We know Lindsay Cross pretty well — not only is she a frequent sight around St. Petersburg, until recently, she’s led the charge to convince (succesfully, we might add) Florida ranchers to make all or part of their land conservation easements, which help protect Florida’s wilder bits and also allow wildlife to better follow their natural traffic patterns without, well, running into traffic. Or suburbs. She’s recently left her post at the Florida Wildlife Corridor to run for Florida Senate District 24, and while, most years, we’d say, yeah, she’s fantastic, but Jeff Brandes is the incumbent and sure, he’s a Republican and yeah, we don’t love that, but he has a ton of money and knows how the system works, this year, it’s different. Now, we know the whole “blue wave” phenomenon might not be enough on its own to get Cross elected to the Florida Senate, but we’re thinking it’ll give Cross enough of a start. That, coupled with the Lake O discharges that many suspect have caused unseasonably long bouts of red tide right near where the discharges meet the gulf, might convince voters that an environmental candidate can be the colt who shoots past the thoroughbred.
It seems, too, the Dems are notoriously less organized at supporting candidates (Brandes is way ahead of Cross in the “having money to throw at voters” arena, and so Cross fills her days with fundraising and campaigning). Despite a busy schedule, she gave us a few moments of her time for an interview. Here’s what she told us.
What made you decide to run?
Running for the state senate — it feels like a calling to me — something born from a deep need to improve the lives of others. Originally I thought it would be a local race, like city council or county commission, because there are so many things you can do at a local level that are impactful. Yet even the ability of local governments to do what is best for them has been reduced or eliminated due to policies coming from Tallahassee.
As in many things in life, there was always a reason not to, until the urgency became too great. We’re at a pivotal time in our state’s history. People are engaged and active; they want to see change in a way that will strengthen their communities. Instead of hoping that someone else would fill this important role, I realized that I was that person.
You most recently worked for the Florida Wildlife Corridor as the executive director. What led you away from that job to running for office?
I feel strongly about the mission of the Florida Wildlife Corridor to protect wild places and am so proud of what I did with the organization. Given my late entrance to the race, and the need to focus on building a winning campaign, I decided it was best to give it my devotion and attention full-time.
What are the three most important issues to you that you would have the power to change if elected, and how would you go about doing so?
The three most important issues to me and the families in Pinellas County are having high-quality education; affordable healthcare for all; and a healthy environment. Having these in place leads to a strong economy and the ability to support other things that families care about. I would invest our taxpayer dollars back into the public school system, rather than funneling it to for-profit charter schools. A great education is not something that should be available only for the wealthy, and neither should health care. I met a young woman recently that told me about her healthcare nightmare. She had an infection. Since she didn’t have a healthcare plan with true benefits, she put off going to the doctor. After it got worse, she had no choice but to seek treatment and wound up paying nearly $3,000 after the price of the deductible, the medication and the doctor visits. On a limited salary, this nearly bankrupted her. People should not go bankrupt over basic medical treatment.
What we’re seeing with red tide and algae blooms around our state is horrific, but it’s not unexpected. We’ve neglected our environment for far too long. Investing in sewer and stormwater upgrades isn’t sexy, but neither is raw sewage in our waters or algae blooms as thick as pea soup. These water quality issues, as well as coastal flooding, erosion of our beautiful beaches and the threat of oil drilling off our coasts, cannot be ignored.
Additionally, I would fight to fully fund the Florida Forever program to protect our most critical waters and lands. The voters consistently support funding for conservation, yet our elected officials have not done what they’ve asked.
Because this writer has a relationship with you outside of the context of journalist/ politician, she’ll disclose it here: We often attend the same Ashtanga/Mysore class in St. Petersburg, with which you sometimes assist. For people not familiar with Ashtanga/Mysore, can you explain how your practice will serve you as a politician?
The word yoga means union. It is a reminder to me that we are all connected and that we have so much in common. If we are always asking how our decisions impact others, we’ll necessarily be improving our communities and helping others to grow and be their best selves.
My yoga practice is an integral part of who I am. It provides discipline and a place for me to process other things in my life. Because you’re doing the same sequence of poses each time, you’re able to go beyond the physical nature of the practice. It becomes an opportunity for reflection and meditation.
We’re a fairly progressive paper, and many of our readers are fairly liberal. You may be preaching to the choir here, but in case we have any conservatives reading this interview, how will you fairly represent anyone who supports Donald Trump?
At the heart of it, most people want and care about the same things. We want to feel safe in our community, we want a strong economy with good jobs. We want our children to get a good education and have opportunities when they graduate — whether that’s from college or trade school. We want clean air and water and places to be inspired. I’ve spent my career collaborating with people and organizations from both sides of the aisle and from all walks of life — with elected officials, citizens, businesses and nonprofits to address challenging natural resource problems. I want to work with anyone and everyone that wants to make our families and communities stronger and more vibrant. I see people for who they are, rather than who they voted for. If you’re willing to work to make Pinellas County and Florida a better place, than I want to work with you.
Jeff Brandes has represented Pinellas County in the senate for six years. What hasn’t he done that you will if you get elected?
This is a long list. The differences between Brandes and me are numerous. Primarily, Jeff Brandes has had many opportunities to make significant advancements in our education system, but he has sided with for-profit corporations against public schools. He has had chances to impact transportation infrastructure, yet he hasn’t. He has neglected opportunities to positively impact our environment — and the result can be seen in every nook and cranny of our beautiful state: Our water and land are in danger. Finally, Brandes has stood by and done nothing as more than one million Floridans go without the health care they need and deserve. Brandes will always side with the Republican leadership in Tallahassee. I think 20 years of that leadership has hurt our state and I am ready to change it.
Just for fun: In a perfect world, who’s your dream governor for Florida?
My Dad doesn’t live in Florida, but he would be an excellent governor. He is one of my biggest role models. He was a high school principal and knows how to motivate and organize people. He worked hard and made people his priority. He always taught me to make the right decision, not the popular one. Despite working long hours and attending school functions at the high school, he was home for dinner every night and never missed a piano recital, a gymnastics or track meet; he was there for every activity that my brother and I did. I’ve always known that I could count on him. That’s what our state needs. Leadership that people can depend on — that is, principled and dedicated. And that means making the right decisions, even if they’re not the popular ones.