FLEMING ISLAND – It’s not often that a sitting U.S. Congressman faces an opponent from their own political party, however, this year that is the case with U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho(R-3) of Gainesville.
First elected in 2012 after defeating incumbent Rep. Cliff Stearns of Ocala – a feat many pundits believed could never happen – Yoho faces a primary challenge from a Clay County man who has never ran for political office.
On Aug. 28, Republican voters will head to the polls to choose between Yoho and Judson Sapp, 40, of Fleming Island. The winner of that race will go on to face the top vote-getting Democrat who will emerge from a field of three candidates on that side of the aisle – Yvonne Hayes Hinson, 70, Tom Wells, 67, and Dushyant Gosai, who did not return calls for this article.
Born and raised in Clay County, Sapp graduated from The Bolles School before attending Florida State University where he received a bachelor’s degree in philosophy. According to Sapp, his degree weighs heavily into both how he lives his life and how he plans to work in Congress, should he be elected. He has garnered endorsements from former state Sen. Jim Horne, former Clay County Sheriff Rick Beseler and Green Cove Springs City Councilman Van Royal.
“Philosophy teaches you to listen to an argument and weigh both sides before making a decision,” Sapp said. “Politics have become a team sport and it shouldn’t be like that. Let’s weigh the argument and when it isn’t Constitutional, let’s use common sense to work through our problems and disagreements.”
Beyond his degree, though, Sapp believes his time serving as CEO of W.J. Sapp & Son Inc., his family’s railroad construction business, will serve him greatly in Congress, specifically when it’s time to make a deal.
“You take the best deal you can get,” Sapp said. “If you have a deal that is 100 percent bad and a deal that is 20 percent bad, you take the 20 percent bad deal because it’s the best you can get. You take that deal today and renegotiate when you can and that’s common sense.”
Wells, who is based in Gainesville, is a theoretical physicist who earned his bachelor’s degree at California Tech and his doctorate at the University of Maryland. His education has taught him how to work with what he’s got and how to solve a problem despite parameters set around it.
“Throughout my education and working for the Department of Defense and various other companies, you get a lot of problems where you have very little support. You’re expected to find the problem and solve it and while looking at these [work-related] problems, I began looking further out and I saw in dismay the continuing demise of democracy,” Wells said. “That’s why I’m taking what I’ve learned and hoping to bring it to Congress.”
Hinson, who also calls Gainesville home, is planning to use her master’s degree in special education to take a more holistic approach to problem-solving in Congress, should she win the seat.
“We all need hope, insurance, good healthcare, to take care of our children, to restore our families and unify them once more and we all want to provide great education for our children,” Hinson said. “Well, all want our earth in good health – we only have one – and together we can thrive. I believe we all want that and I don’t think these are isolated things.”
For Hinson, there are five pillars that her platform stands on – education, family, health, justice and the earth. While she views each pillar as important, Hinson seems especially passionate about education and that might be due in part to her 45 years as an educator, with 15 of those years spent as a principal. She is retired now.
“Right now, I feel like schools, especially public schools, are under attack. Resources are being moved away from the public to a pseudo-privatized system,” Hinson said. “I know personally how education can transform a person’s life and family as it’s the cornerstone of America but right now, education is being used for profit and it shouldn’t be that way.”
For Sapp, he believes parents should have more options on the table when deciding how their children will be educated, but he also believes schools are currently underfunded. Clay County teachers are about to receive a health insurance premium hike, and not only does Sapp think there should be more money available to education, but to educators as well to help with drastic increases like this.
“Our teachers are about to receive a massive insurance increase, a 29 percent premium increase, and that’s just not acceptable,” Sapp said. “And this isn’t just teachers getting hit by insurance, it’s all of America. It’s time for a real change for insurance in America.”
Specifically speaking, Sapp believes Congress should allow a more competitive marketplace, abolish employer mandates, reduce coverage requirements and provide more transparency in the marketplace such as price disclosures. Both Hinson and Wells agree that American healthcare needs reform but unlike Sapp’s desire for a more competitive marketplace, Hinson and Wells believe the country should adopt single-payer healthcare, more specifically in the form of HR 676.
“[HR 676] establishes medical care for all and gives all of us free healthcare that includes all necessary care, medical and dietary, dental, etc.,” Hinson said. “The Congressional Budget Office reviewed it in 2014, the bill is complete, and it said we could save $380 billion. There are people in America that can’t buy groceries because they have to make a choice between groceries and drugs and we should not be living with these extremes.”
Wells believes in HR 676 as well, although he said it needs to be more fleshed out, and he believes the reason America hasn’t yet adopted single-payer healthcare is because of corporations and their relationships with members of Congress.
“These corporate donor owners of our Congress suggest laws to Congress, like those regarding health care, and these laws get passed and it gives tax money to those companies with no benefit to us,” Wells said. “In Switzerland, they spend $7500 per capita and in America, we spend $10,500 per capita. Despite the extra trillion we spend, 115 million Americans are not covered by adequate health insurance.”
All three candidates believe strongly about veterans and say it’s time the country treats them better, specifically in how they’re cared for following their time in the military.
“We sent people to war and don’t know how to truly bring them back,” Hinson said. “We need to help them transition back into life. Veterans deserve more than we are giving them.”
