USF student runs for seat in Florida House District 56

After months of campaigning, junior political science major Jayden Cocuzza reflected upon his political journey prior to the Florida primary elections on Aug. 23. COURTESY OF JAYDEN COCUZZA

Motivated to fight for direct representation and transparency in politics, junior political science major Jayden Cocuzza knew he wanted to make his dream to run for the Florida House of Representatives a reality this election season.

Over the course of his last year of middle school, Cocuzza often found himself engaging in classroom discussions on contemporary politics and the value of citizenship. Despite only being 14 at the time, his teacher referred him to work for the campaign of Congressman Gus Bilirakis, which he said served as a source of inspiration for his political aspirations.

“When I think of one of my biggest inspirations when I was younger, Congressman Bilirakis immediately comes to mind. At the time, his willingness to take a young person in, show him the ropes and be almost a mentor to me was very kind,” he said.

“Given that most of his volunteers were college students and I was just some middle schooler interested in politics, he really didn’t have to do anything like that.”

Cocuzza’s experience campaigning for Bilirakis is something he said gave him the experience necessary to run for political office. Despite only being 20, he is now one of three Republican candidates vying for a seat in House District 56, a portion of Pasco County including the cities of Seven Springs, Holiday and New Port Richey.

Prior to running for office, Cocuzza worked his way to West Pasco field director on the Bilirakis campaign team and later went on to serve as a volunteer for former President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign. He also became a member of the Pasco Sheriff Explorer Program, where he had the opportunity to volunteer at various police-associated events and learn directly from sheriff deputies in his community.

His involvement as vice chair of the Young Americans for Liberty, a Republican organization at USF, has also allowed Cocuzza to connect with and gain support from fellow Republican students on campus.

For campaign manager David Wallace, Cocuzza’s natural ability to build genuine connections with those around him, whether at school or within his community, stems from his passion for service and civic engagement.

“Being as young as he is, Jayden has built a tremendous amount of network on personal relationships,” Wallace said. “He inspires me because not only does he find a subject matter expert when issues arise, but he’s very inquisitive until he gets fundamental knowledge of how to properly address the public when questions are brought up.

“He’s worked with almost every campaign that’s running for school board, county commissioner, state, senate and congress, so he has always helped in one way or another. He has never failed to help other campaigns while building his own and is a natural coalition builder, which is what we need.”

Despite being significantly younger than his two opponents — retired law enforcement officer Scott Moore and general manager of a vehicle auctions company Brad Yeager — Cocuzza said he is hopeful his Christian, Constitutional Republican platform can be appreciated for its appeal to the interests of the general public.

His platform consists of a series of initiatives intended to facilitate community growth and promote stronger legal protections against political corruption. His biggest objective, career-focused education, advocates for the removal of advanced placement and common core programs and implementation of trade and vocational programs in Florida high schools.

Enforcing stronger protections for the Second Amendment has also been a well-received campaigning point throughout communities in District 56, according to Cocuzza. Reflecting upon legal precedent he would like to challenge if elected to office, he said the passage of gun control legislation following the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School represents a dangerous intrusion of government authority into personal freedom.

“I’m admittedly a big second amendment person and the state of Florida stole my right to a firearm back in 2018 when they passed the Stoneman Douglas Act. I just don’t believe that politicians have the right to just take away a right,” he said.

“Ultimately, this is up to the people and a referendum should be needed to make a decision like that because once you start seeing politicians tamper with the Bill of Rights, who knows how far they’ll take it.”

While he has encountered doubts over his ability to serve the public due to his age, Cocuzza said he believes youth can be appealing to voters given the role of younger generations in shaping future politics. In order to create change, he said it is essential for young people, especially college students, to become more engaged in performing their civic duties.

“I would say the future of this nation depends on the next generation stepping up and doing something about it, whether you want to put your own values or come to the table. The next generation is really what makes up the future of this country,” he said.

“If you’re not going to get involved with politics and volunteering or running for office yourself, you have to make sure to vote. Every year, every election, you should be voting, because the people that get in there will affect your life and you want to make sure to get the right people there.”