Folks in Apalachicola are looking to serve up some home cooking in Tallahassee next year, with one of the county’s own vying for the state representative seat.


Folks in Apalachicola are looking to serve up some home cooking in Tallahassee next year, with one of the county’s own vying for the state representative seat.



A.J. Smith, known by many as Anthony when he grew up in Apalachicola where he currently lives at 114 Sixth Street, is waging a spirited campaign for the Democratic nod against two opponents, longtime Liberty County Clerk of Courts Robert Hill, and Thomas Dickens, a trial lawyer from Midway.



The odds so far are good that Smith can pull off a primary win, especially since he’s raised more than $70,000 from more than 100 donors, more than both his adversaries on both accounts.



If he wins the August 14 primary, he then will face off against the Republican winner among a four-man field that includes three newcomers who have not yet held the office, Tallahassee nurseryman Halsey Beshears; Madison County businessman Mike Williams, and Taylor County forester Don Curtis.



Curtis was the GOP standard-bearer in 2008 in the race for what was then Florida’s 10th District, but lost to Leonard Bembry, who this year is seeking the Democratic nod to challenge Republican Congressman Steve Southerland in the 2nd Congressional District.



The fourth GOP challenger is Port St. Joe well driller Jamey Westbrook, who from 1996 to 1998 was a state representative in Tallahassee as a Democrat.



Newly drawn boundary lines for the Florida House seat will mean that the county will be unified for the first time since State Rep. Will Kendrick held the seat.



Based on turnout at a March 19 fundraiser at Tamara’s Café, and by names on his donor list, Smith has attracted both Democrat and Republican support from the surrounding communities in his bid.



But it’s by no means unanimous. Former Franklin County Clerk of Court has come out for Hill, and Apalachicola’s George Mahr has hosted a fundraiser for Beshears. Hill, Williams, Beshears, Curtis and Westbrook have all been seen campaigning in the county, whether at a GOP candidate forum six weeks ago, or at area events, including the most recent July 3 parade in Apalachicola.



Smith got a huge boost last week with the endorsement of the Florida Chamber of Commerce. He also has received support from the Florida Retail Federation.



I am proud to be endorsed by so many organizations who represent the working class people of this district, and I’m honored they recognize that I am willing and able to make our communities better places to work and live,” said Smith.



The 53-year-old Smith, who grew up in Two Mile and graduated in 1977 from Apalachicola High School, started his law enforcement career in the county and then went on to work for state law enforcement, including the Division of State Fire Marshal, Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigation, and the Department of Business and Professional Regulation’s Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco.



After retiring from law enforcement, he started his own business in consulting and building relationships between private entities and sheriffs, police chiefs, fire chiefs, and government officials. He currently serves as executive director of the Florida Deputy Sheriffs Association and founded the non-profit organization Cops for Kids.



Smith, the son of Bill and Leah Brown, grew up at his parents’ Anchor Motel. They later sold that land and it was developed into what is now the Burger King, Ace Hardware and Gulf side IGA.



Smith has planned to run for the statehouse seat four years ago, but pulled out after the family learned his mother was dying of stage 4 lung cancer. She passed away in December 2008.



That experience led him to be active with hospice, and is a member of the Big Bend Hospice board of directors, and the Franklin County advisory council for that organization that serves the terminally ill.



Smith also serves on the board of directors of the Tallahassee Police Athletic League, and is a past chairman of the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Big Bend, among his many activities. He also holds a bachelor’s degree in public administration from Barry University.



“I am confident about this race,” Smith said. “I’ve been working hard; I’ve been seeing a lot of people. I’m going to be a strong voice for the district. I’m going to work hard and I’m going to be accessible.



“I’m not an expert,” he said. “I’m going to rely on people in the district.”



Smith has said the priorities for his constituents would be jobs and education, and how the two things are tied together if young people are going to decide to stay here and build their lives in their communities, investing their talents in the place they call home.



As he keeps up a grueling campaign schedule, Smith has not taken his home county for granted, making a point to appear at events as modest as the Hill’s candidate forum at the Holy Family Center



But the campaign has meant that he’s often had to double up, such as the night he went to events in both Wakulla and Jefferson counties. “I went to Jefferson County and spoke to a group and then as soon as I finished I excused myself,” he said. “I had to go to Wakulla, and I got there halfway through it and answered questions.



“I’m going to go wherever I need to go,” said Smith. “I have to push the envelope and that’s what I did.”



After nearly three decades in law enforcement, I know that public service is not a 9-to-5 job. Serving Floridians means being available 24 hours a day and I see serving as your state representative in the same way. Every day. All day,” he wrote on his campaign website. “Call my cell phone (850) 251-9021 any time, day or night. You can trust that I will be here when you need me.”