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Politics

How Democrat Vasilinda Crossed Party Lines to Support Campus Carry

March 24, 2015 - 7:00pm

Don't label Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda as just a Democrat.

Over the last seven years she's represented Tallahassee as a lawmaker in the Florida Legislature, Vasilinda has made the focus of her service to the people of Leon County her primary mission, regardless of party affiliation.

"As a legislator, I think we're solving problems. We are helping to empower the people of the state of Florida live the best life that they can," she explained to Sunshine State News.

Born in Rochester, N.Y., Vasilinda didn't set out to get involved in politics. She started her career as a lawyer at the Department of Legal Affairs at the Florida attorney general's office. She later became a teacher at Tallahassee Community College, where she's been a professor of legal studies and applied ethics for over 25 years.

During her time as a legislator, she's focused on tax reform, ethics, environmental and agricultural issues among countless other topics. This year, Vasilinda is sponsoring legislation to allow Florida farmers to begin growing hemp in the Sunshine State. Vasilinda told Sunshine State News the crop could be used for rope, food, and fabrics.

"We import more hemp in the United States than any other nation in the world and it's illegal to grow in the United States," she explained.

She calls bills like this "common-sense solutions" to problems facing Floridians.

"Florida doesn't require much pesticides nor as much irrigation. It's a definite money crop," she said.

Even if these types of bills don't pass through the Legislature, Vasilinda won't stop trying.

"This bill has got some traction. I don't think it'll pass this year, but it should pass," she said.

Vasilinda's also not afraid to cross party lines. This quality was evident in last week's hearing on HB 4005, a controversial bill which would allow students over the age of 21 to carry concealed weapons on college campuses.

The bill has been criticized by many who believe the legislation will cause more problems than it would prevent. They cite reckless college-aged behaviors and a lack of mental development as some of the reasons allowing guns on college campuses isn't a good idea.

Vasilinda recalled her own experience using her gun to fend off her attacker when they attempted to rape her when testifying for the legislation. She told House subcommittee members she was able to stop the rape from happening.

To her, the bill isn't about sexual assault but about self-defense for women.

"Each woman and girl should develop a personal strategy to do all they can to keep themselves and their friends and families safe," she posted on her Facebook page, adding that her personal strategy for her and her family was to own handguns and have a permit to carry.

She was one of two Democrats (the other being Rep. Katie Edwards, D-Plantation) to vote in favor of the bill.

"I ran as a Democrat, I've been elected as a Democrat, I have Democratic proclivity but I'm not ruled by party influence in any way, shape or form," she said. "Most of my ideas, the Democrats as a party have not made a part of their platform."

To Vasilinda, part of working in the state Legislature is about persistence -- a value she promotes to her staffers through the motto: We are like water.

Sometimes we are like a tsunami. Sometimes we are like the drip, drip, drip like raindrops on a window. Sometimes we are like water trying to find a crack to seep through, but we will continue on our path and get to the goal.


Reach Tampa-based reporter Allison Nielsen by email atallison@sunshinestatenews.comor follow her on Twitter: @AllisonNielsen.

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