Republican Mike Beltran traces his inspiration for public service back to his days as a Boy Scout, while Democrat Debbie Katt cites a 2018 visit to the state legislature visit as one of the motivating factors for her decision to run for office.
Both are seeking to win election in State House District 57. It's a sprawling district that includes Apollo Beach, Balm, Fish Hawk Ranch, Gibsonton, Riverview, Sun City Center, Wimauma, and parts of Valrico. Rep. Jake Raburn, R-Lithia, chose not to seek re-election late in the process after winning three consecutive terms from 2012-2016. Both Beltran and Sean McCoy quickly mounted primary campaigns and Beltran beat him out for the Republican nomination.
Katt ran unopposed on the Democratic side in a district where active Republican registered voters outnumber Democrats 38 percent to 31 percent. The district also includes a sizable number of non-party affiliation voters (28 percent).
Beltran, a Brooklyn, N.Y., native, likes to tout his decades-long devotion to public service. The 34-year-old grew up in a middle-class neighborhood with high crime and not enough public safety. After attending Boy Scout camp one summer, he realized he recognized the sound of the shot of a rifle because of the frequent gun fights which happened in his Brooklyn neighborhood. He understood poor public safety could be the result of bad government in a city; something had to be done to change it.
That desire led him to start working on campaigns more than 20 years ago. After earning Eagle Scout honors, Beltran went on to study international relations at the University of Pennsylvania and his lean towards service continued when he earned a juris doctorate from Harvard Law School.
Being involved in government has always been on Beltran’s radar.
“When I worked campaigns in high school, I helped register voters, handed out leaflets, made calls," Beltran said. "As I got older and I had more resources, I started donating to campaigns, hosting fund raisers, organizing events, and blogging. I (now) serve on the judicial nominating commission, and I serve on my HOA in FishHawk as a board member.”
Katt, 54, has campaign experience extends canvassing and phone banking for former President Barack Obama and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, but she's also engaged in community support, including organizing disaster relief programs, working with A Kid’s Place (a non-profit organization that provides foster care for abused children), adopting a family every Christmas, and working with extracurricular groups at her daughter’s school. She is also a member the LGBTQA Caucus and the Florida Women’s Caucus.
When Katt made a trip to the state capital, she drew inspiration to run after watching the lengthy process of legislation regarding a specific portion of an omnibus bill.
“It was never on my radar to run for office,” Katt continued. “But this was just a week after Parkland happened. It was just one thing after another, and it looked so rigid, and things were passing that didn’t make sense. That solidified it right there. I thought, I have to be in that seat.”
Katt presently works as an analytical software engineer, but she also had the opportunity to travel the world when she worked five years in the airline industry. She holds an undergraduate degree in psychology from Texas A&M University and masters in mathematics from North Carolina State University.
For 25 years, Katt’s problem-solving professional expertise in engineering has allowed her to integrate different components and deliver creative results for all types of industries and environments– in the office and at home.
“Everyday I am analyzing data and fitting a square peg into a round hole. But, one thing that has truly helped me during this whole campaign since March is that I work full time," Katt said. "I’ve been working a full-time job while campaigning, and I’m a mom and a wife. I feel like juggling all these things has really prepared me for this position."
As far as her stance on politics, Katt considers herself a centrist.
“I grew up in Texas, so I grew up in a conservative environment, so I get it that there are two sides. There’s more than one way to solve a problem – I consider all sides and I listen to everybody in my district. But, I am on the democratic ticket,” Katt said.
The first thing she wants to do if elected is lobby leaders for and additional $67 million that was stripped from last year's bill aimed at bolstering school safety.
Beltran describes himself as a fiscal and social conservative Republican, and cites his experience as a lawyer as a prime asset. He embraces traditional GOP values such as reducing government and improving transparency and accountability. His priority if elected is to obtain state funding to alleviate traffic congestion in South County.
Both Beltran and Katt cite clean water and protecting the environment as priorities, but they disagree on Medicaid expansion. Katt favors it, Beltran opposes it unless the system is significantly reformed. They're also divided on gun restrictions. Beltran doesn't support added restrictions, while Katt supports a range of changes.
Contact Lily Morford at [email protected]