Jennifer Webb Transcript

Jennifer Webb 

Hi, Tyler. I was reading your poetry this morning. Oh.

Gramel 

Now he will follow you anywhere.

Jennifer Webb 

So, we have two bookcases full of poetry. We like books, we build libraries wherever we live. So probably poetry and southern what are our biggest two.

Tyler

I think I see Confederacy of Dunces.

Gramel 

Yeah. There’s just room for a bed in there. Even my bug man that said, Margie, you need to get rid of some of these bugs. And I said, bite your time.

Jennifer Webb 

Even though we keep giving books away, we’ve there’s certain books that you want to hold on to, you know.

Gramel

I kind of live to read.

Jennifer Webb 

Well, okay, so what are you reading right now? Since you live to read now I need to know what.

Gramel 

Right now, I’m reading Hillary and Chelsea Clinton. And I’m reading Rodham by Curtis somebody.

Jennifer Webb 

Oh, I heard about this on NPR. Yeah, in the morning. Yeah, I’m gonna write this down.

Tyler

So part of our podcast is we read books by Florida writers. And then we interview them. So one of the writers that we read her name is Susanna Daniel, and her really good friend is Curtis. And so she sent us that book Rodham.

Gramel 

She knew I was reading a book about the Clintons.

Jennifer Webb 

So you’re onto something, create a podcast about books, people in Florida writers and people will send you what you love most, which is books.

Tyler

So we have a few questions for you. So our podcast is about Florida. So can you tell us a little bit about your life in Florida?

Jennifer Webb 

Sure. So I got recruited to the University of South Florida. I’m an anthropologist by training. And during the recession, and the early or mid 2000s, I guess, early 2000s, I was doing workforce and economic development up in Massachusetts. And I knew that I wanted to go back to school in that. And I wanted to be an anthropologist and use kind of the best of our thinking paired with really the best of our action to help create change. And so I was looking for graduate schools. USF had the top public anthropology department in the country at the time, and they flew me down here and I looked at the campus and fell in love with the, with the department. Well, some friends of ours from Provincetown, we were living in Massachusetts at the time, and two of our friends from Provincetown said Oh, all the girls live in Gulfport.

Tyler

Yes, good. You already knew you are all the girls.

Jennifer Webb 

We all have houses during the offseason of the cape. So why don’t you come on down? Like just check it out. You’ll love it. And so we did we rented a car and drove across the bay, but it seems like an eternity away. And I was really nervous about going to grad school. And I also had was going to help start a new office there the Office of Community Engagement and partnerships, and so I didn’t know what everything was going to entail. And so I lived in lutes we lived in loops for the first months which is right like bike camp, but like the closest part to campus, did not really love Tampa did not really love lutes basically at the end of my first semester, I was like it’s worth it. I know what I’ve gotten into now. So we packed up everything.

We got this amazing little apartment. So you know, Beach Boulevard in Gulfport near the Peninsula Inn is right across the street. It was where we first lived. It was magical. It’s bright green building with purple doors and a magical little garden on the side. All of the restaurants would deliver to our apartment, like from the strip. It was closer for me to go next door to get coffee at the time than it was for me to walk back to my kitchen. And it was just exactly what we need it like we needed a lot of community because graduate school is so isolating. And it’s so kind of, you know, you’re so focused on your own work and what you’re doing and so we basically Situated that my doing that within the middle of this small town where people just love to connect, and it worked out really well. And I loved it. And I just fell in love with Florida. And so I spent a lot of time since I’ve moved here.

Well, the first seven years after I graduated from grad school, I stated USF I think they say USF stands for you stay for life. Or you stay forever. Oh. And, and I, you know, stayed there and got their department up. I was the Director of Community Partnerships for the Office of Community Engagement and partnerships. And so I would pull together faculty, grad students, upper level undergraduate students, and community partners to like, solve issues. So only when I first moved to Florida, the look, the area around USF had the same infant mortality rate as BangladeshOne of the first projects that on the university really, that we poured our resources into partnering with the community to raise the decrease the number of babies who are dying in infancy. I mean, that’s unbelievable to me, right around Moffitt, USF med school, I mean, there’s so much medical expertise or nursing school in that area.

