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Young Dems step up to take on entrenched Republicans in Treasure Coast-north PBC seats

"The problem is when you are committed to voting against another party rather than for solutions, you will inevitably vote against the interests of your constituents."

-- THOMAS WITKOP on Brian Mast

 "And I’m just wondering why she hasn’t stepped up as our representative for the everyday people that she’s supposed to represent."

-- AARON HAWKINS on Gayle Harrell

Young Democrats step up
Young Democrats Steven Giordano (left), Thomas Witkop and Aaron Hawkins team up Tuesday night at a Democratic rally at the Jupiter Lighthouse. Giordano is running for St. Lucie County Sheriff, Witkop for U.S. Congressional District 21 and Hawkins for Florida Senate District 31. Andi Poli, candidate for Florida House District 84, (not pictured) also joined the other Democratic candidates challenging Republican incumbents for seats representing at least some part of the Treasure Coast.


Stuart native Aaron Hawkins announced Sunday night that he has filed as a Democratic candidate to unseat longtime Treasure Coast legislator Gayle Harrell.

Hawkins, 26, is the second Gen Z Democrat to start a campaign this spring to dislodge a Republican entrenched too long in a district that includes Martin County and at least part of St. Lucie and Palm Beach counties.

The first is Thomas Witkop, a 25-year-old from north Palm Beach County who is challenging U.S. Rep. Brian Mast for Florida Congressional District 21, which encompasses St. Lucie, Martin and north Palm Beach counties.

And those two Gen Z Dems are just half of the promising team of young(ish) candidates for the three counties that Democrats rolled out Tuesday night at what was originally billed as a Witkop rally at the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse.

Also present were Andrea "Andi" Rae Poli, who is running for the state House seat that encompasses most of St. Lucie County outside of Port St. Lucie, and Steven Giordano, who is running for St. Lucie County Sheriff. Poli, 48, filed March 14 as a Democrat to take on incumbent Republican state Rep. Dana Trabulsy in District 84. Giordano, 42, faces Democratic primary opponent Indony Pierre Jean Baptiste before he can square off with the winner of a four-way Republican primary that includes Keith Pearson, the current sheriff who was appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis last fall, to the shock and chagrin of much of the St. Lucie Republican Party.


It’s no accident that Hawkins made his surprise announcement at the Witkop rally. Hawkins, who has served as the Vice President of the Martin County Democratic Club and President of the Treasure Coast Young Democrats, recruited Witkop to run against Mast and has worked as a consultant in Witkop’s campaign.

When he couldn’t find someone else to recruit to run as a Democrat against Harrell for state Senate District 31, Hawkins decided to run himself. (Harrell also already has a Republican primary opponent.) Hawkins said Harrell’s inability, or culpability, in dealing with problems that have mounted for Florida residents during her 22 years in office since 2000 is what drove him to run.

“She’s been in Florida politics representing our area for about 30 years now, give or take five years … and she’s been there for all of it – everything that Florida has suffered through, wavered through, the current crisis that we’re dealing with now with affordable housing, the issues on education, the problems with how they keep trying to  make it harder and harder to even vote. She’s been there for all of this,” Hawkins told the crowd of about 80, most of whom wore Witkop shirts.

“And I’m just wondering why she hasn’t stepped up as our representative for the everyday people that she’s supposed to represent. … So as of last week I filed to run against Gayle Harrell. And I’m putting myself out there, putting my hat in the ring to try to bring some kind of better change to our community, our jobs, our locals. I was born and raised in Stuart. My family has been in Stuart for about 100 years now, just over 100 years. And I love this place, and I would like to see it better represented in our state government.”

Some of the issues Hawkins finds most pressing are the affordability crisis of living in Florida, the demise of quality public education here, the need for more robust environmental regulation and fixing a voting system that was regarded as the best in the nation until Republicans started tinkering with it in the name of protecting against voting fraud, even though there has never been any proof of voting fraud being a problem in Florida.

After the speech, he said these problems and essentially every major problem faced by Florida this century have been caused by Republicans, because Republicans, such as Harrell, have been the ones in control of state government that entire time. Republicans have controlled the Florida Senate since 1995, the state House since 1997 and the governor’s mansion since 1999.

