Candidate, District 4 Commissioner
Has never held elected office
Vice President, Sidewalk Advocates for Life
Union University, BA, Biblical Studies, 2004
Nate Robertson, 41, ordained minister and vice president of the anti-abortion organization Sidewalk Advocates for Life, is running for the District 4 seat on Ocoee’s city commission. Robertson will square off against former Commissioner George Oliver III in a March 19 special election that will also include 13 amendments to the city charter.
The winner will complete the remaining year of Oliver’s term, which expires in 2025. Oliver vacated his seat last January to run unsuccessfully for mayor. In April, the city commission appointed Ages Hart to represent District 4 until an election could be held.
The Robertson-Oliver match-up has been a year in the making. The special election was originally scheduled for June 13. Then it was canceled and rescheduled for March 19. In November, the commission barred Oliver from the ballot. Oliver sued for the right to run. On Dec. 5, the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court reversed the city commission’s decision, allowing Oliver’s name to appear on the ballot.
“We know it’s really going to happen this time,” Robertson told VoxPopuli.
Mail-in ballots have begun arriving in mailboxes. You can request a vote-by-mail ballot until 5 p.m. March 7. Early voting starts March and runs from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily through March 17.
Originally from Buffalo, Robertson moved to Ocoee with his wife and two sons in 2016. He was active in the 2021 anti-mask movement and joined a lawsuit against Orange County Public Schools’ mask mandate. He got his first taste of politics during the 2022 midterms when he ran unsuccessfully for state representative against LaVon Bracy Davis in the newly created House District 40.
Before Christmas, Robertson sat down with VoxPopuli Editor in Chief Norine Dworkin at Ocoee’s Foxtail Coffee to talk about the key issues in District 4, what he hopes to accomplish in a year on the commission, and, what he really thinks, as a Republican, about Trump and January 6.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
VoxPopuli: Let’s start with the obvious question. Why do you want to be commissioner?
Nate Robertson: I want to make sure that we see Ocoee continue to go on a path that makes it better for all citizens. What I mean when I say that is, what does it look like for people today, but what does it look like for our kids? And not just for my children. What does it look like for those who are growing up in Ocoee? What is Ocoee’s footprint going to be in the greater West Orange area? I would like to be a part of that. I'd like to be a part of being a fresh new voice, to look at things, maybe, from a different perspective, strategically, of like, What do we need to do? How do we continue to move things forward in a positive direction?
VoxPopuli: This is a limited position, just about a year. In what ways do you see yourself serving?
Nate Robertson: For this very short term, I want to make sure, first of all, that the residents of District 4 really believe that they have somebody who represents them. It's not really about Nate Robertson's interests. It’s about being the best representative for them that I can be. I very well understand that there's many people who wouldn't necessarily align with me in all things. That's just the way it is, but I want to represent them in matters of the city and how do we do that better?
I believe the most critical thing in District 4 is traffic and roads. The Clark Road expansion is underway, but I want to make sure that that gets done. If there's any ability for a commissioner for District 4 to make sure that that gets done quickly, I want to help get that done, because it needs to be done. Come on, let’s just get it done.
The other thing is remembering the county and city partnership with the roads and with the traffic signals and continuing to make sure we have a strong relationship with the county of working on these issues together.
I'd really like to see some additional focus on children's playground equipment in Ocoee. When you look at Ocoee, especially District 4, there's limited playground equipment for children. There’s Prairie Lake Park on Hackney Prairie. I’d love to at least talk about expanding the playground equipment at that park. Look at what the county did with the new Magnolia Park, putting in equipment for children of all abilities. I’m not saying we can get it done in a year, but they’re things to think about.
VoxPopuli: Let’s talk about taxes. Ocoee's millage rate for Fiscal '24 is 4.95 mills. (You pay $4.95 in ad valorem taxes for every $1,000 your property is worth). The millage rate has steadily declined for years — in 2019 it was 5.65 mills – but it's still higher than Winter Garden's 4.5 mills, and the cities have roughly the same size population.
