Colleen Burton: From Moderate to Extremist

(Photo provided by Wes Davis)

For over 5 years I worked to elect Republicans in Polk County. I served as the Deputy Campaign Manager for Lakeland Mayor Howard Wiggs, the Grassroots Coordinator for Colleen Burton, the District Aide to then-Representative Burton, and the Regional Director for the Republican Party of Florida. I recruited and rallied an army of volunteers, attended countless political events, and built grassroots power for the Polk County Republican Party.

In 2014, Colleen Burton sold herself to voters as an Adam Putnam-Republican. She campaigned on limited government, jobs, and tort reform. Polk County voters trusted her and narrowly sent her to Tallahassee as a freshman legislator in 2014.

Whether that was an intentional deception or she has simply become intoxicated with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ brand of big government, anti-freedom politics, Senator Burton is not who she promised to be.

Following Colleen Burton’s lead, my call to public service was undeniable. But everything changed in 2016 when I came out while working as a Regional Director for the Republican Party of Florida. Despite tremendous fear of losing the future that I poured my blood, sweat and tears into, I knew that I had to show up as my true authentic self no matter the cost.

Colleen was one of the first people I came out to – before my parents and most of my friends. I remember so vividly asking her to lunch at Nineteen61. We sat at a back table. I was physically shaking. I remember the conversation was cold. But the conversation happened and we moved on.

Shortly after, Burton’s office had a request from a LGBTQ-owned small business in downtown Lakeland. They were concerned on whether the 2015 effort to repeal the ban on same-sex adoption would fail. I brought the request to her and, although there were no scheduling conflicts to my recollection, she chose not to meet with them and asked me, as her District Aide, to take the meeting. Despite the cold reaction to my coming out, and choosing not to meet with her constituents, then-Representative Burton ultimately voted to repeal the ban on same-sex adoption.

When I came out publicly in 2016, I faced discrimination, dehumanizing comments, and an onslaught of harassment as an employee of the Republican Party of Florida simply because I was gay. I remember vividly the moment I realized I could not be my authentic self and go to work. I was in my apartment off of Frank Lloyd Wright Way. I sat on my couch after a volunteer training emotionless. It felt like my world had collapsed. That was the moment I seriously considered whether my life was worth living. I was alone.

Colleen Burton’s silence in those moments was deafening.

Today, Senator Colleen Burton is one of the most powerful Republicans in the Florida Legislature. But she is a far cry from the person I worked to elect in 2014.

Senator Burton has abandoned her 2014 promises to Lakeland voters. She has time and time again actively supported the increase in power and reach of state government – supporting Governor DeSantis’ initiatives to strip life-saving healthcare away from Floridians, legislating how families should raise their children, banning drag shows, underfunding the Florida Agency for Persons with Disabilities, and so much more.

Senator Burton has helped to pave the path to one of the most frivolous lawsuits Floridians have seen in decades – Disney’s lawsuit against the State of Florida. Countless Disney employees call Lakeland and Polk County home. Many of them I recruited to volunteer on her first campaign. But now their sense of safety and security is vanishing.

Senator Burton’s actions and rhetoric have turned into a vocal attack. An irrefutable nightmare blasted from the bullhorn of her bully pulpit and directed at women, Black, Brown, LGBTQ, and Disabled Floridians in every corner of our state. As one of the highest ranking leaders in our state, she has enabled the charge to further isolate Floridians who just want to be left alone rather than be the target of a state orchestrated right-wing attack.

The act of supporting anti-family and anti-equality bills, holding hearings and debates, and casting votes sends a direct message to marginalized Floridians: that you do not belong in our community, your existence is dangerous to the children around you and we are okay if you face harassment and violence. Floridians are tired of fighting for their existence. And I am tired of pleading for legislators, like Senator Burton, to treat us as full and equal members of our community.

One of my biggest regrets in life is that I poured my blood, sweat, and tears to elect Colleen Burton to the Florida Legislature. I believed in her. But in her quest for power, it is clear that she is willing to let the state burn.

Colleen Burton has helped make Florida hostile and the laughing-stock of the nation. She has helped to weaponize state agencies to silence critics and impose sanctions on large and small businesses that disagree with the Florida Legislature’s culture war agenda.

Senator Burton has voted time and time again in support of hateful and discriminatory laws, and has supported additional measures that directly target our basic freedoms. These policies have led Florida parents to flee the state, prospective students to cross Florida colleges and universities off their lists, events and conferences to cancel future gatherings, and the United States military to offer redeployment for service members whose families are now unsafe in Florida.

Last October, my 17-year-old transgender cousin took her life. She noted the shame, pain and harassment towards the transgender community. For my family, supporting extreme politicians like Colleen Burton means buying a casket and writing an obituary.

I have consoled far too many Floridians who are facing violence and hate. As someone who has experienced the far-right firsthand, I know this is a coordinated, cultural attack that Senator Burton has supported. This sort of dehumanization and deception must stop.

Governor DeSantis and Senator Burton are high school bullies who have repeatedly wielded the power of the state against those who dare speak out about their assaults on freedom, equality and democracy.

Florida deserves better than Senator Colleen Burton.

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