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Citrus and Sunshine: Rep. Tony Gonzales Visits Rep. Darren Soto in Florida’s 9th Congressional District

It’s not often you get to see a member of Congress and their band in a live performance, but last week in Kissimmee that’s exactly how we kicked off the second American Congressional Exchange trip of 2022.

To welcome Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-TX) to Florida’s 9th Congressional District, a couple of members of the Orange Creek Riders played a special acoustic set. Their front man also happens to be Rep. Darren Soto (D-FL), who represents the Orlando-Kissimmee area of central Florida. The two members were paired based on shared interests including education, innovation, military, and veterans’ issues. Rep. Gonzales also has many ties to Florida—his wife is a Floridian, and he was stationed there while in the Navy.

To get a real sense of any congressional district in less than 24 hours takes a packed schedule, and this central Florida district is no exception. In just one day, the congressmen met with many local and state leaders to hear how various federal policies and investments are being put to work on the ground.

Leaders from Dundee Citrus Growers Association reported on the impact of pests and the slowed supply chain on Florida’s famous citrus. Leaders from Amtrak, SunRail, and the Orlando International Airport offered insight into how people get to, from, and around the rapidly growing Orlando-Kissimmee area. A helicopter tour of the Northern Everglades brought to life federal investments in an ambitious ecosystem restoration effort by the South Florida Water Management District. As Rep. Soto shared during the visit, “Investing funding in the northern Everglades is one thing, to see it on paper or see it in a film … it’s totally different when you’re up in a helicopter and you see the great work of your committee to restore an ecosystem.”

Perhaps the most moving stop was with staff and patients at the Lake Nona Veterans Affairs Medical Center, where Rep. Gonzales presented both Rep. Soto and Medical Center Director Timothy Cooke with challenge coins, a military tradition recognizing special guests and achievements.

While the two members and their districts have many differences—not least of which is size, with Texas’ 23rd Congressional District stretching 800 miles west from San Antonio and including nearly 1,000 miles of the Rio Grande River and almost half of the U.S.-Mexico border—Rep. Gonzales remarked that “Texas and Florida have a whole lot in common.” On the value of visiting Florida’s 9th Congressional District with a member from the other party, he said “we all represent our districts, we’re proud of our districts, but it is something to see … partnerships at work too. This is how America works, by coming together, rolling up our sleeves, getting away from the partisanship and the rhetoric.”

Both members are looking forward to a reciprocal trip to Texas’ 23rd District later this year.

Learn more about the ACE program here and follow BPC on Twitter and Instagram to catch future trips in real time!

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