Nate Robertson: As an unelected official, I'm not sure of all the reasons as to why it's a little bit higher. It’s something to keep working on. I would like to make sure that we never go up in property taxes in Ocoee and that we continue to get it lower. I don't know what it would take to get us to a 4.5. I'm sure that's a big budget discussion, but I'd like to see us at least be closer to that because I think that that would be helpful to the residents and the homeowners of Ocoee. Anytime we can reduce taxes is a good thing.
VoxPopuli: I noticed on your website that you’re pushing for the completion of Ocoee’s downtown and encouraging minority-, veteran- and women-owned businesses. Please tell me more about that.
Nate Robertson: When I talk about business growth, I really would like to see us work on helping new, strong, small businesses to grow in Ocoee. What does it look like to help foster that development of somebody saying, Yes, Ocoee looks like a great place for me to start and maintain my business. As well as relocating some businesses into Ocoee that have done well in other parts of the county and are ready to expand.
One thing that everybody's aware of is that Ocoee doesn't have as many restaurants as some people would like, right? I hear it all the time. that's something I think we need to work on. I know it's been part of the planning for downtown … also expanding the boutique kind of style of shopping.
VoxPopuli: This has been the strangest election run-up in ages. You and Commissioner Oliver qualified. The election was scheduled. Then it was postponed. You were uncontested. Now you have an opponent again. There’s been a lot of emotion here. If you win, how will you make George Oliver’s followers feel represented in District 4?
Nate Robertson: I love that question. Thank you for that. My desire is to make sure that anyone who has supported him really does feel like they have someone who will listen to them and will really take their concerns seriously and find a way to work with the city commission and with the city to alleviate their concerns or to make sure that progress is being made.
Growing up, my parents made such a strong effort to make sure race wasn't a part of my growing up. My parents are from Alabama and Georgia. My dad grew up in a very tiny community in northeast Alabama, where they didn't have minorities there because, my dad would say, they were so poor the minorities wouldn't live with them. My dad didn't have an indoor toilet until he was in high school, and that was in the late ‘60s.
They worked really hard to make sure that we didn't see differences as a reason to push people away, but to gather people together and to continue to work together for the best human experience we can all have. I didn't really experience the really challenging issues of race until I was a teenager when I went off to college in Tennessee. But it's always been my desire to bring people together however we can. There are always things we don't agree on, but there's probably a long list of things we do agree on. Let's look at everything we agree on. Let's look at what needs to be moved forward and how can we move them forward together.
VoxPopuli: Living in Ocoee, you know that the city has a racially fraught past, and it’s doing a pretty good job of reconciling it and ensuring that the 1920 Election Day Massacre is remembered and that the city is a welcoming place for all residents. But there are many aspects of diversity. The city of Ocoee has posted on social media on the anniversaries of the Pulse Nightclub shooting. I’ve heard Commissioner Rosemary Wilsen say she’d support a Pride event in Ocoee. How would you vote in terms of LGBTQ+ events coming before the commission?
Nate Robertson: I want to make sure that all of our residents feel represented and that they have events that they feel proud to be at. I just wonder if at the Ocoee municipal level, it's the right place for that. I don't know. I want to make sure that we are doing events that represent everybody well, and that we are doing what is best for everybody, but I guess I also want to make sure that we are focused on issues of the city, and we're not making it partisan in ways.
VoxPopuli: How is that “partisan”?
Nate Robertson: I guess I, what I mean by that is that sometimes events like that sometimes can be very… people can have strong opinions about events like that sometimes. That's, I guess, how I mean that … I don't know. I would love for something to come before me like that and for us to think about how we do that well.
VoxPopuli: In the past, people had "strong opinions" about Black, Hispanic and Jewish events. And now we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Ocoee actually had a Facebook post commemorating the victims of the Pulse Nightclub shooting on the seventh anniversary.
Nate Robertson: We should always be remembering and memorializing events like that. If we don't, we run the risk of them not just happening again, but that mentality being pervasive. And so, we need to remember. It's a very critical moment. A very sad, very horrendous, critical moment in Central Florida. And we definitely need to make sure that we memorialize it well. And that we don't allow something like that ever to happen.