Wells specifically believes that incumbent Yoho, who could not be reached for comment for the story, has not treated veterans well enough, despite what the Congressman actually says.
“Ted Yoho went to town halls and forums last cycle and would frequently say to veterans in the audience that over half of his staff time was spent dealing with veterans issues,” Wells said. “If your party didn’t cut the administrative budget of the VA and leave 370 staff positions unfunded, then you would probably get zero complaints. Veterans only complain when it’s justified and they certainly have things to complain about with Yoho and his party.”
Sapp agrees that the VA is underfunded and certainly needs change.
“Our veterans, men and women who risked their lives to protect ours, deserve better,” Sapp said. “Veterans Affairs need a complete overhaul from the ground up.”
In terms of his party, the Republican party, Sapp believes it's time for the era of New Republicans. Specifically, he believes it’s time that his party truly take government out of individuals’ lives and pocketbooks as much as possible. For him, the Grand Ole Party has lost its luster.
“I believe the party has become very polarized. We’re called the Grand Ole Party for a reason and I feel we’ve lost our shine,” Sapp said. “It’s time to pass the torch to a new generation and party leadership needs to be cognizant of that.
“As a Republican, there’s a lack of support for the President from the party,” Sapp said. “Right now, what we’re seeing is one man’s will despite Congress. I will support our President.”
For Wells, he believes it’s time for both parties, not just Democrats like himself, to remove corporations from their pockets.
“I would share that many people with good intentions have gone to Congress and upon arriving there, they get poached,” Wells said. “The reason is that the environment is designed to corrupt and in both parties, each Congressman is basically required by party leaders to spend several hours a day calling big donors begging for big money.”
Hinson believes the Democratic Party has no faith in winning the seat this year.
“I frankly don’t believe the Democratic Party believes this is a winnable seat but I’m out here to show my party that there is an option and that I believe it’s winnable,” Hinson said. “We need someone to take a holistic approach and restore domestic tranquility to each and every family and that will be my goal.”
Financially speaking, Dushyant, who could not be reached for comment, has come up with the least in his campaign having only raised $1,298, but has spent $1,118 so far. Hinson has raised the second-least so far with $12,871.92. The Florida Election Commission said she’s raised $17,872 but $5,000 of that was a loan Hinson took out. So far, she’s spent $9,545.42 and she attributes this amount of money raised to the lack of her party’s support.
“[My finances raised] just go back to the Democratic Party and how they really don’t think this seat can be won,” Hinson said. “But I have faith. We can win this.”
Wells raised $19,515.73 and while the FEC said he’s raised $22,515.73, which includes a $3,000 loan from Wells. To date, he’s spent $19,791.91.
Of those opposing Rep. Yoho, Sapp has raised the most so far with $58,595 and has spent $34,769.36.
Yoho, though, has raised significantly more than his opponents cashing in at $466,058,64--the reason this number is so much higher likely has to do with the fact that Rep. Yoho is the incumbent. So far, he’s only spent a little more than half of his contributions with his expenditures coming in at $240,300.59.
Overall, Sapp’s platform can be best summarized as a platform whose foreign policy is that America comes first and that the country should stand with its allies and firmly against its enemies. Sapp also believes in the right to keep and bear arms, the right to life and is himself, pro-life, a more accessible and competitive healthcare market, less government in your life and your pocket, stronger border security and a staunch stand against illegal immigration. Finally, he believes America deserves more quality education, with more choices for parents, and a stronger dedication to honoring the country’s veterans.
“We are at a unique time in human history where Florida 3 can actually make a difference,” Sapp said. “On Aug. 28, if voters aren’t happy with Congress, they can make a choice and vote someone else in. If you’re happy with the way Congress is doing business, I’m not your choice.”
For Wells, his platform is based quite heavily on the belief that corporations should no longer have their hands in the pockets of Congress members and that by removing their hands from the pot, America across the board can be changed for the better. Wells believes in single-payer healthcare for all Americans, criminal justice reform and an end to systemic racism and oppression and reform in American income. He believes that middle-class and lower-class working Americans have been overshadowed by the upper-class and big-money corporations. Finally, he believes in clean air and water for all, including a tax on greenhouse gas sources that can be used to reward those using clean and renewable energy, a better education system, the legalization of marijuana and an inexpensive and expedient pathway to citizenship for those wishing to come to America legally and for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living, working and paying taxes in the U.S.
“I have been inoculated and immunized against corruption,” Wells said. “I have eight grandchildren and each of them is a shot in the arm. I will not deviate from my stances for them now, in office or any time thereafter.”
Hinson’s platform again goes back to her five pillars of education, family, health, justice and the earth. Hinson thinks that it’s time to ensure prosperity for America’s middle-class, strengthen American families and take a multi-faceted, 21st Century approach to healthcare. Finally, Hinson promotes stronger regulations on semi-automatic firearms and gun safety, a justice system that’s actually just, with an end to mass incarceration and systemic oppression, and she plans to fight for a safe and forward-thinking approach to the environmental issues America faces not only today, but will one day face in the future as well.
“I believe I have gifts and talents that could make a difference in America,” Hinson said. “I began paying attention, watching, waiting, looking and seeing. We need more compassion in administration. We need someone who can see the entire picture of America and we really need a change.”