And Harrell has served in both the House and Senate during that time. She represented parts of Martin and St. Lucie counties in the Florida House from 2000 to 2008, when term limits forced her from that office. After losing the Republican primary for the Treasure Coast U.S. House seat then held by Democrat Tim Mahoney, she successfully ran again for her old House District 81 seat in 2010 and for House District 83 in 2012 after redistricting. She held that Martin-St. Lucie seat until 2018, when she again was term-limited out of office. And she has held the Florida Senate seat that is now District 31 since 2018. The district encompasses south St. Lucie County, all of Martin County and north Palm Beach County.

It is time for a change in the Treasure Coast, Palm Beach County and Florida, Hawkins says.


Witkop is running on much the same platform against the Republican Mast, who has been the congressman for the Treasure Coast and north Palm Beach County since 2016.

“We are running to mobilize a coalition of people who support the values we once took for granted. Poll after poll shows that Americans support reproductive rights, believe the (2020 presidential) election was free and fair, and want a Congress that is not historically dysfunctional,” he told the crowd seated outside the lighthouse on the bank of the Jupiter Inlet on a perfect March evening.

“That means it is up to us to mobilize, unite and help people come together to support these shared values. And we can come together. Personally we see it everyday. We see people from different backgrounds come together and rise above politics to be friends. Professionally I saw it at the amazing nonprofit El Sol. Folks from all walks of life. A Jupiter Farms contractor and a day laborer from anywhere in the world come together not only to support each other financially or in business, but also as friends. I saw people from what we would understand as opposites coming together to benefit one another and make community.

"So why can't we do this nationally? It's because the politics of party over people has gotten in the way. Last week I saw an email from Brian Mast, my opponent, saying that he voted against Democrats more than any other politician in Florida, which is saying a lot.

“The problem is when you are committed to voting against another party rather than for solutions, you will inevitably vote against the interests of your constituents. While he claims to champion clean water, he votes against it dozens of times, particularly in the past two years, including voting to gut the EPA’S ability to protect our waterways from special interests like Big Sugar.” 


Similarly, Giordano’s campaign motto is “People over politics!” A former correctional officer at the St. Lucie County Jail, he now works as a Nuclear Security Officer at FPL’s Hutchinson Island Nuclear Power Plant. Giordano says that if elected, he will donate half of his sheriff’s salary to charitable causes including mental health awareness, homeless veterans, women’s breast cancer studies and youth activity programs.

Poli, a former president of the League of Women Voters for St. Lucie County who works in management in the foster care system, said after the rally, “My motivation to run is to restore the rights of women, protect children, and establish economic stability for all Floridians.”

So, it is young Democrats with fresh ideas who are stepping up against mostly entrenched Republicans in the Treasure Coast and northern Palm Beach County.


Hawkins’ campaign is the newest of these candidates, and though he is only 26 years old, he brings a political background and wisdom befitting an older soul.

A data professional with bachelor’s degrees in economics and international affairs and a master’s degree in international affairs with a focus in urban and regional development, he has worked with the Martin County Black Heritage Initiative, NAACP and Stuart Main Street, and he recently restarted the Treasure Coast Young Democrats.

Among Hawkins goals for his key issues:

Affordable Housing

  • Increase the tax credit for affordable housing with a sliding scale for how affordable the housing is. 

  • Support the establishment of non-profit housing in the state as a permanent solution to regulate housing affordability.

Public Education

  • Reverse the recent expansion of Florida’s private school voucher program so that the subsidizing of private school education for privileged families is limited.

  • Increase teacher pay and redirect state funding from private school vouchers to public schools.

  • Support education initiatives that drive students toward career choices.

More Robust Environmental Regulation

  • Introduce and support state legislation that will reduce or limit the overdevelopment of our community brought about by Republican policies of the past 25-30 years.

  • Put forward legislation that gives Lake Okeechobee and the Florida Everglades recognized rights.

  • Work with environmentalists to develop a permanent solution to the Lake Okeechobee and St. Lucie Estuary pollution problem.

Make Voting Easier for Citizens

  • Provide automatic voter registration for 18 year olds.

  • Return to a system of automatic mail-in ballot renewals.

  • Allow same-day registration on Election Day.


Thomas Witkop

Candidate for U.S. House District 21, covering northern Palm Beach County and all of Martin and St. Lucie counties.


Aaron Hawkins

Candidate for Florida Senate District 31, covering north Palm Beach County, all of Martin County and southern St. Lucie County.

Andi Poli

Candidate for Florida House District 84, covering St. Lucie County outside of Port St. Lucie.


Steven Giordano

Candidate for St. Lucie County Sheriff



*North County Democratic Club does not endorse candidates until after the primary in August 2024


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