Gulf County may not have a sitting representative for the upcoming session of the Florida Legislature, but State Rep. Loranne Ausley assured residents they will not alone.
Speaking at the annual meeting of the Coastal Community Association, Ausley (D-District 9) of Tallahassee emphasized that the regional delegation was dedicated to picking up the slack for the empty District 7 seat.
When the session begins next month, that seat, previously held by Rep. Halsey Beshears (R-Monticello), will be vacant after Beshears’ appointment by Gov. Ron DeSantis to head the Department of Professional and Business Regulation.
A special election has been called, Port St. Joe’s Jason Shoaf likely to face Mike Watkins in a GOP primary though candidate qualifying has not begun; even under the most optimistic timeline, however, a new representative would not take office until after the regular session.
Ausley said that will mean the onus would be on State Sen. Bill Montford (D-Tallahassee), Rep. Jay Trumbull (R-Panama City), herself and others as the session gets underway with pressing issues for the county and area.
“All of us are going to fill in the gap,” Ausley said, adding the area was “in her heart.
“I am committed to working with the entire delegation so that (Hurricane Michael recovery) remains at the forefront.”
Ausley also noted that the first budget put forward by DeSantis is “making (recovery) a priority.”
A significant aspect of that recovery must be housing, Ausley added.
Housing, particularly affordable housing, was a widespread problem before Michael even arrived.
“Housing was an issue before the storm across the Panhandle,” Ausley said.
Another key during the session, Ausley said, would be leveraging as many state and federal dollars as possible to assist in the task of recovery and rebuilding.
And, to that end, the region’s legislative delegation had to work together.
“We are resilient,” Ausley said. “We also need to be scrappy and loud to not be forgotten.”