When the Democratic Party nominated Jacksonville native Tracie Davis for the House District 13 seat in the Florida Legislature, there wasn’t time to put her name on the ballot.
She had lost by about 400 votes to incumbent Reggie Fullwood in the primary election in August. Fullwood pleaded guilty to felony charges in October, resigning his seat and ending his political career. But his name remained on the ballot.
A vote for Fullwood in the November election was actually a vote for Davis. A fact she had to present to voters as quickly and positively as possible.
She won, beating Republican Mark Griffin in the heavily Democratic district.
Recently sworn into office along with other freshmen representatives, Davis didn’t delay getting started.
The session won’t start until March 7, but she already has filed House Bill 231, which would remove party affiliation from the public defender and state attorney races. State Sen. Audrey Gibson filed a similar bill.
“There is no reason they should be partisan,” Davis said during an interview in her Jacksonville office. “They deal with an entire community.”
Had the bill been in effect last year, last-minute write-in candidates in the local public defender and state attorney’s races would not have been able to close the primaries.
For Davis, serving the community was her reason for running for office. Fullwood had served for six years, was popular with constituents and had name recognition.
But the Democratic representative was under investigation when Davis decided to run against him in the primary. She had already embraced the idea of political office as a new passion.
“I thought we needed a strong Democrat in the race,” if as a result of the investigation, “anything happened to him,” she said.
“It was a tough time for both of us, for our friendship. But at the end of the day, for me, the decision was about the community,” she said. “The community was much bigger than either one of us. The race wasn’t about us. It was about having a community and its needs in mind.”
Political office is a new venture for Davis, but she is confident her previous careers prepared her for what she is undertaking now.
She was a special education teacher in Duval County Public Schools and then went to work in the Duval County Supervisor of Elections Office for 14 years. That experience gave her first-hand knowledge of election policy, she said.
Her husband, Robert, owns a small general construction company, which she says gives her insight into small businesses and their needs and contributions to the community.
Davis, who lives in Springfield, would like to bring more jobs to her district, which includes the urban core, and she recognizes the value of small business startups.
Earl Jones, Davis’ legislative aide, previously worked for Fullwood. He said his new boss “is a perfect fit” for the job.
“She is the type of person who, when you give her a little information, she’s on it. She has vision. She has good vision,” he said.
Davis grew up in Jacksonville, graduated from Raines High School and has a bachelor’s degree from Edward Waters College and a master’s degree from the University of North Florida.
Her first job at Timucuan Elementary School involved teaching students with special educational needs. In her second teaching job, at Pinedale Elementary, she taught children with autism.
In 2001, she went to work for the elections office as an educational specialist. The new optical scan voting system had just been introduced and she taught voter education at high schools and to adults.
Davis was eventually promoted to deputy supervisor in 2011 and in 2015 ran to be supervisor of elections. After losing to Mike Hogan, she left to work for the city’s Small and Emerging Businesses department.
“The passion to serve and be a public servant was formulated in the Supervisor of Elections Office,” Davis said.
The race in 2015 made her realize “being a public servant was something I wanted to do. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the campaigning. Meeting people. Sharing ideas with people. Talking to them, listening to them. It’s quite fulfilling to me.”
Davis will split her time between her Jacksonville office at 101 E. Union St. and the Capitol building in Tallahassee.
She kept the fourth-floor office on East Union Street where Fullwood worked because “it was important for me to stay in the location that voters were already familiar with,” she said.
In addition, it sits in the heart of Downtown, which is basically the center of her huge district. It straddles the St. Johns River and includes all of Downtown, a tip of Atlantic Beach and parts of Arlington, San Marco, St. Nicholas and the Northside.
Even though serving as a lawmaker is a part-time position, Davis left her city job to dedicate her time to it.
She said she loves the Capitol building in Tallahassee, where she has been working on committees in advance of the session.
“Walking into that building,” she said she knows, “this is God’s plan for me.”
When Davis is in Tallahassee, her executive secretary, Kiaira Nixon, will hold down the fort in Jacksonville.
Davis is thrilled to be where she is. It’s a long way from the special education classroom, but “I’m ready to be effective,” she said. “That’s what it is all about.”
Politics has become her passion.
“When I walked into the classroom, that was my passion, because I was making a difference,” she said. “In politics, personally and professionally, my passion now is to make a difference.”
Be the first to know the latest breaking news and information that business leaders rely on in this fast-paced changing Northeast Florida economy. Regional business news, trends and statistics needed to grow your business. Key upcoming events you won’t want to miss and much more. Click Here to Grow your Business NOW!