Where there’s a will, there’s a way. And when there’s a need, there’s Beverly Ledbetter.
The retired educator has made Dade City her home since the days of Richard Nixon, inspiring thousands of students at Pasco Junior High School and later Pasco High School for more than three decades. Along the way, Ledbetter found herself in the most unexpected jobs, whether it be coaching the school’s soccer team, or helping educators through her work with the teachers’ union.
It was always impossible for Ledbetter to turn down a calling when she was needed, and that’s what attracted her to Will Weatherford’s state House seat — one that has her heading into a November contest against former Zephyrhills mayor Danny Burgess.
“There are a lot of things I see with our lawmakers that are very frustrating,” she said. “I’m particularly concerned with the lack of respect in Tallahassee.”
The polarizing political atmosphere that has practically crippled Washington has crept to the state level, making it impossible for someone to work with anyone they disagree with. That means Democrats — and a good chunk of the state’s population they represent — are being marginalized, with no one willing to break through and find ways to come together.
“One of the things that you learn as a teacher is to look at both sides of the issue,” Ledbetter said. “There are Republicans who have good ideas, just as there are Democrats who have good ideas, and they should be acknowledged.”
Ledbetter has always considered herself politically minded, and has made a number of trips to Tallahassee over the years lobbying for education. Her husband, Michael Ledbetter, was a Pasco County commissioner in the late 1970s, and the two actually met during a Young Democrats meeting at the University of South Florida several years before that.
Ledbetter actually considered running for school board, but realized quickly that she can make a greater impact overall by helping to set policy at the state level.
Many observers believe the advantage in the House race belongs to Burgess, a Dade City lawyer who was Zephyrhills’ youngest mayor. It’s a heavily Republican district already, and Burgess has strong name recognition — especially in eastern Pasco County.
Ledbetter, however, is hardly a stranger to voters. As a teacher and a coach, she has directly touched the lives of many in the area, which could help her draw votes from beyond Democrats. In fact, many of the people who signed her petitions to get on the ballot were Republicans, she said.
Raising money is going to be tough, however.
“My friends are teachers, many of them who haven’t had raises in a long time,” Ledbetter said. “When I get that check from a fellow teacher, and it’s usually around $25, it gives me a warm feeling. But I also know it’s an investment that makes me feel determined to go out and work my butt off, and prove that their trust in me is well-placed.”
Education is one of Ledbetter’s top priorities, but it’s not the only one she wants to tackle in Tallahassee. She also is pushing to expand Medicare coverage in the state to help get more residents health care through the federal Affordable Care Act. Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican who opposes the federal health care program unofficially known as Obamacare, has refused to expand Medicare, citing a concern that the cost to do that will fall back on Florida taxpayers.
“How can you look a parent in the eye and tell them their family can’t have medical attention?” Ledbetter said. “I taught kids who had teeth rotting out, and kids who needed glasses. Luckily, in Dade City, we have some very generous doctors and dentists who were willing to step up and help, but not everywhere is like Dade City.”
Ledbetter also wants to spur economic growth not by giving companies large amounts of money and tax breaks to locate here, but to help train the workforce so they can attract higher-wage jobs to the state.
“Small businesses are the backbone of our economy,” she said. “When you can give them a leg up, and give them the support they need, they will create the jobs.”
Ledbetter is a lifelong Democrat, but says she would prefer to label herself a “practical realist.” That means acknowledging her November election is a tough one to win, but also knows that when it comes to voters, they can sometimes do the unexpected.
“It’s going to be difficult, I know that,” she said. “But I believe in standing up for people who can’t necessarily do it for themselves, whether it’s the elderly, children, or simply people who need health insurance. That’s why I’m a Democrat.”
Democrat for House District 38
Lead faculty, Saint Leo University
Retired teacher, Pasco County Schools
Michael Ledbetter, husband
Nathan Ledbetter, son
Courtney Williams, daughter
Dade City, since 1973
Fundraising, through July 4
Published July 30, 2014
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