LIVE OAK, Fla. — Jason Shoaf never imagined getting into politics.
The Port St. Joe native just wanted to help improve the economy in his hometown.
Now, though, he wants to bring economic development and vocational training across North Florida. It’s why he is running for the Florida House of Representatives seat for District 7, vacated by Halsey Beshears, who was appointed by Governor Ron DeSantis to serve as the head of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation last month. Shoaf, a Republican, is running against fellow Republicans Ralph Thomas Jr., of Crawfordville, and Mike Watkins, of Crawfordville, as well as Ryan Terrell, a Democrat from Tallahassee.
The special election for the open seat has not yet been declared by DeSantis.
“I probably need my head examined,” Shoaf said about entering the political arena. “I never liked politics. I’ve never liked politicians. I’ve always complained about everything, to my family, not publicly or out loud much.”
Publicly, though, Shoaf instead went to work. He joined the port authority in Port St. Joe in an effort to help bring in economic opportunities. That led to a spot on the Triumph Gulf Coast Board, which has the purpose of economic development for the communities along the coast of the Florida panhandle.
So Shoaf was able to continue on that mission of trying to spur job growth as well as really getting his first taste of politics.
He also continued to find a passion for providing what he believes is the necessary tools for the rural communities that encompass District 7 to find that economic growth: vocational training and technological infrastructure upgrades, especially high-speed internet.
In both his time with the port authority as well as the Triumph Gulf Coast Board, Shoaf said he learned what businesses and site selectors really need before committing to relocate.
“These companies wouldn’t come unless we had the workforce pipeline, the infrastructure in place,” Shoaf said. “It’s what I like to call the education infrastructure. We just done have.”
That infrastructure to Shoaf is robust vocational options for high school students. In addition to providing options for those students who desire to pursue college degrees, Shoaf wants to provide the funding for every school district within District 7 to construct a new building that would house vocational training.
“I’ve come to believe that this is what we have to do,” Shoaf said, adding the buildings would need to be constructed in a way that would allow them to be quickly converted to different types of training depending on the needs of that community. “And that’s my No. 1 priority.”
Shoaf said it has already worked in Gulf County where the schools began to offer drone certification and it led to drone manufacturing company moving into the area.
It’s a plan he is convinced will work in Lafayette County and the rest of the district as well, utilizing his contacts with the site selectors to determine what businesses would work in the area and what they need from the area to relocate there.
“I approach these site selectors the same way I approach starting a small business,” said Shoaf, who is a third-generation family member in St. Joe Natural Gas Company. “Identify the problem, find a solution and then work your butt off to fix it.”
That business approach is something Shoaf said he plans to take into office, if elected, as well.
“I’m going to continue with the state of mind that in my business, if you don’t produce results, you get fired,” he said, adding his goal is for each county in the district is to have 150 new high-paying jobs before he leaves office.
“I’m going to keep score and keep a tally and make sure that every county gets something, gets some form of economic development. That’s the only way I’m going to feel like I was successful.”
But as important as economic development is and finding those new jobs, Shoaf also stressed the importance of protecting the environment. It’s something he knows well after the battle over the water in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river basin between Florida and Georgia.
Locally, there is concern over the repeated wastewater spills in Valdosta, Ga., that lead to health concerns along the Withlacoochee and Suwannee rivers as well as the numerous springs in the Suwannee River Valley as well.
It’s an issue that must be addressed he said.
“We have to do something,” Shoaf said. “We would have do something immediately. If it’s a lawsuit against them to get them to stop, then that’s the first thing we do.
“If it’s monitoring, then we need state DEP monitoring at the state line testing that water and if it dings above anything, then you hammer down on them again.”