We did projects to understand why different channels are filling up with sand over in Pinellas County, how to attract the tech industry to Florida like what supporting an industry looks like what kind of educational institutions we need. And so I helped put together Oh, how to decrease hunger and food insecurity and kids throughout the Tampa Bay area. So I helped pull together those partnerships. And USF won an award for the most engaged campus. And I decided I had run for office once and decided I knew that the next time I ran, I wasn’t going to be able to stay at USF because my job was really couldn’t be segmented down into a part time job. And so I started my own firm and went into the private sector kind of doing the same thing that I was at USF but just instead of connecting University people, I would be the researcher on the project. And I yeah, it was a lot of fun. And I did that and I and so that’s what on the public is I have a firm and my, my partner Cesar Hernandez, he pretty much holds the he holds it holds the reins for the most part, because I’m kind of I love governing so much and helping people and like helping to problem solve, and especially right now with the COVID-19 crisis.

I mean, I spend all my time helping people get their unemployment and fighting for people and connecting them to resources so they can get food. Yeah, but you know, I’ve even though I didn’t move here until 11 years ago for graduate school. My whole childhood I spent, I mean, I’m from Louisiana, and so Oh, yeah, originally, so like the Gulf self is my home. And that’s why I love I was reading like there’s some of your Gator poems.

Tyler

What part of Louisiana?

Jennifer

Baton Rouge. My spouse is actually from New Orleans. Cynthia is from New Orleans. Awesome. Yeah, she went to high school there. And my entire all of my best memories are on the beaches in Florida. The last picture I have of me and my dad, um, a week before he died, was on the beaches him like holding me in the surf on the beaches and in the panhandle. Yeah. Oh, wow. I know. So, it’s a special place. And when we moved here, I had a feeling that we were going to stay. Yeah, yeah. And I just I love Gulfport, I love the people.

Tyler

That’s really interesting when you were saying that you were connected to the community because Gulfport is kind of a gem that you kind of, not everybody really is turned on to so it’s cool that you got plugged in there. And what else have you kind of found about those community networks and making them in Florida compared to maybe other places you’ve lived?

Jennifer Webb 

Massachusetts was the hardest place I’ve ever lived. I mean, I even did a slightest study abroad and France and it was more similar culturally to Louisiana that Massachusetts was because people are very, like you have to show up a place forever before people tell you Hello. Absolutely not this out there. But here there’s enough of like, even if people have moved here from them Last for from, you know, Massachusetts or New York, the cultural expectation is that of community. And so people kind of do what’s expected of them even if it’s not what they’re accustomed to from based on where they moved, you know. And so even though there’s this like, interesting, melting pot here and mixing of different people from different backgrounds, it’s like, the sense of community, people love where they live.

My district has 12 different cities in it. I have more cities than anyone else. I go all the way up to Seminole and North Redington beach and all the way over my district goes all the way over to Kennedy. Pinellas Park. So it’s huge. I mean, it’s just sprawling, and it’s really cool because people like pick where they live. They don’t pick like a neighborhood necessarily. They pick a city, you know, like people who live in Gulfport love that. We love that we live in Gulfport. Yeah, even and we want to keep both port weird and we can appreciate that Kenwood is equally quirky and weird, but we don’t want to live in safety. We want to live in Gulfport and it’s like people who live in Treasure Island love that they live in Treasure Island, even though hard like I it’s right across the short Bridge Jump to Madeira beach, they don’t want to, like they chose Treasure Island. That’s where they love to live. And I think that’s super unique. And in each and because of that in each little city. There’s their own network. S

o we got pulled in by the lesbian connection from a from province town. Apparently, back in the 70s they were going to set up Gulfport as an intentional lesbian separatists community isn’t that wild? And there was also one in Arkansas. And like in this like very, I don’t know, I guess it’s like the remnant of like what was happening of their attempts in like the 90s to set up like to have safe places for, for lesbians to gather that artists started coming here. And then in turn, you know, Cynthia and I ended up in Gulfport.

Gramel 

When Tyler started this podcast, we traveled to different library. Then we went all the way down to Gulfport.

Jennifer Webb

I love our library. When we first moved to Gulfport, I immediately packed up and moved to Costa Rica to do research, and left Cynthia my spouse and Gulf War. And then when I came back, I was writing up my research. And instead of driving all the way to Tampa to the library, I would just go to go forth library, and I made my first friend and go for this little 10 year old Ariana, who’s now 21. And so like, every day, she would expect me because I would I would show up every day. And so she started to expect me. And like the second day, or third day that we found ourselves chatting a little bit and writing and she was reading I was like, Where are your parents? Can I meet them? Because I mean, I didn’t want to be like the weird adult who has like a 10 year old friend brought me to like, Oh, my dad works at the automotive repair store, right across God. And, and so I went and met him.

