Churchill is one that comes to mind. I admire his tenacity in adhering to his beliefs when leading political figures of his time chose expediency over common sense. Steadfast in his defense of western democracy and values against dictators and fascism, he still stands as an example of what we can aspire to be.
Jeannie Austin may not be a well-known name but she should be. From a humble background, she served as the chairman of the Florida Republican Party and as the Republican National Committee co-chairman. What cemented her legacy for me was her belief in our youth and her emphasis on reaching out to everyone and building a political party through outreach. I remember her as always focused on lifting people up and it’s a lesson I still carry with me today.
Two local sheriffs. One a Republican and another a Democrat. Kevin Beary and Bob Hansell.
I’ve known just about everyone in Kevin Beary’s family. His father was police chief in Winter Park. His brother, Richard as police chief in Lake Mary and at the University of Central Florida, and as the president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, Richard has served with distinction.
Back when Kevin ran for sheriff, I worked on his campaign. Kevin ran to serve the men and women of the sheriff’s office as well as Orange County. He did so with honor in both areas. He didn’t care who you were or what your background was, he wanted to be your sheriff and it showed.
Bob Hansell served as the sheriff of Osceola County. Bob was elected as a Democrat but I was proud to work on his campaign. His background in law enforcement was enough to elect him as sheriff but if you ever met Bob and spoke with him, you walked away with a profound respect for him as someone who was a leader not only in law enforcement but someone whose heart was in the right place.
Both Kevin Beary and Bob Hansell’s time as sheriff in their respective counties transcended politics and political labels for all the right reasons.
I would add two of the best people to offer themselves for public service; one who had an opportunity to serve and one who did not. Fred Hawkins serves as a county commissioner in Osceola County. Fred is a true example of what we envision as a citizen representative.
Tico Perez remains the smartest candidate with whom I had an opportunity to help, but did not have an opportunity to serve as an elected official. To know his back story is to be in awe.
Tico almost lost his leg working in the fire service while in school at UCF. He has served in so many prominent leadership roles in Central Florida he should be a household name.
Another person I have had the honor of working for outside of the U.S. is Violetta Chamorro. I was part of the team in 1989 representing the International Republican Institute and the National Endowment for Democracy that spent time in Nicaragua to help the democratic forces defeat the Sandinistas and Daniel Ortega in a huge upset election.
Her husband was assassinated, her family persecuted and their family business almost driven to extinction; yet Mrs. Chamorro persevered to be elected in what all international observers agreed was a fair and free election. She still stands in my view as a testament to a belief in your community, your country and the democratic process.
And this will come as a surprise to my friend when he reads it, Lui Damiami.
Lui is not a Democrat and he is not a Republican, but he is my hero and friend. He doesn’t know I am writing this. Lui ran for [Orange] County commissioner having served as an aide to Commissioner Mary Johnson. I worked on his campaigns. He had the courage to run as an independent even though I and others encouraged him to run with one party or the other.
Lui embodies the best of what we hope our elected officials will be. Color blind and oblivious to party labels or ideology. Someone who wants to serve to leave behind a better community. Appointed to the county commission, he served with distinction.
Each of these people, and those I could not include, have left an indelible impression on me and help shape who I am and the kind of public servant I would like to be, if I am so fortunate to be elected and to serve.