When Fentrice Driskell last November walked into the House of Representatives chamber for the first time as an elected official, it was a full-circle moment.
Nearly 20 years before, high school junior Driskell walked through those same doors as a participant of Florida Girls State, a citizen leadership program. By the end of the weeklong workshop, Driskell’s peers had elected her governor.
“It was like a dream come true,” she said of her return to the Florida Legislature’s lower house. “It felt like coming home. It felt real good.”
The lessons learned at Girls State may be a good foundation for the new leader of District 63, where the Democrat knocked off Republican incumbent Shawn Harrison in last fall’s general election.
Harrison had held the seat – which includes New Tampa, Carrollwood, Lutz and the University of South Florida – since 2014. It’s a hyper-competitive seat because of the equal split between Democrats and Republicans.
“(Girls State) taught me to work with others and build coalitions for your goals,” she said. “I’ve been pleased that there are others on the same level.”
The political newcomer ran on a platform supporting a ban on assault weapons and funding drug treatment and job training services to help get minor, nonviolent offenders out of the prison pipeline.
The Harvard and Georgetown graduate said her first session in the House – which begins March 5 – will focus on “ways to be an advocate for Florida families.”
That includes easing the struggles of caregivers of the elderly and disabled, she said.
Other priorities include public education, specifically teacher salaries and policies that help improve efforts in teacher recruitment.
“A critical component to (teacher recruitment) is teacher pay,” she said. “We want to make sure these salaries are competitive enough.”
Driskell, a shareholder at the law firm Carlton Fields, was named to the Judiciary Committee and the Energy and Utilities, Insurance and Banking, and Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittees.
Driskell has filed two bills and co-sponsoring another, including one requiring homeowners to be notified in mortgage foreclosure actions, according to the House website.
The Lakeland native said her constituents can expect her to keep a constant presence in the district attending events, hosting job fairs, and townhalls.
The goal is to be the helpful link to Tallahassee that voters elected her to be, Driskell said.
“Once you are sworn in and step up to take the oath, this…becomes real and comes alive in ways you can’t imagine during the campaign process,” she said. “People are looking to you to be a problem solver.”