Redistricting created the new District 11 of the Florida House of Representatives so the seat is currently vacant. The old District 11 seat was last represented by Cord Byrd, who withdrew before the Republican primary on Aug. 23, 2022.
The two candidates running for the District 11 seat are Sam Garrison of Fleming Island, a Republican, and Cornelius Jones of Orange Park, a Democrat. District 11 comprises northern Clay County.
Sam Garrison is the Florida House incumbent, previously representing District 18 since 2020, and is running for re-election to represent District 11 — the district name was changed to District 11 due to redistricting. In other words, District 11 was formerly 18 and represented by Garrison.
Garrison is expected to become the speaker of the Florida House in 2026. In 2021, members of the GOP freshman class selected Garrison to be the future House speaker, according to the Florida Times-Union.
He was born in Peoria, Illinois, and received his Bachelor’s degree in International Relations from Samford University in 1998 and a Juris Doctor’s Degree from the University of Illinois in 2001.
Garrison worked with law enforcement to establish Clay County’s first rape crisis center and served as the chairman of the Clay County Task Force on Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence, according to the Florida House of Representatives website. He was appointed by Governors Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis to the Board of Trustees for St. Johns River State College and is a past president of the Clay County Bar Association.
During his time as District 18 representative, Garrison sponsored House Bill 1467, establishing 12-year term limits for school board members and requiring school districts to be transparent in their selection of instructional material such as library and reading materials.
In addition to sponsoring House Bill 1467, Garrison is a strong supporter of House Bill 1557, he said. Often dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay Bill” by critics, the law is an act relating to parental rights in education and requiring district school boards to adopt procedures to “reinforce the fundamental right of parents to make decisions regarding the upbringing and control of their children in a specified manner.”
Garrison said the bill aligns with his beliefs, and one of his top three priorities if elected — quality schools.
“I believe that every student, regardless of where they are from or financial status, deserves to have a world class education,” he said.
Along with quality schools, Garrison emphasized that the other two “top priorities” within his campaign are to strengthen the economy and to ensure safe streets, he said.
“We need a thriving economy to ensure people in Clay County can find work and employment opportunities to provide for their families,” he said. “I also have a firm belief in hardening our streets for public safety; to ensure everyone feels safe every single day.”
When asked about the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, Garrison said that he supports the decision, citing his “strong pro-life conservative beliefs.”
“This belief is kind of essential to who I am,” he said. “They are firmly held, moral convictions that I have. I try to be a good listener to those with opposing views because I know I would want the same — it is important to me that I show those people that same respect.”
Garrison said that about 85% of the bills signed by the House of Representatives are non-contraversial. Noting that the “controversial” bills get more attention, but generally, the Democrats and Republicans unanimously vote in favor of most bills, he said.
“Usually we operate on a sort of ‘nuts and bolts’ type of basis. Unlike in D.C., we don’t get the luxury of just yelling back and forth at each other,” he said, laughing. “The thing that makes us special is that we are all Floridians at the end of the day, so despite our differences we find a solution — that’s what makes Florida special.”
As the incumbent, Garrison believes he is the stronger candidate because there will not be as much of a learning curve, he said.
“If I am re-elected, I will be able to hit the ground running with these top priorities and many others throughout my term,” he said.
Garrison said that if he is elected, he wants to be remembered for leaving the state in a better place than it was when he got into office.
“The House of Representatives are the voices of reason for our communities and I really enjoy doing that work for Clay County,” he said. “I think our founders would want us to remember that parties and politics should be put aside in order to focus on the betterment of the community as a whole — that is what I try to do and how I want to be remembered.”
Click here for more information about Garrison.
Cornelius Jones was born in Grenada, Mississippi and served in the U.S. Navy from 2000 to 2018. His career experience includes working as a Christian counselor, researcher and writer, according to Ballotpedia. He is a current business owner with a PhD in counseling.
The three main points Jones wants voters to remember about his personal goals during his time in office are that he is running for people over party, he wants to help create jobs for a stronger local economy and that representation matters, he said.
Currently, more than 80% of voters in Clay County are commuting to Jacksonville, St. Augustine and other areas for work, Jones said. He believes the county should be looking at ways to bring bigger companies and better-paying, equal-paying jobs to residents in District 11.
“Unfortunately, just over 40% of females in the district are living in poverty,” he said. “I am committed to working to ensure that every woman in the state of Florida receives equal pay for doing equal jobs to men. Together, we will close the gender gap for those with equal qualifications and experience.”
Jones believes more energy needs to be directed toward affordable housing, mental health and opposing any movement toward fascism in America.
Fascism is defined as a way of organizing a society in which a government ruled by a dictator controls the lives of the people and in which people are not allowed to disagree with the government.
“Politically, I understand that we all have different worldviews and may stand on different sides of the aisles on today's social and political matters,” he said on his campaign website. “However, I think it's critical for us to identify ways to stand together instead of creating reasons to stand apart. We live in the same county and should be working together to make our community a more inviting place to live.”
Jones believes that elected officials must ensure they are working on behalf of all voters, stating that he intends to do just that. A stronger local economy benefits the residents, small businesses and the state of Florida, he said.
“It’s concerning that we have working-class Americans that can’t afford housing,” Jones said. “I suspect this will only get worse in the next couple of years.”
Jones said he has talked to parents, young adults and seniors faced with the uncertainty of not being able to afford a decent place to live. Under the State Housing Initiative Partnership (SHIP), Jones said he will work to ensure that the $15 billion sitting in reserves is put to use on workforce housing affordability.
Jones believes mental health needs to have more of an emphasis in the state and country.
If elected, he plans to advocate for funds for access to general counseling and mental health, he said. Jones believes that long-term care should be available for first responders and public educators at no out-of-pocket cost to them.
“There are so many traumatizing events happening before our very eyes, that we may eventually become the face of PTSD,” he said. “We are making great strides, but we have to make healthcare for mental health a real priority.”
When asked about the Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade, Jones said that reproductive rights are an important human right.
“No one should be denied the human dignity of control over their own body,” he said. “I also do not believe that any woman should be forced to carry the child of their rapist.”
Jones said that, if elected, he would want to be remembered as someone who went to work for all Floridians and not just those that voted for him or his party affiliation.
Click here to be taken to Jones’ campaign website.
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