District 56 State Rep. Rachel Burgin has received her fair share of criticism for being too young and inexperienced.
Burgin represents a district that begins in Brandon and stretches west all the way to Davis Islands in Tampa. A former aide to Rep. Trey Traviesa, Burgin got the chance to run when Traviesa abruptly stepped down in August.
Now that she's in, she shared her perspective over lunch at Mimi's Cafe. Pull up a chair and join us.
ERNEST: When you were first chosen to run, you received a lot of criticism, but you seem to handle it well.
RACHEL: What do you do? It gave me a whole new appreciation for people who do get put in that situation. I had people who said all kinds of things — that I was insidious, that I was an immoral individual, that I had blackmail information. Some people in politics are ugly. I think it discourages people who really want to get involved, and I have to say I really don't care. The only time I cared at all was when someone said I was overweight.
Someone called you overweight?
Someone said I had been immoral and that I had worked for a corrupt member and above all, "The people of District 56 deserve better than a young, overweight airhead," or something like that. I read this whole portion and I said, "I am not overweight." (laughs)
You just can't let it bother you because at the end of the day, the people who call the office, the average citizen just wants to know if that person is going to be responsive to them and work for them. Everything else is secondary.
Education is an issue you're passionate about.
I think the biggest thing is continuing to put more money into the classroom and not into administrative costs. There have been several reports from different counties that have said they are grossly top heavy, and they're not sending the funding to the classroom. That's something we're going to have to address. We also have to make sure the basics are being taught. The graduation rates are improving, but they're still a lot of young people who are graduating from our high schools that are going to HCC or other community colleges and they're having to take remedial courses. I think that's really a travesty.
You want to continue Trey Traviesa's work on abortion issues. How do you deal with the divisiveness of such an issue?
I've been working on the issue for the past two years and seeing it firsthand. I know it is a divisive issue, and it's something people get very passionate about on both ends. I'm a woman who's experienced the immediate affects (of abortion) in my family's heritage and lineage, and I saw how something like that can affect someone for life.
What do you mean about abortion affecting you personally?
In 1954, my grandmother went in and got an injunction from a judge. She had just given birth the year before to twins, and she lost one, one of the twins being my mother and the other being one who had died a week and a half after he was born. She was pregnant, and they gave her permission at the time to have the abortion. She was a very religious woman and a very Catholic woman, and obviously that wasn't an accepted thing, but it was medically necessary. At 85, the woman was still living with that. It was still, very much so, part of her thought process. She lived with a lot of lifelong guilt. My grandmother just passed away last November, and during the last session, my mother was cleaning out her house. While she was cleaning it out, she found a painting my grandmother had painted. It was of (the Virgin) Mary and in Mary's hand was a baby, and tears were flowing down Mary's face. My grandmother didn't start painting until she was 75. It's a woman's right and if that's what she needs to do, so be it, but the reality of it is that they're not fully aware of all the consequences involved.
People have said because of your inexperience, you're going to vote along party lines and not be independent. What do you say to that?
I think anybody who spends a lot of time with me knows how independent I am. And I have to be very frank, state Republican leadership was not necessarily in favor of a 26-year-old female being in this office. They advocated against me. I'm someone who believes in working very hard and, if the Republican Party as a whole is not doing what I think it should be doing, I will be very independent.
DESSERT: A postscript from Ernest
Burgin also plans to continue work on "her baby," the Brandon Advantage Center. At lunch, Burgin ordered only a cup of tea and paid for it herself so that she complied with state ethics rules.