The Jacksonville region is a political paradox in many ways. It’s a GOP stronghold, yet its lack of population means that it generally doesn’t have the political momentum to get even a good candidate elected statewide.
When a candidate has flaws and doesn’t have universal backing in the power elite, such as GOP candidate for Attorney General Jay Fant, the struggles are exacerbated.
Fant won a contentious special election for state house in 2014—those in Riverside/Avondale will remember the “TAINT” signs—on a boilerplate platform. He was going to work with Congress to repeal Obamacare, create a diversified workforce, fight for Jacksonville in the House and keep his hairstyle on fleek.
At least he fulfilled that last one.
Fant’s time in the state house, including a year helming the Duval Delegation, has been undistinguished.
This year he introduced five bills; five died in committee; 2016 saw five more bills die, but a companion bill to a “digital assets” measure he pushed got through. The year 2015 was huge, and even though most of what he carried died, he got through a bill that scuttled a “scheduled repeal of public records exemption for certain personal identifying information held by public transit providers.”
Last house session, Fant was a dead man walking. He backed the wrong horse in a future speaker’s race (GOP picks class leaders years apart to groom for the speakership). Then he bucked Speaker Richard Corcoran and sided with the governor during that big kerfuffle about Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida last session.
Fant had some nominal power last session. But in 2018, he’ll be even more of a backbencher, according to the Miami Herald’s write-up of committee posts: “Jay Fant not only lost the vice chair of the Civil Justice & Claims Subcommittee to Erin Grall, he lost his position on the House Judiciary Committee and the Ways and Means Committee. He was added to the Education Committee and the Justice Appropriations Subcommittee.”
Whoops! This, at a time when nearly every other member of the Duval Delegation made gains year over year. And at a time when Speaker Corcoran is in Jacksonville, relationship-building as he gets ready for a 2018 run for governor, to be launched after the legislative session ends.
Why after? Because serving in the state legislature is an actual job. Committees start next month. Bills are being introduced now. While campaigning is important, to be sure, wielding the power of the gavel is the ultimate in earned media.
Corcoran can also give Fant the shiv because Fant doesn’t matter so much here. And Fant lacks political astuteness. He talked smack about Lenny Curry not doing enough to stop the HRO expansion at a local Republican meeting—did he think that wouldn’t get back to Curry? Did he imagine there wouldn’t be consequences?
Fant’s fundraising flatlined last month; in a pivotal July, ahead of the legislative session, he brought in a tad more than $16,000 for his campaign account and that of his political committee.
Fant’s opponent, Hillsborough Judge Ashley Moody, has roughly $700,000 on hand compared to Fant’s $200,000+. And she got $12K of that at a fundraiser in Fant’s own backyard.
Sheriff Mike Williams is among her backers. Melissa Nelson, officially neutral in the race, was at the event.
Also among Moody’s backers is incumbent AG Pam Bondi. This is notable—Fant launched his campaign by vowing to carry on Bondi’s legacy.
And it could get uglier. Others quite possibly getting into the race to take on Moody and Fant are U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz and Rep. Ron DeSantis. Either one is a game-changer.
Fant is all but screwed. Someone has already filed to replace him in the Florida house. And that dude has all the right endorsements, so Fant can’t jump back in … even if he wanted to … which he clearly doesn’t, given his house performance thus far.
Fant’s campaign has devolved into lunk-headed sludge: backing Trump’s tweeted military transgender ban, backing white nationalist Richard Spencer’s bid to speak at the University of Florida on First Amendment grounds. He begged his Facebook followers to put him over on the Florida Family Action Group’s wall—he needs their endorsement.
Does he mean any of this? Without betraying confidences, no Republican politician in Northeast Florida has been described as “faking it” more thoroughly by other elected Republicans and politicos than Fant. He postures as a rock-ribbed conservative; they think he has rocks in his head.
There will be a successful statewide Republican candidate from Jacksonville in this generation of pols. It’s just not going to be Fant. An undistinguished record, a lack of buy-in from the donor class, and the blundering sabotage of at least one key relationship are three reasons why.