It had been a while since Al Lawson was the new guy in town. For 28 years, Rep. Lawson (D-FL-5) held a seat in the Florida state legislature, eventually becoming the Democratic leader in the state senate. Then, in 2016, he won election to Florida’s 5th congressional district and was once again tasked with learning the ropes in a new role. Here’s what Rep. Lawson told Quorum about his experiences of being a freshman member of Congress:
Rep. Lawson knew there would be differences between the Florida legislature and the House of Representatives—the size of the chamber, to begin with—but he feels that the skills he picked up in 28 years of state governing helps inform his work at the federal level. Namely, the consistent commitment to the constituents who elected him to his positions.
“I tell [my staff] all the time, when you look at your job the only way you can lose your job is you don’t provide good constituent services,” Lawson said.
Lawson’s district in the Florida legislature spanned both major urban areas and rural communities, teaching him the skills to balance the needs of both communities. With a much larger district as a member of Congress, its necessary to apply these lessons on an even bigger scale.
“The legislature taught me how to help rural areas and people from rural areas and attack problems that are sometimes a little bit different than they are in the city,” Lawson told Quorum.
While Lawson has been one of the most active freshmen in the 115th Congress—having introduced 13 pieces of legislation in 2017— some things certainly caught him off guard when he came to Washington.
For one, the role of caucuses and coalitions—the Blue Dog Coalition, the New Democrat Caucus, and the Congressional Black Caucus, among many others.
“All of the various caucuses exist that didn’t exist in the Florida legislature and they are all trying to really stick together,” Lawson said. “My goal was to try and do everything that I possibly can to bring them together and see if there’s any kind of middle ground where we can do things together.”
As a member of the Agriculture Committee, Lawson has learned how to make his voice and the voice of his district heard in negotiations regarding the Farm Bill. While not involved in the drafting of the legislation as a minority member, Lawson has prioritized bringing members of the committee to his district for site visits to show them first hand how the legislation affects his constituents. With one out of every four of his constituents participating in the SNAP program, Lawson has passionately fought bring the committee to Florida.
“I have invited on a couple of occasions some of the members who are in leadership to the district in order to explain to them about some issues on the farm bill,” Lawson said.
Of all of the lessons Lawson has applied from his past experiences or learned in his first year on the job, it all comes back to the importance of his constituents.
“I came to Congress not looking for a job. I always felt like I was on loan to be here and do the very best that I can,” Lawson told Quorum.
With an emphasis on constituents in his day-to-day work, Lawson has made it a point to focus on issues rather than solely on partisanship.
“I want [constituents] to know that I’m not entrenched in some of the things that exist up here,” Lawson said. “I’m here to work for them...If they don’t send me back, I did the very best job that I could.”