Travel writer, speaker, history enthusiast, and motorcyclist Gary McKechnie has filed as a Democratic candidate to run for the Florida Senate against Republican state Sen. Dennis Baxley in Senate District 12.
McKechnie, 55, of Mount Dora, is promising a platform that will be heavy on Florida-centric advocacy and perhaps lighter on Democratic ideology, in a district that is heavily Republican, covering parts of Lake, Sumter and Marion counties, including The Villages.
“I’m registered as a Democrat; I’m running as an American. I’m running as a Floridian,” said McKechnie.
Calling himself a “motojournalist,” he has made most of his career riding the backroads of Florida, as well as all of America, then writing about it. He and his wife Nancy also have a bed-and-breakfast and some other small businesses, he said.
For years McKechnie was VISIT FLORIDA’s “Off the Beaten Path Insider.” And for decades he has published his writings in magazines, newspapers, and books, including a series of books published by National Geographic, as well as a top motorcyclist touring book, winning two major national travel writing awards. He also leads school student tours in Washington D.C., lectures to international audiences on America’s history and cultural heritage aboard on Cunard cruise ships, and is frequently interviewed on television and radio talk shows about travel and American culture and history.
History and cultural heritage, and respect for how they have molded the best government, he said, fuels his desire to go into politics, and will hone his messages, which he said he’s still developing. He said he’s not interested in “red meat” issues, but what makes sense for Florida, citing President Harry Truman as his “North Star” of politics.
“I know what I’m passionate about, but… I want to prioritize it,” McKechnie said.
“It’s just what you do. It doesn’t have to be nasty. It doesn’t have to be vindictive. It doesn’t have to be character assassinations. You run a good race, you present your ideas and the people with the better ideas will win. If it’s a level playing field, the people with the better ideas will win.”
Baxley is a staunchly-conservative incumbent from Ocala who had spent 16 years in the Florida House, before beating state Rep. Marlene O’Toole in a primary and then winning the SD 12 seat against only a write-in candidate in 2016. There also is another Republican in the field, Kaesha Gray of Ocala.
Baxley’s re-election campaign has raised $65,000 so far, including $33,000 just last month.
“I know I will be outspent. I know Dennis Baxley has a lot of money. But I know: ‘shame on me’ if I don’t run,” McKechnie said.