Tyler

I think maybe a year or two ago, they had a pride month open mic and it was the best open mic that I’ve been to in a long time.

Jennifer Webb 

Yes, yeah, we are so fortunate. So we won a national award for our LGBTQ section of our library and for the work that our library has done in community programming. It’s the only small library in Florida that has a dedicated area for a public library that has a dedicated area for LGBTQ subject matter authors. Also we have a Russian section.

We have a really huge Russian section and we have a lot of people from former Soviet satellite nations who like settled in this area to introduce and talk about fun stories to tell. But actually Goldie is one of the people who he and his sister have lived in Gulfport for many years and they’re originally they’re not from Russia, but they’re from one of the Turkish down are Catholics Donner Goldie is now 91st moved down and he was at into our apartment our refrigerator broke. He is the one who carried the refrigerator a full-sized refrigerator off Like for stairs and put it into place for us, like he’s the person that my landlady like called to help out. He would every day from Gulfport to Tierra Verde across the Boca Ciega Bay. Grab a knife to his thigh so that he came, he came into contact with a shark, he could flash them and then tethered a little inflatable blow up ball to his ankle so that voters would be able to see him. And he did that he swam that every morning for I mean, he probably still does

Gramel 

Sounds like a character and a half.

Jennifer Webb 

The other thing why I knew that we were going to stay in golf for it is we have we bought we always adopt dogs. And um, I was walking our dog basil down the street when we first moved to go for it. And it was like 10 o’clock when all the storefronts are opening and the shopkeepers are like opening their doors. And there was a guy in front of me and you could tell that he had probably substance use and maybe like mental health issues going on. He was scraggly, he normally was in the same dirty shirt, and have like a scraggly beard and you know, just kind of sunburn always. But he had changed the shirt this morning. And when I was walking maybe like, I don’t know half a story behind like 10 yards behind them. And every time he would pass in front of a new shopkeeper people were like, they would say like, You’re looking good this morning. Oh, I can see changed your shirt. Good job, way to go feels good to look all nice and, and put together. Right? And they were so lovingly encouraging that this individual who like like, there was no shame. It wasn’t like oh, about time you changed your clothes. Like it was all like meeting people where they were and encouraging them just to be their best selves, their best version of whoever they were, you know, and it was so precious. Yeah, it was it was so precious. And I thought this is where I live. I love that. I love it. I mean it because that’s really community, right? It’s demanding that everybody be the same. I mean, that’s what it looks like and homeowner associations, everyone has to have the same mailbox, the same yard, blah, blah, blah. But in real communities, it’s just meeting people where they are, and loving them and hoping that they’re their best selves. You know, it’s not letting people fall through the cracks. Like when, there’s another guy who is also, you know, all small towns have they’re in small towns, people know who they’re who the people on the margins are. And this guy was close on the margin and probably also had substance use issues and mental health issues. And he hadn’t been around for a few days and people, like, started calling. I mean, I called the police. And the police said, Listen, you were like the 10th person who called we’re looking for them, we’re not going to let them like, get hurt. We don’t know where they are. If he’s anywhere in Gulfport, like, we’ll know it and we’ll make and we’ll let people know. But that’s the kind of concern that people show for like, people just pay attention and know their neighbors. It’s, it gives me chills I love.

He was okay. Oh, good thing. I walked out the club. Yeah, he Um, well, you know, I said that he was, he was like, decided to go drinking in St. Pete beach and got into a little trouble and then made up made his way back to go for it.

Tyler

So you were talking about communities? And so since you’ve been so active in the communities, and how is the issues in your district that you are in? How has that changed since you first been here to now pre COVID? And then maybe you can talk a little bit about now during COVID?

Jennifer Webb 

Well, the short answer is, I’ll go with the short answer. I’m lucky most of the people in my district their number one concern is protecting our beaches, our waterways and our wild spaces people really aren’t the champions of the environment. Like at their core. Yeah, and that’s what brings people I think, to this area because we’re surrounded by water. I mean, I have Boca car on one side of my district and the Gulf on the other side, and I’m in people move here because they they love the beach. They love the seabirds they love the nesting turtles, they you know, I mean, they just, they love the wild spaces in Florida. Um, that has always been everyone’s number one issue. Making sure that we’re investing in education, you know, kind of the normal and workforce development doing that. Investing in mental Health and making sure that people have, you know, access to affordable health care. Those have all been kind of big issues in my district. And they still are, but in different ways.

