To some, Dr Ryan Simpson will be committing political suicide when his time to challenge Senator Matthew Samuda comes around. But to the man in the firing line, he will be the jubilant one next general election night.
Dr Simpson, 46, who was confirmed to run for the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) against the People's National Party's incumbent Lisa Hanna in St Ann South Eastern in the September 2020 General Election, was pulled at the last minute owing to an alleged violation of COVID-19 quarantine regulations mere days before he was due to be nominated. His replacement, Delroy Granston, lost to Hanna by 31 votes, a result that set tongues wagging as Dr Simpson was expected to create one of the greatest upsets in Jamaica's political history had he been given the nod.
Three years later, Dr Simpson is sitting in the PNP section of the grandstand as he has been confirmed as the Opposition party's general election candidate in the adjoining St Ann North Eastern — a former PNP-dominated seat from the days of Manley Bowen and Danny Melville turned into a virtual JLP backyard by Shahine Robinson, the well-loved, now-deceased, former Member of Parliament (MP).
Samuda, a minister in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation with responsibilities for, among other things, water and the environment, has been confirmed as the JLP's replacement for outgoing one-term MP Marsha Smith, who had taken over from Robinson.
Bolstered by a strong religious background, which saw the devout Seventh-day Adventist earn a bachelor of arts degree in religion from Northern Caribbean University, a master's degree in family relations from Montemorelos University in Mexico, and a doctor of ministry degree from Andrews University Theological Seminary in the USA, Dr Simpson — guided by the Holy Spirit — thinks that he is well positioned to set himself up for a real surprise victory this time.
"The same way I did it against Lisa Hanna, I can do it against Matthew Samuda. When I went up against Lisa, I didn't have money. I endeared myself to the people. Nobody had more money than Richard Lake [Hanna's husband], and I was a little preacher boy who came in. I had my small business but I never had that deep pocket. But I realise that people back winners. The business community in Claremont saw me as a winner and they came out in support. I came to the realisation that you need money to win, but money accounts for a fraction of what will make you win. I have employed a similar approach here and I have been campaigning for well over a year now," he told the Jamaica Observer.
"Based on the feedback that I am getting, the traction on the ground, I am going to win, although Matthew is now here and on the ground. We have a very strong business community in north-east St Ann — Ocho Rios, Drax Hall, St Ann's Bay — and I have received their pledge and commitment that they will be supporting me and doing everything to ensure that I win the seat," Dr Simpson said.
The Portland-born, St Ann-raised Simpson said he has benefited already from some promises made, even from people in the JLP who have given him financial donations. He also said that he has received commitments of support from Jamaicans in the diaspora.
Mentored by PNP stalwarts Dr Fenton Ferguson and Aloun Assamba, Dr Simpson emphasised that despite him being called names like "flip flop" or "turncoat", he is fully focused on the tough job at hand.
"The welcome I received from the PNP was amazing. I met with Mark Golding [PNP president] and he told me that I was the type of politician that Jamaica needs and that I have a home and a place in the PNP.
"Somehow, north-east St Ann came on the horizon. Everyone knows that I love a challenge. I took on [Seymour] "Foggy" Mullings seat, I took on the most popular woman in Jamaica, Lisa Hanna, so Shahine Robinson, who is no longer around, having made north-east St Ann her own, a lot of people saw in me a lot of qualities that Shahine had — being down to earth, a people person, that I could bring a breath of fresh air to the constituency with Shahine then gone, and the replacement MP was being asked by the people to go. We felt this was a chance for us to take back north-east St Ann. There were no applicants, and I saw it as a great opportunity, and I am not going to fool myself into believing that it is a cakewalk — it is not. But I am very confident that the PNP can regain it," Dr Simpson told the Sunday Observer.
"It has been a breath of fresh air. The people who bash me, mostly on social media, are usually Labourites from other places in Jamaica. When it come to North-East St Ann or South-East St Ann, to a lesser degree, the Comrades are just amazing. It's like day and night representing the PNP than the JLP. There is more structure in the PNP, better organisation, the people are more politically literate, so it makes my job easier.
"On the ground, the Comrades want to see me. I go out there every day and it has been overwhelming. It's like the prodigal son that came back home. North-east St Ann has become attractive again for the PNP," the Ocho Rios resident reasoned.
Affordable housing, the formalisation of informal settlements, arranging better deals for those Jamaicans who sell in the Ocho Rios Craft Market, and guaranteeing the citizens access to public beaches are among the long list of constituency development plans that Dr Simpson wants to focus on should he become MP of the seat that includes the divisions of Exchange, Ocho Rios, St Ann's Bay, and Lime Hall .
He maintains that more prime land in the constituency should be made available to the electors instead of foreigners, who are the main beneficiaries of such properties.
As he prepares for the humongous task ahead, the former Port Antonio Secondary and Portland High head boy has taken on a law programme at University of London that he believes will make his life easier as an elected representative.
"I have taken up law because I believe that all politicians should have some knowledge of the subject. That is why I am doing law. In Jamaica, all politicians are lawmakers. One of the problems in Jamaica is that the qualification for becoming a Member of Parliament... that bar is too low. The only thing that qualifies you to enter Parliament, apart from being a Jamaican citizen, is your ability to read and write. Many parliamentarians don't understand the law they are making. There should be a criterion that all politicians must have a basic understanding of at least public law. That's why I started the law degree, because I want to be an exceptional lawmaker — understanding all the Acts of Parliament and how to deal with Acts and Bills," he said.