VoxPopuli: Just the law of statistics says that Ocoee would have a sizable LGBTQ+ community. You would want them to feel welcome in the community and represented?
Nate Robertson: Yes, I think that they should be. I think that government should always, government should always be serving the people, and government should be restrained to allow people to flourish. And so we should be representing all of our people well.
VoxPopuli: I read on your website that you are passionate about, “Our right as Americans to personal privacy and freedom,” and that you believe “freedom to choose is vital to a free society.” What does that mean to you?
Nate Robertson: In a very specific city commission perspective, I think that that means, how are we limiting any kind of intrusion that the city government is making into people's personal lives or into their personal property? A lot of times what municipalities are in charge of has a lot to do with land use. What are we doing or aren't we doing that we should be doing to protect people's land, people's private property? Allowing people to, you know, go about their own personal business without fear that the government is looking over their shoulder.
We should be cognizant about any concern when it comes to the way that we police the city to make sure that we are policing the city to keep it safe, but also not to be intruding in people's private lives. Allowing people to have the freedom that they need to do business as long as it's within general guidelines of a city code. I think that we should be careful of being too restrictive when it comes to business development. And be careful that we're not doing anything that's overly restrictive to people's private property.
I think that we should be very careful. Government should be restrained at every level. Government should not be overly involved in the private affairs of its citizens. Now there's a few issues that don't deal with the city — and I don't want to talk about them in a city race — that are harder for us to talk about, right? Because we are very different. Many people are. But the reality of government being restrained and staying out of people's business is important. It looks different to different people, but it's a very important principle. And it is what has made America, America.
VoxPopuli: That is what the Florida Supreme Court is considering right now, whether we do have a right to privacy. So, I know you feel otherwise on other issues. We don’t even have to talk about abortion. There are questions about whether parents can make medical decisions for their children. I'm wondering how you hold those two thoughts in your head.
Nate Robertson: I 100 percent believe we have a right to privacy, regardless of the issue. This dovetails into some other questions about what right to privacy of an individual is, and I don't want to talk about those with this being focused on the city commission. My wife and I were part of a small group of parents who sued the Orange County School Board over them disregarding the original Parental Bill of Rights when they forced us to mask our kids. So I very much believe that we, that parents, should have the right to make sure that they're making medical decisions for their children.
VoxPopuli: It is interesting. You sued the county over the right not to mask. How is that different than parents trying to get gender-affirming care for their kids?
Nate Robertson: I think it's a great question. The government should not have a higher position over the rights of children and their parents. It shouldn't. The government shouldn't.
VoxPopuli: So you support gender-affirming care?
Nate Robertson: I would always support parents being able to make the decisions for their children in consultation with their doctors. That's the way it's supposed to be.
VoxPopuli: So that’s a yes?
Nate Robertson: I said it the way I'm going to say it today.
VoxPopuli: Fair enough. Now, I have the benefit of knowing you a little bit because we talked before when you were running for state representative during the midterms. The municipal elections are nonpartisan. But I know you’re Republican, so I’m going to probe that a bit because I think voters have a right to make an informed choice. It looks like former President Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee. I’m curious, with his trials, do you see the trials as politically motivated? Or do you see the trials as justified because he’s been indicted for state and federal crimes?
Nate Robertson: I don't like this question because I don't think that it's fair to the voters of District 4. I think that I would say that I believe the motivation behind it is political.
VoxPopuli: You and I have also talked about Jan. 6. And the first time we talked about it, you said you were uncertain of what had transpired. And that was before the Jan. 6 Commission came out with their hearing and their reports. So I’m wondering what you think at this point.
Nate Robertson: I haven’t read through all of it. I think I have actually a lot more questions now that some more of the videotapes have come out, than I probably had before. Some of the more recent videos, I think that the new Speaker of the House, Mike Johnson, released it seemed to appear that people were being let in, and so it's like I don't know. There’s a lot of questions there. Were people let in by the Capitol Hill Police and if so, why? Like, I just have lots of questions. I don't know that I have answers.