So now it’s how do we put people to work, protecting our environment by building up our infrastructure, you know, like, so that people can have a spotlight can learn a skill set can make a living wage, and can also help protect our environment. So how can the state and vector moves programs moving forward, making sure that we’re giving people the opportunity to retool their their skill set, a lot of people are in the service industry. And not everybody who is in the service industry, like wanted to go and stay in the service industry, some people thought this will be like a stopover on the way to something else. And for those people, making sure that they have access to training, we have a ton of like manufacturing jobs in Florida, even before COVID they were going to, they were struggling to find a workforce. And so I had been pushing to make sure that we were connecting people to like apprenticeship programs and these apprenticeship programs, you get paid while you do it. You get money into your 401k you get health insurance, some of them are unionized. I mean, they’re good. We have some good jobs that are in desperate need of workers right now. All of our building trades, they’re all of the people in the building trades. They’re phasing out, we’re gonna have a dearth of people who can go and work projects already. construction projects are get delayed because they don’t have enough workers. And those are jobs that you can do during COVID. But is there outside, you’re essentially just does your math, all of that stuff. And, and it’s hard work. But it’s also ironworkers, you can make six figures.

Gramel 

I heard several years ago, where certain, like carpenters and things like that were becoming very scarce in the construction business.

Jennifer Webb 

That’s exactly right.

Gramel 

Yeah.

Jennifer Webb 

That’s what I’m talking about. And so the and so now I’m encouraging people to use this time. Um, I don’t know about you, maybe, um, three weeks ago, I got tired of hearing myself say to myself, Oh, well, if this was before COVID, I would be fill in the blank. I mean, I just, I was tired of depressing myself. And like, and sewing disappointment, and so I thought, you know, what, I’m gonna figure out how to use this time to its highest and best purpose, you know, like, what can I best? Do in my house? So like, I built these, this bookshelf, right?

Tyler

Oh, nice.

Jennifer Webb 

Yeah, thank you. I know, I put more floors down to like doing things like that to help. Um, to, that I wouldn’t normally have time to do

Gramel 

When I get up every morning, I try to remember and I do, I’ve been doing it a couple years now, to write down five things I’m grateful for. So I start the day, you know, in a good in a good mood. And that does help. And when the when the COVID started, and there was so many things, we have no control over anymore. And I said, Alright, I’m gonna have control over being organized, which actually only means putting on a bra in the morning. Yeah. So I think we ought to always realize the things that are things we can control, and the things that are good in our lives.

Jennifer Webb 

Yeah, and I’m in control of my mood, and whether I choose to be grateful or dissatisfied, and that and I love that I do the same thing in the morning. Um, I started that, probably 10 years ago, I was like, I would get overwhelmed in the morning because as soon as I woke up, my dog would be begging to go outside, they would be meowing at my face, the bird would be like, feed me, my spouse would be sleeping, and I had to like do everything. So I just like, get really, I would just get in a kind of a foul mood. And I thought this is so silly. These are all things. I welcomed all of these little creatures into my life and I love them. And this is like, what putting love out in their life looks like it’s walking the dog. It’s feeding the cat, you know, all of those things. So I would in the morning, as soon as I woke up, I would stay perfectly still and just say a little gratitude prayer and, you know, and thank God for all of the little blessings in my life. I I love that you do that too.

Gramel 

But this morning, I thank God for bananas. Cuz I have kind of fell into the discovery of bananas at night. The last thing is helping me sleep. And it works. And last night I couldn’t sleep. I said, there’s one banana out there on the dining room table, and I came in, got it. And in less than 20 minutes I was asleep.

Tyler

So, what would a day for you and your position look like? For those who may not know like, what it is that you do? What would a day look like for you?

