LABELLE — Record numbers of women ran for political office in 2018, and this year the numbers are adding up to make history again. But women are still less likely than men to jump into politics.
Several women who live and work in the small, rural area of Hendry County have stepped out of their comfort zones to run for various local and state offices. Gwen Patrick Griffiths is running for Hendry Superintendent of Schools. Emma Byrd and Cynthia Santana De Las Salas are in the race for Hendry County Commission seats. Laura Novosad and Linda Tripp are running for Florida House of Representatives, in different districts. Some are first timers to campaigning, and they’re working together offering each other advice, support, and motivation. All are long-time residents who love their community.
“I’ve always felt compelled to tell people I was born in Illinois and raised in Miami. But it occurred to me the other day that it’s been 40 years since my young family moved to LaBelle from Miami. That’s more years than in any other single place I’ve lived,” said Linda Tripp who is running for State Legislature in District 55, which includes Okeechobee, and St. Lucie Counties.
“The move here was intentional – leaving the city and its chaos for the sweet life in LaBelle. I remember Miami friends asking back then, ‘What can you do in that little town?’ It wasn’t long before that question became, ‘What CAN’T I do in this little town?’ And so it started…” Tripp explained, “Small town, rural living doesn’t mean there’s nothing to do. Immediately there was my new teaching position at LaBelle Elementary School. I was assigned to the fourth grade team and those ladies became my new comrades – dear friends who still meet regularly and genuinely care for each other. And I can’t forget how honored I felt when I was asked to join the local ABWA chapter. I never realized at the time how much that organization encouraged me to bloom and grow, stretching me way outside my comfort zone.
She went on, “Then there were the years contributing to the Swamp Cabbage Festival, supporting LaBelle High School sports and academic teams, obtaining my master’s degree, and becoming an active singer and board member with the Symphonic Chorale of SW Florida. Nothing to do – HA!”
How did she get started on this campaign trail? “In late May, The Democratic Environmental Caucus of Florida, Dr. William F. “Fergie” Reid and 90for90.org, and the Glades County Democratic Executive Committee gave me initial guidance through the minefield of getting a campaign started. They continue to advise and assist even now, along with the Florida Democratic Party and a cohort of other talented local and state candidates who share the ups and downs of campaigning.”
What has it been like, campaigning for the first time- in the midst of a pandemic? “The pandemic definitely changed the way I think about getting my name and message out,” she explained “I really believe in staying home as much as possible, observing mask and distancing guidelines when I do go out. When I have public events, I am probably overly cautious about keeping myself and those around me safe. So, much of my work has been online – website, messaging, and social media interactions have become my door-knocking, hand-shaking moments,” Tripp said. “Campaigning has given me a sense of purpose and hope over these last months. It’s definitely intellectually stimulating, making me question, re-evaluate, and solidify my understanding of the conditions we face today and in the future. I enjoy the notion that win or lose, I will make a difference in the future of our community.”
Tripp said something she has learned is that the community isn’t as divided as it may seem, “A surprise to me was that people I’ve never met, non-Democrats in many cases, have connected with me and pledged their support. I am encouraged to believe that who I am and what I think matters more than the party I represent.”
“So now, in the midst of a pandemic, I find myself running a political campaign, mostly sitting in my LazyBoy, laptop, phone, and coffee always handy. Forty years and I’m still wondering when the “nothing to do” part of my life will kick in. And when folks ask me now where I’m from, I think I’ve earned the privilege of saying, ‘I’m from LaBelle!’” Tripp said proudly.
What are her plans if she is elected? “I believe much can be accomplished by respecting various points of view and by working in good faith toward solutions that benefit us all. I will listen, I will respect all concerns, and I will work tirelessly to earn and maintain the trust of my constituents,” said Tripp. If not elected she said she will, “Prepare for the next election cycle!”
Editor's note: Tripp is a resident of Glades County. North LaBelle and parts of Port LaBelle are in Glades County.