Is it election season? Or selection season? The answer depends on your perspective.
In Jacksonville electoral politics currently, there are numerous examples of how the levers of democracy are worked to achieve desirable outcomes for connected people in local government and for those who fund their campaigns. Looking over the landscape, it seems uncertain how those who claim the mantle of populism will have any answer for any of these machinations.
Let’s consider three recent controversies.
Terrance Freeman takes over District 10 seat: Many with ties to the local GOP establishment and local business community (a Venn diagram with some overlap) applauded when Freeman took over suspended Reggie Brown’s NW Jax seat.
Those whose interests are in District 10, however, were not clapping. Ten voters are more likely, by more than a 3-1 margin, to be registered Democrats.
Freeman rushed to meet residency requirements the day he was sworn in; he did so by renting two rooms in the house of a friend in the district. City leadership has a stake in Freeman serving: Given a suit challenging the installation filed by Brenda Priestly-Jackson, a former school board chair who also applied, city lawyers will argue that he satisfied residency requirements at the time of his application.
The suit alleges that the requirements of the application changed: “For some unexplained reason, on or about the second week that the online application was available, the process for online application for appointment was changed to remove requiring that applicants first certify their status as a Jacksonville City Council District 10 resident.”
This opened the door for other applicants, including Freeman. The governor delayed selection for six weeks before settling on Freeman, a Mandarin resident (until last week) who had run for State House in Arlington two years ago.
Even if the legal case prevails, showing that Freeman satisfied the letter of the law, the spirit of the law is a different matter. But who cares?
Not the local political establishment.
Council President Aaron Bowman, who hired Freeman as an aide when elected, laid it down, saying that if folks don’t like the governor’s picks, they should run for governor themselves.
The real endgame for Freeman won’t be re-election in 10. Rather, it will be a Chamber-backed challenge to Anna Lopez Brosche, whose at-large district contains both of Freeman’s rented rooms.
Kim Daniels’ big haul: Local Democrats were all excited when School Board Chair Paula Wright launched a challenge to the incumbent Demonbuster in NW Jacksonville’s House District 14.
Then a funny thing happened: All that social media sturm-und-drang was sound and fury signifying nothing, at least when it came down to writing checks. Wright got about $3,000, and most of it from allies she’d amassed on the school board.
And Daniels? She’s near $50,000 raised at this writing, with buy-in from beer distributors, Big Sugar, those private prison/“baby jail” cutie-pies at the GEO Group, and our own Peter Rummell, who is always well-positioned to cut checks, but never so much as now—when the District development has finally gotten rolling with city buy-in.
Let’s not forget Gary Chartrand and Charter School USA: two Daniels donors who have every reason to stick it to Wright for her traditionalist view of public education.
Daniels’ politics don’t reflect what the Democrats claim to be about, though it should be noted that Bill Nelson has taken GEO cash and the Dems themselves have fed at the trough of the sugar industry. But given the fecklessness of Dems who, for a second cycle, have a strong candidate to push against Daniels—but won’t—the Republicans will keep her in place for six more years.
Daniels already has a billboard on I-95 South on the Northside. That may be all the advertising she needs.
Is White all right?: We’ll close here with another courtroom challenge of a council seat, this one in Council District 12, where former fire union head Randy White won a special election because no one else qualified.
One would-be candidate, Republican David Taylor, is challenging this one in court, claiming that qualifying for the election wasn’t published in a paper of record.
Neither the charter or the state constitution contain any such requirements for a local special election; however, that’s not deterring Taylor, who believes state statute dictates otherwise.
City lawyers and the Supervisor of Elections are confident in their position. Taylor wants the special election re-opened, but given the pace of court proceedings, ballots will likely already be printed and mailed for August before anything happens.
And that’s just fine with the local establishment. White is known and liked and trusted; Taylor has a history of controversies too long to go into here.