Panhandle voters elect Mike Hill to Florida House

Published On: Jun 12 2013 07:18:21 AM EDT
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -

Staking out conservative positions in a Republican-dominated district, Pensacola insurance agent Mike Hill cruised to victory Tuesday in a special election to replace the late Rep. Clay Ford.

Hill collected nearly 58 percent of the vote, while Democrat Jeremy Lau, a labor-union leader, received about 42 percent. The special election in House District 2, which includes voters in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties, came nearly three months after Ford, a Gulf Breeze Republican, died of cancer.

After Tuesday's results came in, Hill said in a brief telephone interview that he focused throughout the campaign on a conservative message that was "from my heart." He said voters in the district were looking for that type of message.

"It's simply a message that resonates in this conservative part of Florida,'' Hill said.

Hill, who will become the only black Republican in the Legislature, beat five other GOP candidates in a May primary and had a major fund-raising edge against Lau. In all, Hill had raised about $189,000 in cash as of last Thursday, while Lau collected about $27,000.

A State Farm agent and graduate of the United States Air Force Academy, Hill said he likes the direction that Gov. Rick Scott and Republican legislative leaders are moving the state, pointing to efforts to reduce the size of government, lower taxes and reduce regulations.

Those are the types of issues he focused on during the campaign.

"Mike Hill is a constitutional conservative at his core,'' Hill's campaign website said. "As a veteran and a small business owner, he knows firsthand the value of our God-given liberty --- and the need to be vigilant in defending it."

Lau, president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, Local 2777, criticized Hill during the campaign for not appearing with him at public events and also differed with the Republican on issues. For example, Lau supported the state accepting $51 billion in Medicaid money under the federal Affordable Care Act to expand health coverage for low-income Floridians --- an idea that Republican lawmakers rejected this spring.

Registered Republicans outnumber Democrats in the district by about 10,000 voters. With all precincts reporting Tuesday, Hill had 11,060 votes, while Lau had 8,047, according to the state Division of Elections website. Voter turnout was about 17.6 percent.

Rep. Steve Crisafulli, a Merritt Island Republican who is expected to become House speaker after the 2014 elections, said in a prepared statement that Hill will be a "strong conservative voice in our caucus."

"His election sends a clear message that Floridians want smaller government, lower taxes, and the freedom to pursue the American Dream,'' Crisafulli said.