INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — A Vietnam veteran wants to give voters a choice in the state House District 54 race, where the incumbent is seeking a third term.
After seeing no Democrat opposition to Republican Erin Grall, Al Griffiths entered the race.
"I just decided to do it," said Griffiths, 71. "At least (to) give Democrats a choice."
It's time to end the one-party control in Florida, Griffiths said, noting similar campaigns to vote out incumbent Republicans throughout the state. Griffiths, vice chairman of the Indian River County Democratic Executive Committee, said he never expected to run his own political campaign, but wanted to give voters a choice.
The county's 57,265 registered Republicans comprise about 47% of the 122,169 registered voters in Indian River County, which makes up the bulk of District 54. The district also includes part of northern St. Lucie County. In contrast, there are 33,677 registered Democrats and 29,188 voters with no party affiliation.
For her part, Grall, 43, said many of the issues she prioritizes are nonpartisan. The Legislature's Republicans and Democrats work together on many of the bills she sponsors, she said.
"Much can be accomplished when we work across party lines," she said.
More: After the Aug. 18 primary, here are the Nov. 3 races on the Treasure Coast
The House bill she sponsored this year requiring parental consent before a minor can get an abortion, however, was approved in a vote that was nearly along party lines. Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the Senate version of the bill into law this summer. It went into effect July 1.
While Grall has said the measure empowers parents and provides a support system to the minor, Griffiths was highly critical. It "chips away" at women's rights, he said.
The new law contains a provision allowing for a court order to waive the parental consent requirement.
Grall, a Vero Beach native who attended local schools and became involved with the community before entering the political arena, lists education and the state's voluntary pre-kindergarten program as her priorities this year, if reelected.
Last year, Grall pushed for greater accountability from the state's VPK providers, sponsoring bills that would have established an accountability system and additional progress monitoring for the state's free preschool program for 4-year-old children.
More work is needed in this area, she said.
"(VPK) is critical to our children's long-term success," she said.
Education and greater pay for teachers is something both candidates said they want to address in the state.
Grall wants to push for passage of a $42,500 starting teacher salary. Griffiths also said teacher salaries need to be increased in the state.
Grall, a partner with her family's Grall Law Group, wants to continue working with local governments on the conversion from residential septic tanks to sewers, hoping to match state money with local efforts to keep projects moving, she said. This year, she sponsored bills that would give state money to the Indian River County North Sebastian septic to sewer program.
She also wants to make car insurance more affordable for everyone.
"We have some of the highest car insurance rates in the country," she said.
Griffiths, who has no previous experience as an elected official, said he wants to improve unemployment benefits in the state, including provide better opportunities for those in need.
"People don't want to not have a job," he said. "They want to work. They want to improve their lives."
He has concerns about national issues such as gun safety over gun control and would vote in favor of Medicaid expansion.
More: 'Parents Bill of Rights,' sponsored by Rep. Grall, backed in House
State House representatives are paid $29,697 per year for a two-year term.
Grall has raised $61,150 in contributions, beginning in February 2019 with a $14,025 Erin Grall Campaign Fund. Griffiths has about $10,815 in contributions, including $4,000 from himself.
COVID-19 has impacted this year's campaigns, cancelling door-to-door contacts and forums, each said.
Phone calls and mailings are a bigger part of this campaign cycle, Grall said.
"It's just a very different feeling all the way around," Grall said.
Griffiths, who retired nine years ago as a self-employed contractor, said he is using social media such as Facebook and Twitter to spread his campaign message. He moved to Sebastian in 2016 from Connecticut, but had often visited Florida. He lived in Clearwater as a teenager.
"We're reaching out to people," he said.
City: Vero Beach
How long in area: Native
Party Affiliation: Republican
Family: Husband, Michael Bielecki; two children, with a third child due Dec. 3.
Community involvement: United Way of Indian River County; Children's Services Advisory Committee, Indian River County; Junior League of Indian River, Inc., past president (2009-2010); Childcare Resources of Indian River, past president (2008-2010); Youth Guidance mentor; Florida District Exchange Club; Exchange Club of the Treasure Coast, past president (2006-2008); Indian River County Chamber of Commerce; Indian River IMPACT 100.
Endorsements: Associated Industries of Florida PAC, Florida Medical Association PAC, Florida Police Benevolent Association, Inc., Florida Pro-Life PAC, Florida Professional Firefighters, Florida Realtors PAC, Florida Right to Life PAC, National Federation of Independent Business FL PAC, National Rifle Association, Treasure Coast Builders Association, United Sportsmen of Florida
How long at residence: Since 2018
Occupation: Retired. Owned a general residential and commercial remodeling business for 20 years, and a community association management and maintenance business for 22 years.
Party Affiliation: Democrat
Family: Wife, Nancy; two adult children; one granddaughter.
Community involvement: Vice chairman of the Indian River County Democratic Executive Committee; precinct captain for Sebastian neighborhood; New Haven chapter of the Remodeling Contractors Association, former president; Connecticut state board of directors of the Community Associations Institute.
Endorsements/designations: Votevets.org; Votewater.org; Women's March Florida; Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America; Democratic Women's Club of Indian River County
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