VALRICO — Rep. Jake Raburn, R-Lithia, had been in the chamber before — the 28-year-old served as a Senate page a few years ago — but walking into the cavernous room as an elected official made it impossible to ignore the magnitude of his new position.
"It was an overwhelming feeling of gratitude and also very humbling," Raburn said.
The freshman legislator seems to be finding his way with relative ease. He's sponsoring bills dealing with insurance, education and the Department of Citrus. He has toured state facilities and met with constituents. He's even scheduled to do a ribbon cutting.
Ask him about challenges, and he'll smile and tell you he's sure they'll come, but a great staff and core values will help him navigate. He's polished and relatable.
But the newness still lies in the little things: forgetting another member's name, struggling to find the parking garage at the end of the first day, expressing concern over how his family will fare during the next two years.
For the Plant City native who grow up showing pigs at the Florida Strawberry Festival, it's hard being away from home. It helps that his wife and infant son are moving with him to Tallahassee.
But despite reassurance from his family, he feels guilty about being away from the farming business. Though he mostly focuses on sales, the company is small and family-owned. Which means he'll wind up on the tractor in the summer and pitch in where he's needed.
He knows someone else is working harder to carry his load.
"They're great about it," he said of his family. "To be thrust into a situation where you have to rely on other people to pick up the slack for you has been challenging."
He admits most of that concern is probably in his own head. Raburn has always had a mind for politics, has always loved to read and learn and debate. When redistricting created a new seat, his friends and family supported the decision.
"There's a lot of friends of agriculture in Tallahassee, but there's only a handful of people that actually make their living from an industry that is one of the largest economic drivers in our state," Raburn said. "I think that's an important perspective to provide."
Some of his colleagues aren't just 10 or 20 years older than him, but 30 or 40. But Raburn said his status as the youngest member of the House hasn't crossed his mind much.
There's simply too much to do, too much at stake, he said, for people to be marginalized because of their age.
"You can be new, get elected, be young, and still be relevant and have a voice."
Caitlin Johnston can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 225-3111.