Sending thanks to Carlos Medina of the Ocala Star-Banner for the story.

Veteran Republican state legislator Dennis Baxley, the current incumbent in District 12 of the Florida Senate, drew a general election opponent who is making his political debut and said he was spurred into running by the 2016 elections.

Gary McKechnie, a writer from Mount Dora, will challenge Baxley on Nov. 6 for the seat that covers south Marion, north Lake and all of Sumter County.

McKechnie said he never took politics too seriously.

“Then 2016 happened and I thought, this isn’t funny anymore,” he said.

Though not mentioning Donald Trump by name, his impetus to run was fueled by the Republican’s presidential victory.

While declaring a Democratic pedigree, McKechnie promises to represent all constituents in the district.

“If I win the public’s trust and I am given this honor, I am also representing Republicans, I am also representing independents,” he said.

He said he will push for an increase in the state’s minimum wage, though he won’t tie himself to the popular call for a $15 minimum wage.

“I don’t know what that number is. It could be $14.50 or $16.01,” he said.

McKechnie said the government is subsidizing businesses when the working poor need food stamps and other social programs to make ends meet. The higher minimum wage, he argues, will take the burden off the taxpayer. Those against the idea argue true minimum wage jobs are typically for those just entering or reentering the workforce and are not intended as long-term employment.

McKechnie also supports more spending on education including pre-kindergarten programs and increased government oversight over senior services including nursing homes.

He argues for equity for all, regardless of race or social standing, and calls for spending on social services to level the playing field.

“People like Dennis Baxley and myself were given a leg up just by the color of our skin. Then we both worked really hard and accomplished something. But if I started out on the other side of the tracks in a broken home I would not have had the chance,” he said.

Baxley is seeking his second term and first four-year term. First elected to the state Senate in 2016, he ran unopposed in the general election, though he beat out two Republican challengers in the primary that year. Baxley previously served in the state House of Representatives from 2000-2007 and 2010-2016.

If re-elected he hopes to hold the course.

“We have had some excellent success in terms of this district seeing a dramatic drop in unemployment. We are a fiscally solid state, both in job growth and operations,” Baxley said. “We are on a good track for providing opportunity to Florida families. We also have addressed the environmental concerns of our state. We spend millions of dollars on water quality conservation and I think we need to stay on track. This district is very much center/right and does not need to take a big left turn right now.”

Baxley said he will continue to support environmental protection for water with an emphasis on restoring Silver Springs. He supports opening the park not only to swimming but to other uses. He’d support a partnership between the state, county and private business to make the park an ecotourism destination.

“Between the three, we can balance protecting our water and at the same time we make that a destination again. Right now, the focus I think is too passive,” he said.

He will also push for more collaboration between surrounding northern counties in the district to develop a regional identity.

“From I-4 north to the state line, we need to take hold of our own destinies,” Baxley said. “We’ve got some highways that need to be improved and expanded to make sure we’re ready for the future.”

More funding for community colleges is also on his agenda as is the continued support of veteran nursing home in Marion County. This year, the legislature approved $500,000 for initial engineering and design of the facility, which still needs approval from the federal government.

Keasha “Kay” Gray is running as a write-in candidate. She hopes to become the first ever write-in candidate to win election to state office. The Ocala resident rejects both establishment Republican and Democratic politicians and is running on “people” issues.

As of Sept. 28, Baxley raised more than $268,000 and reported spending more than $155,000, according to campaign finance reports from the Florida Department of State.

McKechnie raised almost $50,000 and reported more than $22,000 in spending for the same time period, DOS reports state.

Gray raised $100 from herself and spent $15, according to reports.

Contact Carlos Medina at 867-4157 or cmedina@starbanner.com

2018 General Election

About The Job

The Florida state Senate includes 40 members. The Senate, along with the state House of Representatives, amends and creates laws for the state. District 12 covers portions of Marion and Lake and all of Sumter counties and includes about 473,000 residents. The Legislature meets in Tallahassee once every year for a regular 60-day session. The salary for the office is $29,697 per year.

The Race

Incumbent Dennis Baxley will face Gary McKechnie on Nov. 6 in the general election. Keasha “Kay” Gray is running as a write-in candidate.

About The Candidates

Dennis Baxley
Age: 66
Party: Republican
Education: Associate’s degree, funeral services, Miami-Dade College; bachelor’s degree, psychology and sociology, Florida State University; attended College of Central Florida
Experience: Incumbent senator representing District 12. Served in the Florida House of Representatives, 2000-2007 and 2010-2016
Family: Married with four sons and a daughter.
Learn more: dennisbaxley.com

Keasha “Kay” Gray
Age: NA
Party: Write-in candidate
Education: Montgomery County Community College; Temple University, Elementary Education
Experience: President and CEO TBNB Inc., Municipal Arts Commission 2016-present
Family: NA
Learn more: 4kgray.com

Gary McKechnie
Age: 56
Education: Associate’s degree, Valencia College; bachelor’s degree, radio and TV broadcast communications, University of Central Florida
Experience: Freelance writer, author.
Family: Married, no children.
Learn more: gary2018.com