Jennifer Webb 

Yeah, so I wake up at six in the morning, and I curate the news. So I read through the Tampa Bay Times I read through St. Petersburg sources, morning blog, where he kind of does a digest of all the news, they read through the New York Times. And I pull out things that I think are important for my constituents to know and I scheduled them throughout the day on Facebook, I share that information with people. And then I also read up on what’s going on, of course, then I have coffee with my dog, I have been a member of Intel sent me for a long time. And so I go to my meeting, I put 21 years sober. So I do that every morning, I’ll take care of. Yeah, and that has given me a lot of structure. So it’s, it’s outside, which is awesome. We are way socially distanced, I still wear a mask. And do that. Every morning, I get home at 830. And then I jump into reading my emails and making sure that I’ve gotten back to people, I try to get back to everyone, within 48 hours, I have a staff meeting with my staff. And they bring any pressing problems to me. So if somebody has been, let’s say, someone has an unemployment issue that hasn’t been resolved, and they’ve tried, and they’ve done their bit, they’ve submitted the paperwork, but it still hasn’t gotten resolved, and it’s been a week or two, then they’ll escalate it to me. And then I’ll call the Legislative Affairs Director or do or for the office that manages unemployment, and try in and say, Hey, you know, and basically try and fraud them to get it going and to get the claim moving so that people can get their mind, right, I look through all of the resources once a week that we have available in the community to make sure that I have an up to date list. So you know, right now we have the COVID cares program that will help people pay their utilities and their mortgage and their rent. And just in the criteria had been changing a little bit. So I like I do that, I will reach out to business owners who are struggling, the Brewers and bar owners have been contacting me a lot. And I’ve been, you know, connecting them to the Department of Business and Professions that regulate them secretary of the shears and so coordinated a meeting between them. So he’s coming on Monday to talk to them and to talk about what what we need to do to ensure people’s health then like, and just to play through different scenarios of when different businesses may open.

I make a lot of phone calls on behalf of constituents, right, a lot of emails I’m trying right now, to put pressure on the executive office to help small businesses so that they don’t have to pay their taxes all at once. So they can be put on a payment plan. The problem is, and this is the thing that I think people don’t really get it. Things are they’re kind of complicated. So you think, Oh, I pay my taxes to the government, to the government can control when, like they can decide whether to put me on a payment plan or not or whatever. Well, Florida sells everybody’s debt to a private company on June 1. And so instead of and they’ve already done that, they do it every year on June 1. And so it’s not just Hey, Florida government, like the kind of business now it’s asking the governor to ask a private business to work with business owners on collecting the debt, which is a harder thing to do. Same thing.

At the beginning of the crisis, we only had one place where families who were needy could go and fill out their applications for WIC which be mothers and babies can app which is food stamps can happen food stamps is one location for the entire Millis County. And so I had to figure out how to get them help and go, I needed to call and what Undersecretary and so it’s a lot like everything that’s not working. And this is I think back to your earlier question. Um, what I think people are seeing now is how our state isn’t working for Florida, like for families, and how it’s not working for normal Florida businesses. And so normally, people aren’t very interested in fixing the state, they, they think fixing the state just means making the state smaller and letting business and private industry do with private industry and business do. But during times like this, you need a state that functions like we need.

We need a government that we can count on. And we don’t have that. And it’s so apparent in every different way possible. I mean, it’s, um, we’ve got a lot of work to do. And it doesn’t mean spending necessarily a lot of money to fix it. It could mean streamlining processes, or not having so many like unemployment, there’s no reason why we need to have so many. Why do we have to have people jump through so many hoops? To expand? Like, you have to prove that you worked 80 hours a month? Or were working looking for jobs or volunteering? Well, there’s not jobs right now.

So why, you know, why would we require people to do that at this time, that’s unnecessary. And for every requirement that you have, you have a person who has to check to make sure that the requirement is done. Or you have to have a customer service representative helping people to figure out, like, why their job search requirements that they put in, like, why they still got denied, and all of that, and it’s like, No, just make it easy, you know, and you’re saving money. And we can move that money into other areas when we need it, you know, like maybe into the people who are in the Department of Business and Professions who are working with small businesses to help them reopen, like, if we had a lot of people there, who could and small businesses could could submit a reopening plan that was checked, and that there was somebody in the government actually working with them to make sure that they are maintaining the donor, the public’s health and, and keeping people healthy and safe, then we could not have just a blanket one size fits all, we could be more nuanced, you know, like, we can make policies that make sense instead of Yes, closed open, it’s like whack a mole. It’s so much. That’s what and I and I do that until about eight o’clock at night.

And I call people back I call constituents back. I do things like this, I give weekly updates. Um, you know, I, I go to a lot of virtual meetings. Um, yesterday, I had the privilege of presenting at an academic conference for a plot for people in the public health profession, because I do a lot in public health and my academic life. And, um, and so I got to present on health disparities policy and COVID-19 and how to reduce the health disparities there, which is pretty cool.

