Chuck O’Neal has been referred to as a “black bear activist” by the Orlando Weekly and as an environmental advocacy leader by Cox Enterprises. In a recent campaign debate hosted by the Young Democrats of Orange County, O’Neal worked to broaden his credibility as a progressive to other issues, including social justice and healthcare. While billing himself as a proud Democrat on his campaign website, in an interview for this profile, he touts the importance of working with Republican leaders like State Senator David Simmons and former State Senator Paula Dockery. He is clearly knowledgeable and detail oriented on issues that relate to Florida’s air, land, and water use. The environment clearly represents one of O’Neal’s dearest passions.
O’Neal, a 60-year-old Apopka resident, is a candidate in the new State Senate District 11, which includes much of Greater Orlando north of Sand Lake Road and west of Orange Blossom Trail. O’Neal attended both public and private schools, most recently graduating from Duke University with a double major in Public Policy and Math. While promoting the importance of education, jobs and other issues, he says that the three most important issues in the 2016 public realm include, “the environment, social justice, and healthcare.”
O’Neal promotes the notion that the Affordable Care Act should be fully implemented in Florida, pledging to sponsor or support a bill to that effect. He wants to close the coverage gap where residents, although employed, still do not have adequate healthcare coverage. Related to social justice, O’Neal is quick to tout the importance of restoring rights to convicted felons and others who are disenfranchised from voting and participating fully in the political process.
“There is no better way to combat recidivism than to give individuals who have served their time and parole period a stake in the process,” O’Neal says in a recent interview with the West Orlando News. He promotes the importance of making voting rights restoration review an automatic step in the criminal justice process.
On schools, O’Neal chides current and past office holders who have made school and university administration too closely akin to, “running a business,” where care and attention to employees and students comes second to cutting services and even making profits. He refers to “a broken system in education,” where neither teachers nor students have an adequate stake or voice in helping make improvements in prioritizing education.
Asked about his relationship with other elected leaders, O’Neal says that he has a “good working relationship” with current State Senator and congressional candidate Darren Soto. O’Neal indirectly promotes the current political success of U.S. Congresswoman and Congressional candidate Gwen Graham, and enthusiastically states he has “great hopes” that Graham will both run for and win the Governor’s office in 2018. O’Neal’s own current race includes three competitors challenging him for the state senate seat.
On August 30, 2016, O’Neal will face current Florida Representative Randolph Bracy, former Orange County Commissioner Bob Sindler, and former Florida Senator Gary Siplin. In a recent State Senate debate where every candidate in District 11 participated, O’Neal went head-to-head on a variety of issues. O’Neal’s answers clearly resonated with audience members. O’Neal won the straw poll at the conclusion of the debate, a pattern his supporters hope will continue through the August balloting. As of this profile’s filing, no Republican had stepped in the District 11 race, meaning the winner of the August 30 primary wins without further challenge.
This article is one of a series of profiles of political candidates and community members in Greater Orlando.