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Being the first republican to challenge an extremely popular democratic incumbent may phase some, especially when doing so as a fresh-faced 25-year-old barely out of college.
But Ben Griffin doesn’t seem to mind all that much.
“You don’t have a democracy if elections go uncontested,” Giffin said, getting into his initial reasoning for running to represent District 49 in the Florida House of Representatives. Griffin is as local as a candidate can get, graduating at both Valencia College, where he currently works as a learning assistant, and the University of Central Florida, where he got his degree in International and Global studies. He also is active at Eastland Baptist Church, and his religion seems to guide a lot of his moral values and beliefs in what a government should do. His website states that one of his goals if elected will be to “Support Christian Values.”
Although Ben graduated college around the time of the crescendo of 21st century political polarization, the 2016 elections, his interest in politics and serving his country in some capacity came from his upbringing.
“[My parents] instilled being thankful for this country and being aware of what’s going on,” Griffin said. “I’ve always been looking for an avenue [to] serve my country, and this is a great way to get involved.”
His opponent, Carlos Guillermo-Smith, has become one of the biggest political names in the state – stumping this election with the likes of senator Bernie Sanders and gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum.
While Griffin expressed that he’d rather run a campaign of positivity then simply bash his opposition, he did express that he thinks he could do a better job of representing District 49 than Smith.
“I’ve been active in this community my whole life. I know a lot of people here, and one of the reasons I’m running is that I don’t feel like the values [Smith’s] representing don’t represent this district,” Griffin explained. “I think it’s important to be active in the place you’re representing, which I haven’t seen.”
Griffin believes that the voters in his community care about two things more than anything else: taxes and education. “People around here work hard and don’t want to pay higher taxes,” he said.
He also believes that goes for the wealthy and for large Florida corporations, who Griffin would also not like to see a tax hike implemented on. “If you raise taxes on people who make a certain amount of money, or corporations, these businesses will go elsewhere. These people will go elsewhere. Florida is growing because we don’t do things like this,” he said.
When it comes to education, Griffin, with his background in the subject, spoke glowingly about the Florida education system, calling it one of the best in the nation. His primary concerns for Florida schools come down to financial accountability and security.
“When we have teachers buying their own classroom equipment, that’s a huge problem,” he said.
Griffin is excited about the prospects of this year’s education budget which is larger than it has been in the past. To him, Florida has all the money it needs for funding schools – the money just isn’t being allocated correctly.
Griffin is also critical of the way that school security plans are being implemented, and his solution for ending the violence epidemic in American schools is no quick-fix.
“School safety starts with the community,” Griffin said. “People are all surprised that when there is no sense of community – religion has become offensive – when all those things happen, and people don’t relate to each other anymore they act out. It’s really obvious to me that the answer is not restricting people’s rights – but instead working to better the community.”
The candidate also spoke optimistically about land conservation and protecting Florida’s natural resources. “People say that the wonders of Europe are its history and the wonders of America is her land,” Griffin said.
Making sure that what makes Florida unique, like it’s coastline and the Everglades, is preserved is important to Griffin And this can be achieved, in his view, by being both environmentally conscious and investing in green energy.
“It’s not even an environmental issue,” Griffin said on renewable energy. “It’s a smart economic decision.”
Whether or not Griffin can leverage his right-wing energy into votes in a very diverse district will be seen come the election on November 6.
Photo provided by Ben Griffin