Before Memorial Day, Florida Politics caught up with Jacksonville’s Audrey Gibson, as the incoming Senate Democratic Leader negotiates a restive caucus and a primary challenge from City Councilman Reggie Brown.
Thus far, 2018 has been interesting in ways that could not have been forecast less than a year ago, before Gibson replaced scandal-plagued Jeff Clemens.
And the intrigue may have just begun.
As we reported last week, Democratic campaign consultants and other insiders see the creation of two recently formed political committees and associated fundraising as an indirect challenge to the Gibson’s leadership.
But she was quick to tamp down any rumors of discord that could challenge her leadership.
“I’ve called every single member of the caucus,” Gibson said. “Before the article came out, I had a couple of calls from some lobbyists who said ‘Hey, what’s going on?'”
To recap: In late April, Friends of Kevin Rader PC was established by David Ramba, a prominent Tallahassee lobbyist who administers dozens of political committees on behalf of a broad range of political clients.
Also recently formed was Future Democratic Majority PC. In addition to Rader, it involves Sens. Randolph Bracy from Ocoee, Lauren Book from Plantation, Linda Stewart from Orlando, Bobby Powell from West Palm Beach, and Darryl Rouson from St. Petersburg.
Ostensibly, the purpose of the two committees is to raise funds and provide resource support for Rader, the incumbent Senators listed above, and the Democratic challengers in as many as seven Senate districts who are running in 2018.
The coalition of Senators is also opposed to the ascendancy of Broward’s Gary Farmer, who has made no secret of his desire to follow Gibson.
That was the first she had heard of it. Soon after, she made calls to her Democratic colleagues.
“After the article came out, just to, first of all, say ‘remember, our goal is to win in November.’ Because my understanding was some of it was about who the next leader would be.”
Gibson has a message to colleagues: “Let’s get the job done in November. And, everyone get to know each other.”
“The response I got, was ‘we’re all heading in the same direction. We just thought we’d form these entities to try to bring in more money’.”
Gibson told them it would be “good if we could do that in a coordinated way.”
“I hear what you all are saying,” she recounted, “but in public, it looks divisive. Make sure we rein in that because we’re all heading in the same direction.”
She continues to work on behalf of the caucus.
“It’s not a reflection of me not working, me not bringing the caucus together,” she said. “Ever since I was elected, I’ve done meetings and get acquainted stuff and balloons and all those types of things to bring people together.”
Gibson will have to do “all those types of things” in Jacksonville, also, as Councilman Brown will be an active grassroots campaigner and will present a unique challenge.
When asked, she posed a serious tone.
“My supporters are like ‘you’re going to win. I support you. Don’t know why this is happening. You’ve worked hard for us.'”
“When somebody files to run,” Gibson said, “I take them very seriously, and I work very hard as if I’m behind.”
“I’ve always been a hard campaigner. I hardly sleep when I campaign. If you file, as far as I’m concerned, you’re serious,” she added.
Gibson would not turn down an opportunity to debate Brown, however: “If it’s in the interest of the community, that’s fine. I debate in my job as a Legislator. I’m always prepared for a debate.”