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Getting To Know Candidates For Florida's 2020 Fifth Congressional District Race

Bill Bortzfield
U.S. Census Bureau
This U.S. census map includes the boundaries for Congressional District 5, which includes part of Jacksonville and stretches west, beyond Tallahassee.

Voters will have a chance to weigh in this year on who should serve in Florida’s 5th Congressional District seat. The district stretches along the north border of the state from Duval to Gadsden County. Democratic Congressman Al Lawson who has held the position since 2017 is facing two challengers in the primary.

The incumbent, Congressman Al Lawson, says what sets him apart from his opponents is experience. He has been a politician for decades - starting 1982 when he was elected to the Florida House of Representatives. Since then, Lawson says he has strived to help people. For example, he says more recently he’s helped citizens directly with the CARES Package.

Al Lawson
Steve Cannon
In this March 31, 2010 file photo, Sen. Al Lawson, D-Tallahassee, answers questions about prison facilities during the senate debate on the budget on in Tallahassee, Fla. First-term incumbent Republican Steve Southerland, from Panama City, hopes to hold off former longtime Democratic state lawmaker Al Lawson of Tallahassee in a Panhandle district where some boundary changes in the redistricting process could favor the challenger.

“I served on financial service and helped design the CARES Package which we brought down and put money into people pockets to make sure that we try to keep small business open with the PPP those are major accomplishment," said Lawson.

But Lawson says he still has plenty more he wants to accomplish.

“So what I went up there to do is try and strengthen the Affordable Care Act because with this pandemic that we have now in Florida if we didn’t have it you would have 2.5 million people that would be dropped off the Affordable Care Act and not be able to get insurance because of preexisting conditions," said Lawson.

Running against Lawson is fellow former Florida A&M University athlete and alum, Albert Chester.

"I played quarterback, played football for the Rattlers. And started a pharmacy technician school in Jacksonville," said Chester. "As well as opening New Town Pharmacy, an independently owned pharmacy in an area of Jacksonville, that’s of course in the fifth congressional district. Really my passion has always really been to serve in any and every capacity possible to make the lives of everyone that I can come into contact with or everybody life better."

Chester says he eventually had to close his pharmacy. And that’s part of what’s driving him to run for Congress. He says he wants to fix some of the issues that made it difficult for his business to thrive.

“Really seeing how the system works for not just small business owners, but the education system, the health care system it really motivated me to go in and try to fix it," said Chester. "Because we have so many people that have been in politics for so long they think from the top down not the bottom up.”

Lashonda Holloway is also facing off against Lawson and Chester in the Democratic primary. She says she has a unique background that sets her apart from her opponents.

Cyd Hoskinson
LaShonda Holloway (at podium) speaks to supporters Tuesday morning at 915 A. Philip Randolph Blvd.

“First and foremost you know that Congress makes laws, I mean It’s a body of lawmakers. I am the only candidate that has a law degree and who has worked on Capitol Hill, I worked for Congresswoman Carrie Meek," Holloway said. "I have more federal experience than the incumbent, I not only worked for Congresswoman Carrie Meek on Capitol Hill in Washington but I also worked for the United States Environmental Protection Agency. I sold the largest jail in history at customs.”

Holloway earned her law degree from the University of Florida. She says being the only woman in the race is normal for her.

"It’s a part of the territory. I mean I have broken barriers in most fields. Not only like I said when I went to law school to be gender-neutral I stopped using Lashonda and used my initials which were LJ," said Holloway.

Holloway says making sure citizens have adequate and affordable health insurance, as well as housing are two areas she wants to target if elected.

All votes for the three-way primary race must be in by August 18. The winner will face off with the winner of the Republican primary for the seat. Gary Adler, a longtime resident, and businessman is running against Roger Wagoner in that contest. Wagoner says he’s critical of some of the work of the current congressman.

"You know there’s more to this district than Tallahassee and Jacksonville. You got Gadsden County, you got Jefferson county that’s struggling economically and their schools not that great," said Wagoner. "Same thing with Hamilton County I grew up in Jackson, so I grew up in Hamilton County."

Wagoner says if he wins he wants to focus on improving the economy in some of the more rural areas of the district. When it comes to what he believes should be done he pinpoints three things.

“We need to get back to God, family, country. I think if we take care of those three things that all this stuff that’s going on in the world today will take care of itself," said Wagoner.

Wagoner’s opponent in the Republican primary election for the seat, Gary Adler did not respond to a request for an interview.

The last day to request a vote by mail ballot for the Primary Election is August 8, all ballots must be returned and received no later than August 18.