ORLANDO, Fla. — To illustrate that he’s just another 19-year-old, Nate Douglas told a caller that he had just asked friends on a social-gathering app if they wanted to hang out.
What You Need To Know
- 19-year-old wins seat as supervisor for Orange Soil and Water Conservation District
- Lifelong Central Florida resident is Apopka High grad, junior at University of Florida
- He wants to help underserved communities, “getting them more active and engaged”
“Like 2 seconds ago,” he said.
Yet he’s hardly just another 19-year-old. He’s now a politician.
Douglas, an Orlando resident and Central Florida native, earned a seat on the Orlando-based Orange Soil and Water Conservation District with an Election Day victory over two opponents. He won 49% of the vote for the District 1 seat, about 18% more than the runner-up. He’ll fill the seat of district chair Michael Barber, whose four-year term is ending.
“It’s definitely interesting,” Douglas told Spectrum News 13 by phone Thursday, referring to his new experience. “But I think it’s a good thing. In the United States especially, people are looking for younger leadership right now.”
Douglas joins three other mostly young politicians as a volunteer, nonpartisan supervisor on the five-member board. Also winning seats Tuesday were Karolyn Campbell, Raquel Lozano, and Alaina Shaleen Slife.
Like Douglas, the three other new supervisors used social media during their campaigns to trumpet themselves as energetic environmentalists and civic activists.
“I think that we're all bold,” Douglas said. “I think that we could all work together, and we could really become a louder voice for Orange County.”
Douglas suggested the new board supervisors work to turn around the Orange board, which has been conspicuous for its inactivity. Other Central Florida soil and water conservation districts have managed to stay busy even during the pandemic. Yet the Orange district offers no agenda on its website, and it hasn’t updated its Facebook page since April 2019.
The Orange Soil and Water Conservation District stands among 58 Florida soil and water entities. With oversight from the Florida Department of Agriculture, the districts aim to push for responsible use and conservation of soil, water, and natural resources, according to the Florida Association of Conservation Districts.
Each district does that through five elected supervisors who educate, promote, partner, conserve, and engage. That’s the intent, anyway.
“That's one of the main reasons why I entered the race,” Douglas said. “The board, as it currently stands, it isn't active. It is not engaged with the community. It has no set plans. They can't meet quorum during meetings. So absolutely nothing is going on right now. That's why I look forward to working with the others who just got elected, because I know that we all take this seriously.”
The Making of a Board Supervisor
Douglas said he has been involved with Sunrise Movement, a nonprofit organization that pushes for action on climate change.
A graduate of Apopka High School, he’s majoring in economics at the University of Florida. Because he took dual-enrollment courses in high school, he’s already a junior at UF.
His mother is a French immigrant who works as a teacher, and his father a Jamaican immigrant who works as a landscaper. For his work on the Orange board, he said, he’ll apply what he has learned from both, particularly education and water use.
He plans to target, among other things, underserved communities that he said — and many environmentalists agree — often become the first to feel the effects of climate change. He aims to focus on issues such as overdevelopment and areas called “food deserts” that lack affordable and healthy food options. Maybe board members could help with community gardening, he said.
As such, he said, he’ll look to expand his reach beyond soil and water into related social, economic, and environmental issues. The board could be influential in those areas, he said.
He also wants to inspire and promote charter amendments such ones that Orange County voters approved this week. Voters blocked a road extension that would have affected a section of Split Oak Forest, a nature preserve in Orange and Osceola counties. An Osceola County lawsuit is pending. In another charter amendment, voters approved protection of Orange County’s natural rivers from polluters and established residents’s right to clean water.
Douglas touts a model of education, resolution, and coalition building with school boards, state legislators, and municipal commissions. He said he’ll thereby work on “going into the community and educating people on why this is a big issue in their communities — agitating them about it, getting them more active and engaged to know how this is impacting them personally.”
Some see the soil and water boards as stepping stones to high political office. For example, departing Orange Soil and Water Conservation District supervisor Daisy Morales this week won election to Florida House District 48. Asked whether he had such plans, Douglas said, "I'm just focused on this role. I don't really have any plans beyond that."
Regardless, as a young Black man, "I think it's good to have more diversity" in public office, he said. "Younger people in office could push us to a new generation of leadership."