Tyler

That’s amazing. And it sounds like your background has really prepared you and for this moment in a way that maybe other folks weren’t.

Jennifer Webb 

Oh, that’s really kind. I do feel um, yeah, yeah, absolutely. Actually, that’s accurate.

Gramel 

I’d like to put your sign in my yard.

Jennifer Webb 

You know that Largo is my adopted city. And I actually have a Largo I’m picture in my office because your city commission brought it to me, and they all your mayor and your city council members visit me every time they call. So I joke and I say Largo is my adopted 13th child.

Tyler

And so this is an election year, how has the current moment changed your plans or how you’re, you know, getting out there with constituents.

Jennifer Webb 

So, um, safety first, we’re not knocking on doors. So just leaving something for people to read because what research has shown is that there’s actually minimal transmission, negligible transmission through surfaces, and we’re doing a lot of phone calling, which is challenging because even with phone banking, when you have a group of people together, they can spur each other on and encourage each other to stay and call for just 10 more minutes. Um, but Because we’re not getting together, trying to make sure that people are doing it from their homes and following through and still excited in that. And so I have, you know, we kicked off our virtual phone bank last night, we actually are going to start our first phone bank today at 11. And, and, and what we’re doing is really calling and checking on people and making sure I did this a lot at the beginning of the crisis, just me and my staff calling people asking, Are you okay? And so we’re doing it. Again, now at having those follow up wellness calls, and just a light, like, just about, you know, this is an election year. And I think that’s important. I think if it wasn’t COVID-19, I would just go into a hard pitch like, Hi, my name is Jennifer Webb, and I’m running for reelection to be your state representative. That seems really false. And this climate? I mean, it was, it seems absolutely inappropriate to start there. The conversation right now should always start with, how are you?

Gramel 

People are lonely, and people are scared.

Jennifer Webb 

Yeah. And so that’s where it needs to start. And so retraining volunteers who have worked on my campaigns in the past to, to, this isn’t the hard. Also, campaigns like, currency as excitement and like, I don’t know, it’s excitement and joy, and like, rah, rah, x not appropriate. I mean, I think genuine, genuine caring is what needs to come through, not excitement for the candidate. And so it, you know, my concern for you, is a manifestation or a reflection of representative labs concerned for you, and your well being? How are you? Can we help Just so you know, she is running for office for reelection, she was able to get a lot done as a freshman, and that’s why she wants to go back, so that she can fight for our families during recovery. You know, and that’s really the, that’s the biggest changes that in the messaging. Um, and for me, personally, I had to decide to buy during this crisis, and I’m blessed. I know, I can think of 1000 different ways to give back to my community. I don’t have a lack of imagination when it comes to how can I best be of service at the beginning of this crisis, especially because we were sidelined. And the unemployment system was working so terribly. I had a conversation with Cynthia, my spouse, is that is the legislature the best place for me to be right now? Is this the is this where I can be most useful? Or do I need to go and jump in and help out the numerous nonprofits that are doing important work, the county is picking up a ton of slack. And so I actually had those conversations first with me, with my wife, and then with the county administrator with city, people. It’s about giving back. It’s really about helping community and, and I decided that this was the best place for me to be because I mean, and that’s why it was so wonderful to hear you say, Oh, you have the right skill sets for this was I had to get my footing and figure out how to be effective in this new normal. And luckily, I have the time and ability to figure things out quickly, and to dedicate the time to figuring it out. And so I was able to do that and mobilize that knowledge for, you know, everyday Floridians. But um, it was, it was tough, because this has been really challenging to see our state fail so terribly and to be part of a government that’s just like, been really ineffective.

Tyler

Okay, I think that’s, I think that’s really refreshing to hear that you kind of reevaluated, how can I be the most effective and it seems like sometimes politicians or people in power, don’t take that kind of self-reflection, and they’re just kind of doing whatever.

Jennifer Webb 

Well, and I think that you know, politics attracts people who are ambitious. The trick is to discern, and the people who are elected to represent you or to serve you. Are they ambitious for the good of the broad public? Are they personally ambitious? My ambition has always been to, on behalf of Florida, it’s not about like, I don’t need to be a state Rep. It’s not about personal ambition, if I think somebody else can do the job just as well. And I can do something else better than I’m going to go and do that something else because at the end of the day, I want to leave Florida better than I found her. I want real families in Florida stronger, I want to make their day just a little bit easier. Each and every year that I pass legislation and our local businesses too, because it’s a misnomer that Democrats aren’t good for business, we’re actually very good for small business. And what we’ve seen there, Florida is that the majority party, the republicans have really left small businesses behind. We didn’t we only funded 1000 businesses, through the Small Business bridging Loan Program, which is our major program for providing small businesses support your increases, we totally cut the budget. And by we I take responsibility, even though I don’t have the power, because I’m in the minority party, but like VISIT FLORIDA got slashed to a $5 million budget. So they’re normally an organization that steps in for our mom and pop tours, businesses, and they weren’t able to, to offer grants, not even loans, just here’s money, we know that you are hearted.

