The campaigns for a special election ballot to fill the seat of Florida State representative for district 58 are in full swing, including candidate and recent USF alumnus Ahmad Saadaldin (I).
Saadaldin is not the only person vying for the seat. He is one of five candidates, including Republican candidates Yvonne Fry and Lawrence McClure — who will have to compete in a primary election on Oct. 10, Democrat Jose N. Vazques and Libertarian Bryan Zemina.
The contenders shared their viewpoints on a number of issues ranging from charter school implementation to economic stabilities of the cities that fall within the borders of District 58 on Tuesday night at the Temple Terrace Golf and Country Club.
What is perhaps most notable about the election is that there are two candidates outside of the traditional two-party system.
“To those who wish to stay within the two party system, I would just ask them this question, ‘What makes you think that doing things the old way will bring the change that you seek?’ There is plenty of evidence over the last few decades proving to us that the 2 party system doesn’t work,” Saadaldin said. “It’s undemocratic.”
Of the citizens included in District 58 – Temple Terrace, Plant City, East Orient, Thonotosassa, Seffner, Mango and Dove – nearly 75 percent are over the age of 18 and are eligible to vote, according to ballotpedia.com.
However, encouraging the youth to become active voters has been a long time systemic issue. The issues with young voters are not only getting them to the ballot box, but getting students that are from a different district to update their registration to the district in which they currently occupy is a problem as well, according to Saadaldin.
“If you live in an address that falls within my district, you can just use your smart phone and Google Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections and figure out if you’re in my district,” Saadaldin said. “It takes a couple seconds to change your voter registration.”
Adam Bakst, a sophomore majoring in mass communications, attended the town hall style debate. Bakst has remained an undecided voter. However, hearing the message of Saadaldin and his fellow candidates helped to provide more insight into who each of them are and what they stand for.
“I was really happy to see a candidate who seemed more interested in the issues that concern me and my peers and it was nice seeing someone new and not as well polished,” Bakst said. “I think he (Saadaldin) is qualified. I feel like a 27 year old wouldn’t just do it for fun, he seemed to really care about each stance he was questioned on.”
Though Saadaldin may not have any prior experience in government, he was active in campus politics during his time as a USF student.
“Engaging with student government on campus was a transformative experience for me,” Saadaldin said. “I never ran to be a senator but I petitioned and, of course, we called for referendums and stuff like that. That experience on that little tiny campus is helping me translate those skills and those experiences onto a larger district office.”
Saadaldin said his age is something that will help him in office as a representative of a community with a high volume of university students, however his age does not mean that he has the same mindset as every other millennial in District 58.
“Just being young doesn’t mean I understand every single young person,” Saadaldin said. “Our young people are just as diverse politically in terms of their opinions as our elders are or as our seniors are. I feel like I can bridge the gap between what the youth want and what the youth culture is like what our elders and what the majority of our voting population.”
Saadaldin’s overall message to students was about his transition from USF pupil to candidate for a state representative.
“Get active, spend your time in frats and sororities, and clubs, and have a good time,” Saadaldin said. “Meet people, network, but spend time in activism and organizing. Join Student Government if you have to. Do whatever you need to get involved as you get yourselves. When you graduate, you’re going to change the world. I can’t do it alone. There are many people smarter than me, better than me, stronger than me, they need to be out there.”