Florida Politics has obtained proof that Karyn Morton, chair of the Republican Party of Duval County, attempted to sway the election for Jacksonville City Council Vice President between Danny Becton and Scott Wilson.
Both Becton and Wilson, who won the race, are Republicans.
However, Morton (who denied having done such when we asked her about it after the vote) texted and called various Republicans on the council, attempting to push Becton over Wilson.
Morton’s take, per a text obtained, was that Becton was more conservative than Wilson.
“Hope we’re on the same page this afternoon on the Vice President of Council vote,” Morton texted a councilman Tuesday.
“As a staunch conservative, Danny Becton is by far the best candidate. And regarding experience, knowledge, abilities with finance, budget, zoning, etc, again I believe Danny is the better choice.”
Morton, not known as a close observer of council business, waded in with unsolicited critiques intended to sway those who know best how the legislative body works.
Councilman Bill Gulliford, one of those lobbied by Morton, objected in the strongest possible terms.
“I find it deplorable that any party chair would stick their nose in council business and even worse that they would pick one party member over another member of the same party,” Gulliford texted Tuesday evening.
“I have never seen this kind of intrusion in the process during my time on the council,” Gulliford added.
At least three other Republican councilmembers were lobbied along similar lines, and they shared Gulliford’s revulsion over the tactics, even as they didn’t want to go on record.
Morton was successful in moving two pledges to Becton: withdrawn VP candidate Sam Newby, who theatrically signed a pledge to support Becton ahead of the vote; and Al Ferraro, a Morton loyalist who had pledged to Newby before Newby withdrew from the race to purportedly focus on his re-election campaign.
A review of those who supported Wilson and those who supported Becton reveals that, in fact, Becton drew half his support from City Council Democrats.
Reggie Gaffney, Katrina Brown, Garrett Dennis, and Reggie Brown, a quartet of Democrats who had voted as a “pack” for Anna Brosche in 2017 and who got rewarded with Democratic control of the City Council Finance Committee as a result, all backed Becton.
Brosche, who supported Becton, told us she was not lobbied by Morton.
Morton’s lobbying, in fact, seemed to have the opposite of the desired effect, driving many of the most respected Republicans to back Wilson — a civil servant since the age of 18 who was a council aide for eight years before getting elected.
Council President-Designate Aaron Bowman backed Wilson.
So too did former Council Presidents Gulliford, Greg Anderson, and Lori Boyer. And second-termers Matt Schellenberg and Doyle Carter were also on Wilson’s side.
Morton was active in lobbying support for Brosche over Democrat John Crescimbeni in the race for Council President in 2017, but her efforts there weren’t what drove the victory for Brosche.
Rather, Brosche’s margin ultimately was sealed by her aforementioned outreach to African-American Democrats, who weren’t sold on Crescimbeni despite the shared party label.
Brosche, mindful of the limited support (and rampant backbiting) for her 2015 bid from the Duval Republicans, was philosophical last year when she discussed Morton’s unexpected support.
“I appreciated having her support and help. At least in the President’s race, she had a Republican running against a Democrat. I’m not sure she had a choice in that race. She’s about supporting Republicans,” Brosche said.
In the 2018 VP race, Morton made a choice between two Republicans, actively undermining the bid of the eventual winner.
Some local Republicans find it curious that, in a year in which Republicans face competition for every slot on the Duval County ballot, Morton is wading into leadership races.
With the political season well underway, the chair of the local Republican Party took an avoidable loss, attempting to strongarm votes of members of a body who believe they are fully capable of deciding who they want to lead them over the next year.
Morton’s decision to intervene apparently happened without active support from the office of Mayor Lenny Curry, who offered support for the new leadership team.