In Palm Beach County District 6, an Advocate for Small Business
Last Thursday, I caught up with Palm Beach County Commissioner, Sara Baxter, to learn more about her background and advocacy for small business.
On the day that Sara Baxter accomplished her impressive victory for Palm Beach County District 6, beating Michelle Oyola McGovern, a shift arrived in South Florida, one that was red – and widespread – extending down into the state's most populous county, Miami-Dade, marking a new political era in regions previously deep blue.
The victories, not only in South Florida, but the entire state, reverberated throughout the country as many candidates here won their races by double digits including Governor Ron DeSantis with more than a 19-point lead over Charlie Crist, and Senator Marco Rubio, despite being far outspent by Democrat Representative Val Demings. But it’s places like Miami-Dade and District 6 in Palm Beach County that surprised many who follow local elections and trends as both areas have long been Democratic strongholds.
There were signs, however, that Republicans, including Baxter, would cruise to victory as Republicans in the state had close to 292,500 more registered voters than Democrats. That number, as of April 2023, is now up to 454,918.
So what changed? Here in Palm Beach County, many saw the election as a referendum on COVID mandates and policies enacted by previous county commissioners and the school board who voted to keep authoritarian policies in place even when Governor DeSantis ended all local emergency mandates. Others viewed right-leaning candidates, and specifically Baxter, as more favorable toward small business owners looking to regain momentum after regulations, enacted long before and during COVID, created economic headaches and stifled expansion.
Baxter, a real estate agent and small business owner, is all-too-familiar with the roadblocks entrepreneurs face when looking to open or expand in the region. She and her husband started an automotive repair business, Foreign Auto Specialists, in 2011, despite strong headwinds from local government. It was ‘by the grace of God’, Baxter says, that the now-thriving business even opened.
When I visited Baxter’s office at the Palm Beach County Robert Weisman Governmental Center in downtown West Palm Beach last Thursday, on a warm, breezy afternoon, I couldn’t help but notice the large, round ‘Maintain Six Feet Apart’ stickers strategically placed outside the building’s main entrance, signs of a not-too-distant past that most would like to forget.
Yet, while sitting down with Commissioner Baxter – a second generation Floridian – it’s clear that she’s focused on future goals and initiatives to create a better climate for not only small business owners, but all residents in District 6, bringing with her a different perspective, searching for ways to simplify planning and zoning processes, lowering tax rates and fees, while also avoiding overdevelopment in western communities.
Commissioner Baxter has her work cut out for her. The realities of changing long-standing county laws and ordinances won’t come easy especially when Democrats still maintain a strong position in the region. But she’s faced – and has overcome – previous challenges within Palm Beach County’s occasionally-contentious political environment, most notably, during her campaign.
Even with voter enthusiasm and momentum in her favor, Baxter experienced setbacks. When asked for more details, she first credits a deep faith in God, along with her family and loyal supporters, for her eventual victory. But fundraising, she mentions, proved especially challenging as she was drastically outspent by McGovern through every twist and turn. Baxter, who contributed heavily to her own campaign, raised $119,338 while her opponent raised $447,898, according to Yahoo News.
Indeed, the 2022 elections and surprise upsets in Florida revealed a state that is decidedly red, a trend experts think will continue for years to come. Whether areas like Miami-Dade or Palm Beach remain on course may not be as certain, as the pendulum swings, and population demographics along with voter habits, can shift elections from light blue to light red and back again. Which leads us to the 2024 political season, where even more surprise upsets and revelations, await a polarized country.
After the interview and a quick elevator ride from the 12th floor, I left the ‘social distancing’ stickers and Palm Beach County Robert Weisman Governmental Center behind, traveling back to my home in District 6, optimistic for the next four years and grateful for the interview with Commissioner Baxter.
For more information about Commissioner Sara Baxter, please visit the district’s website.
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