Lots of people are angry at the coup Lenny Curry’s campaign pulled off at the Duval County Republican Executive Committee meeting last week, when he earned the party’s endorsement. Technicalities in the voting process — helped by a not-inconsiderable number of people who turned in blank ballots as a way of directly abstaining and perhaps demonstrating dissatisfaction with both candidates, Curry and Bill Bishop — led to Curry not pulling off the required supermajority on the first ballot. It took a second vote to get him there, taken after many voters had left the building.
Yes, Curry got the endorsement he wanted, but not without breaking a bunch of eggs to make the omelet. Bishop isn’t happy, for starters, and the more of these shenanigans he experiences, the more likely it is that his supporters will rally behind Mayor Brown after the runoff (assuming, of course, that Bishop doesn’t make it), whom Bishop has cheerfully described as a lousy mayor, but never as a man without integrity.
Who else did Team Curry tick off? Well, former Republican City Council candidate and Bishop social media coordinator Jesse Wilson, who got ejected from the meeting for committing a crime against party orthodoxy: looking like he could be a reporter for Folio Weekly. Nope, the GOP doesn’t profile just Muslims and blacks; the Republican Party profiles alt-weekly journalists, too, singling them out and having party officials eject them, but not before inspecting their phones to ensure they didn’t video anything.
(As with other kinds of profiling, this one produced erroneous results: Wilson has never written for this magazine.)
What would Wilson have videoed? The Lifetime Achievement Award for Rick “I’ve Been Told That ‘Thuggish’ Is a Racist Slur” Hartley — perhaps for slandering Mayor Brown, perhaps for his transcendently idiotic obfuscation on Kim Crenier’s career-killing Ferguson tweets? Hartley handled that situation so goshdarned well that neither he nor Crenier got another term in party leadership. Of course you’d give him an award! He screwed up things so badly that Robin Lumb gets to spend his golden years fixing that khaki-wearing yokel’s botch job.
Hartley’s handsome plaque is a coda to a career that ended up damaging the Republican brand worse than a Huckabee family swimsuit calendar. One person whose brand it did not damage: Jerry Holland, the supervisor of elections who has done a yeoman’s work attempting to restore credibility to our elections process after some unpleasantness in 2000.
Holland, honorably but to no effect, tried to restore sanity to the process, attempting to get the REC to hold an election with some semblance of transparency and consistency with traditional norms. Instead, the REC gimmicked a result with all the subtlety of a Warsaw Pact election circa 1974.
Think of it: The intimidation. The fear of exposure. It’s classic power politics from Duval County Republicans on behalf of their candidate. Who would’ve expected anything else?
Last week Curry, for all of his sunny imagery, showed that his operation is GOP Business As Usual. And yes, his people have the right to play hardball politics to the hilt. That’s how Republicans do primaries. But it wasn’t necessarily the right move here.
Curry is not some yahoo candidate who’s got to be propped up with flag iconography and phony religious appeals. He’s a serious, thoughtful person. He can talk theology or football with you. And he seems to genuinely care about people from all walks of life.
The trouble is, he’s running a campaign that needs to appeal to people who are not like that, people who call transsexuals “trans-sectionals,” and who fear anyone not like them to such a degree that they don’t even want them to have equal protection under the law. The ruckus at the REC appeals to people like that. They like blustering displays of outsized strength.
But what about those who don’t want their city to be run like a North Korean election? They see that mess, and it seems fundamentally undemocratic. And they vote.
Perhaps that’s how these things are won: playing to the lowest common denominator, pulling power moves because any risk of losing is too much. Time will tell if Bishop and his people will come back into the fold. Alvin Brown is waiting with open arms.