Kathy Lewis is a candidate for one of the most crucial of the Florida state Senate seats– District 20, which covers parts of Hillsborough, Pasco and Polk counties in the greater Tampa Bay area. The election on November 3 will be a special election and the general election because right-wing Republican Tom Lee is retiring effective that day. The winner gets sworn in immediately, not in January.
In 2018 Kathy decided to run against Lee. The party– the Democratic Party– laughed at her and derided her as wasting everyone’s time and refused to back her. Refusing to back Democratic reformers is the only thing the Florida Democratic Party is good at– But without their help, she nearly flipped the seat, coming within 6 points of winning and coming close to actually making the Democrats– despite themselves– a viable force instead of a joke in Tallahassee.
This is her second run for the seat. The party– yeah, the Florida Democratic Party– is still deriding her. In 2018 the party operatives said that no one would vote for her, that the seat was “unwinnable,” and yet she overperformed massively, receiving 46.5% of the vote. Would she have won with party help? No one will ever know– especially since the Florida Democrats are not helping her again– even though she’s running for an open seat against a Republican hack who has been working in the incredibly unpopular, even hated, Ron DeSantis administration, Daniel Burgess.
After meeting Kathy through 90 For 90, which is ‘gung ho’ on her election chances, I asked her to introduce herself to Blue America readers. Please hear her out and consider contributing to her campaign by clicking on the Blue America 2020 Florida thermometer below. You can learn more about her campaign here.
Overcoming “Unwinnable” Situations
by Kathy Lewis
My entire childhood and most of my adult life, I have been told that I am in unwinnable situations. Even some leaders in the Democratic party continue to say that my 2020 Florida Senate campaign is an unwinnable contest. But those doubters do not know me. I am from Baltimore. I grew up in one of the worst neighborhoods in the country, an unwinnable place. I was surrounded by poverty, gun violence, illegal drug use, and learned helplessness– it was an unwinnable road at every turn.
Every day there was an active shooter outside. I have a cousin who was shot in the chest with a stray bullet and miraculously survived. Another cousin’s 4-year-old daughter was shot in the head with a stray bullet– she survived, but with permanent, debilitating brain damage. My aunt was brutally murdered, shot in the head during a home invasion. My friend at age 14 had his head blown off accidentally with a shotgun. And my own mother survived being shot with a stray bullet when I was just 10 years old.
When you hear stories about gun violence in poor neighborhoods, understand that it is not just bad people shooting and killing other bad people. None of my family members were criminals, we were just poor. I knew I had to get out of that unwinnable situation.
My father was one of the first African-American firefighters in Baltimore and my mother stayed at home to raise my sister and me. I scratched and clawed my way out of the ’hood. I set specific goals, worked hard, and I graduated from Johns Hopkins University. I met my husband, Bertram, when we were both students at Hopkins and training for our black belts in Shotokan Karate. Bert is now a surgeon and we have been married for 28 years. Interesting fact about my husband: He has studied hard and earned multiple college degrees, including a BS, MSE, MD, PhD, and an MBA. As a Black couple, we see the value of education, especially higher education, as a way for people to better their lives.
Through education, Bertram and I were able to offer a better future and better opportunities for our children. Our eldest daughter also graduated from Johns Hopkins University and is a Fulbright scholar who studied in Seoul, South Korea, and is now fluent in Korean. She was also a Rhodes Scholar Finalist and earned a full academic scholarship at the University of South Florida (USF) for her master’s degree. Our younger daughter, who has a disability, graduated from The Learning Academy at USF.
I had to fight tenaciously, every day for months and months to make sure she received the benefits and care she needs. Fighting to find our way through the bureaucracy and apathy of our government agencies was awful. It was so terrible that finally I emailed almost every single person in the Medicare, Medicaid, Medwaiver systems, because I just could not take the appalling lack of response anymore. I sent a total of 75 emails late one night.
The very next morning I was granted a phone call with the Secretary of Health and Human Services Office. Within two days my daughter’s case was approved and her benefits ready to go.
It took people from national offices in Washington DC to get our local Florida agency workers to do their jobs. And I am not saying that are local agency employees are at fault—they, too, suffer from working an inefficient and broken system.
My family is not the only one dealing with a broken system. There are tens of thousands of Florida families struggling to navigate our state agencies, especially now with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. We are seeing failures in our systems like our Florida unemployment website and with virus testing.
I do not share my personal stories to gain sympathy or to sensationalize my life’s circumstances. I share them with you to illustrate how escaping poverty gave me a unique and valuable set of skills for survival and success.
I know how to solve problems. I know how to win against unwinnable odds. I know how to get things done in a fearless and caring way. Vote for me on November 3, because I will fight for Florida families.