And they couldn’t do that, because they hardly have an operating budget. Um, all the SBA programs, the weight, just selling small business owners selling that for small business owners, and the taxes to a third party. Knowing that small like our government, our Executive Office should have known that small businesses would need help. Yes. And they should have known that they should have been Yes, I’m a small business owner. I know that I mean, it’s not. But they just took their eye off the ball, they were more worried with the larger corporations and all these other things. And it’s like, there’s they absolutely should not have sold that debt in June 1, they should, or they should have said we’ll sell it to you contingent on you working out payment plans with all of our small business owners. You know, I mean, that makes sense to me. Um, and, and so now I’m getting more back into the year of, okay, I’ve identified all these problems. Once we are convened in the legislature, like, I’m going to figure out how to pass legislation to make sure that we are supporting families and small businesses. When I was feeling really ineffective at the beginning of the crisis, I was taking calls, but I also started expanding a feeding program that would actually bring food to children throughout Pinellas County whose parents didn’t have transportation, and they couldn’t get to the school lunch site that they set up. And so I started doing that. It’s like, there’s a, because it is about being helpful. And being abused. It’s not just about taking up space or ambition for personal gain.

Tyler

and that kind of leads in to my last question, thank you so much for your time, I know you’re really busy. And I just kind of also wanted to make a note that I’ve had politicians dodge me not give me any time of day, you know, reporters, historically, they’re not in love with. So we appreciate your time. And I wanted to ask, since you had a lot of things on your website, it said two thirds of your policies were passed into law. So maybe if you could speak to something that you are very proud of being able to pass and then in the future, hoping to be able to get in, get in there.

Jennifer Webb

I’m going to talk about my mental health legislation, because I’m actually after this conversation, leaving to meet my family up in the panhandle. It’s the anniversary of my sister’s birth, my sister who actually took her life A few years ago, because she got addicted to opioids. And my first term, the governor executive ordered my bill to recreate the Office of drug abuse and prevention. This is an office that is half tasked with using evidence-based research, to create programs and to roll out programs across the state to help people you know who are addicted. It’s the agency that is responsible for, you know, for reducing drug abuse and dependency across our state. And I think that’s important because you can’t say that we have a drug crisis and not have somebody who’s responsible for like the Really getting in there and figuring out how to how to help Floridians and how to reduce this crisis. And so that I was very, very powerful. I had called, the State House wouldn’t hear the bill. The committee chairs wouldn’t hear my Dell until I got word from the governor that he supported the bill, because it was creating government. And that’s not something that Republicans tend to want to do, is creating a whole new office and a whole new whole new deal.

And so I, every single day, I called the governor’s office and the governor’s people and we’re like, where are you? Have you brought this up? Have you brought this up? And finally, um, his policy, one of his policy, people called me back. And, you know, Jennifer, the government, the governor likes this bill so much that he doesn’t even want it to go through the process. He’s going to executive order, and it’s done work on your other legislation.

And it was, um, it was like, right in the nick of time, because time is what we’re up against. And we’re in Tallahassee, since we’re only there for two months. And you have to get every bills are three, three committees or two subcommittees, a committee and then to the floor on both chambers. So a lot has to happen. And those two months, and I was very proud of that. And I thought that, um, and in last session, what I worked on was reducing the number of juvenile Baker Act, because we know in Florida that we have this school like that, we we have Baker acted 7500 children in the Tampa Bay area. And just in the last few years, it’s increased by 35%. And for kids who don’t need to be Baker acted, which is putting you Baker Act, people who are a harm to themselves or others due to a mental health issue, um, for people who don’t need to be Baker acted, it can be something that traumatizes them for the rest of their lives ever, forever.

