Lawson goes from Gadsden County to Capitol Hill as congressman
By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer
With Al Lawson’s decisive victory to take the United States House of Representative seat for Florida’s 5th District, the question now becomes how fast he’ll establish relationships in Washington, D.C., to benefit his constituents.
But those who know him say Lawson has been developing the political savvy needed to be successful on Capitol Hill since childhood. Although he might have been doing so unconsciously, he has been honing the skills for being a successful politician while growing up in his Midway hometown.
His former basketball coach at Havana Northside High School was one of the first to notice Lawson’s ability during the many hours he spent teaching Lawson more than basketball skills.
“He was always an aggressive guy,” said Vernell Ross, who molded Lawson into one of Florida’s best players during the 1960s. “Always very talkative. I knew something was going to come out good because of his ability to communicate. He knows what to say, how to say it and when to say it. That’s very important.”
Lawson, 68, will spend this week in Washington, where he begins the first of two orientation sessions. The job ahead will come with challenges, but none that Lawson is tentative about tackling in spite of going against the establishment.
“I’ve never been intimidated by anyone,” he said. “I’ve been a freshman at some point; either as an athlete, or going into the legislature for the first time. Everything starts with a journey.
“It’s always a struggle. But you don’t want anything handed to you on a silver platter. You have to work for it and when you work for it there is more appreciation.”
Beaming with pride and a wide smile on election night, Lawson thanked a crowd that joined him at The Moon to celebrate his victory. Then, he paused and reminded the audience how amazing he felt to be going “from Gadsden County to Capitol Hill.”
He’s doing so after capturing 64 percent of the votes in an election that was more contested in the primary against Corrine Brown. But after eliminating Brown in the Democratic primary, there was little question that Lawson would win the Congressional seat on his third try.
Whether he would try again became a suspenseful episode until the final days for filing to run. He was encouraged by colleagues and friends like his former teammate Eugene Lamb. A six-point loss in 2012 to Steve Southerland and realignment of the district also factored into his decision.
Lamb never doubted that Lawson, his friend since they attended kindergarten in Gadsden County, would keep trying.
“We were taught that growing up; if it’s something that you want you go for the gold,” Lamb said. “He always wanted to be the best at what he wanted to do.”
Lawson’s philosophy of being the best hasn’t changed. Just like he did throughout his campaign, he outlined his agenda for his freshman terms at his victory party.
His priorities include, working to reduce interest rates on student loans, making sure social security stays intact, fixing healthcare insurance, immigration reform, the environment and seeking benefits for veterans.
But Lawson knows that he will have to use that ability to communicate that his coach talked about if he is going to be successful.
“I plan to work across the aisle to make things happen for this district,” Lawson said. “I don’t get so hung up in party labels. People are sending me up there and I want to do the best job I can for them.”
Lawson, an insurance agent for more than 30 years, launched his political career in 1982. Driven by the need to help restore dilapidated buildings on FAMU’s campus, he decided to seek office for a few terms. He ended up serving lengthy terms in the Florida House or Representative and the legislature.
More than anything else, said Lawson, it was a calling from a higher power.
“I went into to it with the idea that I ought to serve people,” he said. “This was my calling. The lord gives everybody a calling and I just had to go and do it.”
Plus, he wanted to address civil rights issues that he’d experienced as a young a boy.
“I pretty much wanted to make change because my father couldn’t do it and his daddy couldn’t do it,” said Lawson. “So I grew up with the idea that I could make changes in people’s lives.”