ORLANDO – Val Demings never forgot a sound piece of advice that her mother offered her years ago.
“When someone gives you the opportunity to do something big, make sure you do not disappoint them,” Demings said.
The former chief of the Orlando Police Department, who just recently retired from that post, ended months of speculation today when she formally kicked off her bid for Congress in the state’s 8th Congressional District.
“Knee-jerk political extremism coming out of Washington will not work,” Demings told a standing-room only crowd at the Orange County Regional History Center. “I cannot sit and watch Washington politicians take things so far off course.”
Demings is seeking the Democratic Party nomination. Her husband, Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings, attended the press conference as well.
Demings noted that during her tenure as the first female police chief in Orlando’s history, “We were able to reduce crime by 40 percent. But I am convinced that there is greater work for me to do. So today I am proud to announce that I am running for Congress. I love this country, and I love the state of Florida. Despite the enormous challenges we face, this is still the greatest country on Earth.”
Demings was introduced to the crowd by Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, who described how thrilled he’d been when Demings first told him she was considering a bid for public office.
“Val came into my office and had a kind of interesting look on her face,” Dyer said. That was the day she announced she’d be retiring as Orlando’s police chief. But she also made it clear, the mayor said, that she had no intentions of being idle.
“She said, ‘I’ve got a plan and I’ve got something I want to do in retirement,’ “ Dyer recalled. When he learned of her interest in running for Congress, “I was very excited about it,” the mayor said.
Part of the reason he found the campaign so appealing, Dyer noted, is that Demings has a strong record to run on. He noted that under Demings’ leadership, “We experienced the most dramatic decrease in violent crime in the city of Orlando’s history.” Even in her spare hours, the mayor noted, Demings frequently volunteered her time to assist groups serving the community.
“After 25 years of public service, some people think it might be time to settle down, but not Val,” Dyer said.
Demings noted that for nearly 30 years, Orlando has been her home, and has been quite good to her. Now, she said, it’s time to give something back.
“Twenty-eight years ago, I packed up everything I owned in the trunk of my tiny Oldsmobile to move to Orlando from Jacksonville,” she said. “I moved here to join the Orlando Police Department.” She worked her way up through the ranks, and 24 years later, became the chief.
Now, as a public servant looking to represent this city in Cognress, Demings said she would work to reduce the exploding federal budget deficit – but would do it in a way that doesn’t place a burden on the backs of seniors or struggling blue collar families.
“We have a Congress that continues to reward millionaires and billionaires,” she said. “Today’s Congress threatens to tear up the Social Security net. This Congress pushes a plan that The Wall Street Journal says eliminates Medicare as we know it. I tell you, there is a different way.”
Demings said she would fight for “different priorities, that protect the middle class and promote job creation.” One way to do that, she said, is to make Florida an energy state with the ability to create new jobs “through innovation and creativity.”
She also favors ending tax subsidies for large corporations.
Demings indicated she would prefer cuts in spending to the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan over reductions to social programs aimed at the needy.
“Our wars on foreign lands have already cost us over a trillion dollars and over 6,000 American troops have lost their lives,” Demings said. “We honor them today for their service and their sacrifice. But I want you to know our national debt and these wars are intricately connected.”
Demings is running in Florida’s 8th Congressional District, which covers parts of Orlando and Orange, Osceola, Lake and Marion counties. The district is currently represented by Republican Dan Webster, who won his first term last November.
Demings said she admires anyone who makes a commitment to public service, including Webster, but added, “I just disagree with Dan Webster as it pertains to some of the toughest issues, like Medicare.”
It’s not clear yet what the boundaries of the 8th Congressional District will be next year. Florida’s Legislature will redraw the lines of the state’s congressional districts next year, as the states do once every decade, to reflect population shifts.
Political commentator Doug Guetzloe, host of The Guetzloe Report on the Phoenix Network, noted that the 8th Congressional District is likely to undergo significant changes, since “Right now, the district is 175,000 people over the population limit.”
Guetzloe predicted that lawmakers would create a single, heavily Democratic district centered around Orlando, since it would remove Democratic voters from neighboring districts represented entirely by Republican congressmen, including Webster, Rep. John Mica, and Rep. Bill Posey.
Former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, who was defeated by Webster last year, announced on Tuesday that he would run for his old seat again next year, and there’s also speculation that state Sen. Gary Siplin will jump into this race as well, creating a competitive campaign for the Democratic nomination.
Grayson said on Wednesday that his campaign got off to a great start, raising $75,000 in less than 48 hours from more than 2,000 contributors who made contributions at his campaign website, www.CongressmanWithGuts.com.
“And it’s all clean money,” Grayson said. “I won’t beg for money from the special interests, the lobbyists and the PACs. I won’t put the law up for sale. I can’t be bought or sold. I owe nothing to anyone but the voters.”
Demings said it was too early to comment on challenging Grayson for the Democratic Party’s nomination, or what the district lines would be like.
“I really hate to deal in a lot of hypotheticals,” she said.
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