I worked with Senator Harrell, a Republican legislature from across the state to create a process that would reduce the number of Baker acts and we got the first portion of the bill passed. Unfortunately, we didn’t like we got part one of a three part bill passed. And so I want to keep working on that. That’s something that I’m looking forward to working on in the future. And then, really, for this day and time, I’m eager to take on the unemployment system, to really revamp the state and make it work better for businesses and for families. And that’s what a lot of my policy this coming year is going to be focused on. So

Tyler

That’s amazing. And I think that’s very powerful. Because I don’t think people realize how mental health in Florida we rank really low consistently on funding and stuff like that.

Jennifer Webb 

And so we’re already consistently low and this COVID, as I’m sure exacerbating a lot of people’s anxieties and depressions, absolutely nothing, violence is increase, we would assume that child abuse would increase increasing. Teachers are really worried that when they go back in the fall, they’re going to be seeing children’s homes in the background, like you’re seeing my and what they do. They’re like, I don’t I’m not trained to know what to do with that information. Right? And what I’m going to be seeing and hearing and do we have enough support, supportive services to wrap around these families who are going to need help? And I think all of that is, I mean, it’s just so important. We’re 49 or 50. Every year.

Isn’t that unconscionable?

Tyler

Yeah. It’s like people. Everyone’s like, oh, Florida. It’s such a happy place, you know, and everything like that. But then the mental health funding and it’s so low, you’re saying behind the sunshine?

Jennifer Webb 

Absolutely. Absolutely. There is some darkness behind the sunshine. And, and it’s so interesting, whenever I could go out and talk to crowds, I would be giving my stump speech and I would talk about things that you think would be really boring, like investing in infrastructure and you know, like making sure that we’re not dumping waste into our water, and people would cheer and then I would talk about and then I would talk about mental health and, and suicide and addiction and the room would go quiet. But as soon as I stopped off, it stepped off the stage and out of the limelight. That’s the only thing that people need to talk about. And every single I have not met a family who has not been impacted by Either mental health issues or by substances, I mean, either within their family or close friend circle. And I tried to pick issues when I ran in 2016. No, I did pick issues that united all of our district, a lot of them are really positive, often things like investing in early childhood education and career and technical education. But the one thing that also connects us all as is this crisis. And so this coming month, every week, I’m going to be doing Facebook Live with mental health professionals talking about how to know when you’re like, how to know when just your blues have become depression, or your anxiety, like your coping strategies are no longer helping, you know, like all of this, because I think we not all of us got into good coping strategies like making sure that we’re practicing gratitude.

I talked to people and they’re like, I started drinking. I’m have a bottle of wine at night. But I’ve been doing it every night now for four months. And I don’t think that’s good. And I’m worried about it. And like, just things like that of like how, you know, I mean, we don’t have a lot of models for how to appropriately deal with stress. People aren’t getting out of their house and exercising, which is a great way. Yes. And that’s so important for reducing stress and elevating your mood. So you know, we’re going to be talking about that. I’m going to be talking with professionals about that.

People want to be good neighbors, and they don’t want to overreact. And so how do you know what to do. And then the third week will be adolescent health. Kids are been really negatively impacted emotionally by being home, and not being able to socialize with their friends and with the uncertainty with schools. And then finally, health, mental health for parents and caregivers, during school.

Tyler

And I think that’s so amazing. I mean, to like being open about your recovery. Like, for me, as well, like, I’ve been in recovery for nine years. And people at my readings, they want to talk about it with me, either recovery or alligators.

Jennifer Webb

That’s exactly what I wanted to talk to

Tyler

Thank you so much for your time. Is there anything that we didn’t we talked about a lot, but is there anything else that you wanted to touch on that you think people might should know?

Jennifer Webb 

Oh, so I, right now I’m ending everything with, if you need help, give my office a call. It doesn’t just have to be with unemployment insurance. We have tons of resources, we update them all the time. We will maintain anonymity will give you the resources so you don’t even have to give us your information. But give me a call my personal cell phone is 727-320-6275.My email address is Jennifer je and n i s er dot web, w e B as in boy B as in boy at my Florida house.gov. And reach out to me there, we’ll get you connected. I know that the times are tough right now. But I know that we have amazing community to bring it back to the beginning of the conversation. What I love most about Florida outside of the wild state, almost as much as the wild spaces is the community and how people stick together and they really come through for one another. And so consider me somebody that will help come through for you.

Gramel 

You are a real eye opener. That’s great. I have a I have a love hate relationship with politics, though. You made me love it more today.

Jennifer Webb 

Oh, thank you. Thank you so much. Thank you for spending the morning with me.

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