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Congressional District 2 Race: Al Lawson on the issues

Rep. Al Lawson (D-Tallahassee) talks about issues facing voters in the Panhandle during a conversation with WFSU News on Thursday, Aug. 25, 2022.
Lydell Rawls
WFSU Public Media
Rep. Al Lawson (D-Tallahassee) talks about issues facing voters in the Panhandle during a conversation with WFSU News on Thursday, Aug. 25, 2022.

Two incumbents from opposing political parties are vying to represent more than a dozen Florida Panhandle counties in the U.S. House.

Tallahassee Democrat Al Lawson and Panama City Republican Neal Dunn were placed in the same congressional district under a map enacted in April. Florida’s 2nd Congressional District now includes part of Lawson’s District 5 — including all of Leon, Gadsden and Madison counties.

Each candidate sat down in studio with WFSU News’ Valerie Crowder to talk about where they stand on the issues that matter to voters ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.

Below is part of that conversation with Rep. Al Lawson (D-Tallahassee). The interview has been edited for clarity and accuracy.

You've served in Congress for a while now, in congressional district five. What would you consider to be your biggest accomplishments? And what lessons have you learned during your time in office?

Well, I've served in Congress, almost six years, and I think one of the things that you learn when you go to Congress is that there's a big divide. And I went to Congress to try to work on both sides of the aisle. And most of the time, that's very hard to do in Congress. But we've been able to make some accomplishments and good things happen.

I think my biggest accomplishment is being able to bring infrastructure dollars down to the community and to fund education. When you think about it, we probably have brought down over two-hundred million dollars for education, and right along here over about a hundred-and-sixty million of it is right around in Tallahassee with FSU [Florida State University], FAMU [Florida A&M University] and Tallahassee Community College. And then we have North Florida Community College and other community colleges in the district.

I've been very excited about that because students need these resources. When I went to Congress, I always wanted to do community projects. And so when I got there, I found out that it was ended during Obama's administration. So hammering on it for the last two years, they brought back community projects. So we are able to fund projects that were really needed in Gadsden County, here in Leon County, Madison and throughout the district. So that's been very good. We've been able to put over twenty-million dollars into our area.

I think the sad news about it is my Republican opponent voted against all of that, even the funding for the universities, even funding for community projects, and we really need it. Instead of going by the agenda, the power of the politics, what your party is, you have to do what is best for your community. I had to look out for all the communities in North Florida, whether it's in Liberty, Wakulla, Franklin County, and even though they were not in the district, I got a lot of contacts from people that say, 'We need help.' And so I was able to help them, and so I'm very proud of that.

Housing, food and gas prices have gone up across the U.S. And as a result, many residents are struggling to make ends meet. You voted for the Inflation Reduction Act. Can you talk about your vote and what you expect that legislation to do to reduce inflation?

Well, it’s already started. You’re gonna see more and more prices drop in the grocery stores and so forth. And it was brought on by — you forget it was brought on by the virus all over the country. And so you see that what happened you start to see a slow recovery. And so we have pumped in millions and billions of dollars into the economy, so that you can see the changes taking place.

House District Two covers many rural areas where agriculture is a dominant industry. It also includes more than a couple of hundred miles of coastline and covers many natural springs and waterways. What would you do to protect these natural resources in the district? 

Well, these issues started with me long time ago. I chaired Natural Resources in the House. I chaired Natural Resources in the Senate in Florida. And I chaired the Agriculture Committee. And likewise, I chaired the Water Committee all over the state of Florida. And so what you’ll find — it got to be a common interest in working with agricultural industry. I passed Preservation 2000, which is now known for Florida Forever. It was two Republicans that dealt with me on that: Lee Constantine and Paula Dockery. Our fingerprints was on every piece of environmental legislation that took place in Florida for over ten years.

Even at the federal level, we have to do the same thing, we have to work together to protect our waterways to make sure that our farming is big, and resources. We had to go to Argentina and different places like that to let them know that we are still wanting them to deal with American farming. It’s important that we attract different kinds of farmers into the industry as to make sure that we don't destroy family farms. Collin Peterson, who was chair of Agriculture when I was there, I worked with him a great deal to get the information out to our farmers. So you know, it's a balancing act that you have to do. But once you lose the environment, you don't have it anymore.

Another issue that's important to many voters is access to safe legal abortions. Do you think the federal government should provide any sort of checks on state laws that are restricting access?

Well, I think they should. I’m for a woman's right to choose. I don't think that the government should be telling women what they have to do. They don't hardly tell men what they have to do. And I've always been like that. It’s unbelievable that you reverse Roe versus Wade. Women probably showed them out in Kansas. Conservative women out in Kansas, said, ‘We want to protect our right to choose.’ It’s a decision between them, their doctor and the Lord.

Mass shootings are a frequent occurrence in the United States. We also have a problem with domestic violence, neighborhood crime, suicides, other forms of gun violence. What should Congress do to reduce the number of gun deaths in America?

The first thing, I support the Second Amendment. And I grew up in a country hunting, and fishing, so forth. You don't need an automatic weapon to go hunting. A lot of the automatic weapons need to be banned. But the problem is the National Rifle Association — you will find that most of these members on the Republican side, they are afraid to go against the National Rifle Association, no matter what. They look at all these killings. We have too many moments of silence on the floor. You know, every time you look, there's a moment of silence, you know, about mass shooting, and some people have claimed that it never happened. There are people who will go on radio and say these things didn't happen. And you look at all the kids that have been killed in school, it's not a safe environment. We need to remove assault weapons off the table. You do not need an assault weapon. In other words, you go buy an assault weapon at eighteen, but you can't go in a bar and get a drink until you’re twenty-one. Why don't you think that's a little crazy? So this thing would assault weapons, and you do not need it for protection, but that's what has happened. And so we have to get those assault weapons off the street — responsible gun legislation, so nobody's trying to take people’s guns. We have a lot of mental health issues. And one of the things that maybe we have failed, and going back to it now is providing more dollars for mental health.

Valerie Crowder hosts and produces state and local newscasts during All Things Considered. Her reporting on local government and politics has received state and regional award recognition. She has also contributed stories to NPR newscasts.