By Julia Roberts on Tuesday, September 29, 2020
Fernandina Beach News-Leader

Joshua Hicks has been in politics since he was a teenager, running for the Tallahassee City Commission when he was 18 and losing to Andrew Gillum, who would become that city’s mayor as well as a candidate for governor of Florida. Now Hicks is running for Florida House of Representatives, District 11, on a platform of keeping politics local – paying attention to the issues and problems directly facing Northeast Florida.

Hicks is running against incumbent Rep. Cord Byrd, R-Neptune Beach, who is currently serving his third term. A Democrat, Hicks says he wants to stop the “us versus them” mentality in Tallahassee.

“We need to return to our roots, the issues that affect us locally, not the issues that affect us nationally, because they are two different segments,” he said. “I understand (Byrd) wants to attach himself to Donald Trump, but this election is not about national politics, it’s about keeping the focus on local issues, to address families in our local communities. There’s plenty to do locally without having to get our hands dirty in national politics.”

Hicks went to Florida State University after going to Lawton Chiles High School. He completed college with a double major in political science and interdisciplinary social science. He works in the nonprofit sector, formerly for organizations such as the Service Employees International Union and the League of Conservative Voters and currently works for the Colorectal Cancer Alliance. He and his husband, Phillip, who serves as his campaign manager, make their home in Jacksonville.

Among the issues on Hicks’ agenda is fixing the broken system that left thousands of people without unemployment benefits after losing their jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic. Hicks said the company that created the website that became overwhelmed due to the increase in claims should have been vetted, and he would look to hire more staff to man the site and help with overload. He also supports increasing unemployment benefits from the current $275 per week to $500 per week.

Hicks says protecting the environment should begin with state government respecting the ability of local entities to create laws to govern their communities.

“Respect home rule,” Hicks said. “If a local jurisdiction passes a law (state government) doesn’t agree with, they immediately try to override that jurisdiction. Allow city and county commissions do their jobs, address environmental issues, small businesses, education issues on the local school board.”

Hicks said there will always be development in Florida, but it must be done with caution, which protects both the environment and property values.

“I’m always going to side with conservation over development. You have the ocean so close, (so) any development you build you have to make sure storm water is prepared so storm water drainage doesn’t hurt the environment, hurt our dunes, hurt the local sea life.

“You also have to manage for canopy roads. They bring up the values of our properties. In Neptune Beach, prices are lower because they tore down a lot of the trees, whereas in Atlantic Beach prices are higher because you have canopy roads and environmental infrastructure still there. I want to see that preserved locally here in Fernandina Beach and across Nassau County as much as possible. Any development that happens must have protections in place. We need to act on climate, on sea level rise. We need to bring down carbon emissions, build the local dune system. I would ask for additional funding to address sea level rise. My opponent talks about it but he doesn’t act on it. Dunes are our first defense, so we should be doing more to support our dune system.”

Byrd is a gun rights attorney, consistently endorsed and supported by the National Rifle Association. Hicks cautioned that Byrd will attack his stance on guns.

“I’m going to uphold the Second Amendment,” he said. “Pass universal background checks. Eighty-five percent of Americans, Republican and Democrat, support universal background checks. My opponent opposes them, I support them. I support red flag laws that identify people who are mentally unwell or have had violent experiences in the past. An assault weapon ban is supported by the vast majority of the people, and I support that.”

And Hicks does not shy away from differentiating himself in other ways.

“Byrd is putting out all his talking points, sheriff’s endorsements, NRA-backed endorsements, because he thinks he can run as one thing, being a Republican, and win this district,” he said. “I think people are smarter than that, and should be given more credit than that. For one thing, I think it would have been nice for Cord Byrd to speak out against systemic racism when George Floyd was murdered instead of saying every Democrat doesn’t support the local police, (which) is nonsense.”

There has been speculation as to how new House districting will shape the state’s political scene and the path Byrd
will take when state Sen. Aaron Bean’s seat is in play. But Hicks says he is not looking past the current race, and his political aspirations are strictly local for now.

“I do not have any interest in seeking high office at this moment. I just want to run and to support the people of the 11th, to give them a voice and look out for them,” he said. “I have a cousin in Jacksonville Beach, a brother in Yulee, my husband’s parents live in Jacksonville Beach, his brother lives in Jacksonville. This is home to me.”

Asked if he has a single issue on which he is focused, Hicks said he simply wants to be the “common sense and equality candidate” and loves the opportunity to give the voters a choice.

“I decided to run for this office because I felt the leadership that was being shown by my opponent, not only him but the general atmosphere in Tallahassee, is wrong for Florida and wrong for this district,” he continued. “We need to turn the focus back to our family values, our family table issues people go home and talk about on a nightly basis: higher wages, making sure you can afford healthcare, making sure the children are going to a quality school, making sure our communities are safe from violence, protecting our coastal communities from sea-level rise, and keeping our beaches public so that anyone who wants access to our beaches can use them. It might be a David and Goliath race, but I’ve gotten a huge amount of support since I entered the race in May. I’m looking forward to surprising some folks on Nov. 3.”

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