Politics in Northeast Florida is about to heat up, with state races in 2018 and Jacksonville municipal elections in 2019. Here are ten names worth watching.
Alvin Brown: Is he running for the U.S. House against Al Lawson? Mayor against incumbent Lenny Curry?
He will have to decide, one way or another, this year.
We’ve gone into the challenges Brown would face against Lawson: among them, primarying an incumbent; not being known west of Duval County; a lack of buy-in among Jacksonville Democrats (who think he disappeared after losing the Mayor’s race in 2015, only returning ahead of running for whatever this year or next); and a lack of buy-in among the donor class.
The Peter Rummell-types have moved on, some to Lawson. And the trial lawyers probably aren’t that hyped up on taking Alvin to the next level.
That said, there almost has to be a Jacksonville candidate — and Alvin Brown looks like the best bet. Still.
Those familiar with Brown’s thinking say it’s Congress or bust. Time will tell.
Lisa King: The new chair of the Duval Democratic party is fired up and ready to go when it comes to the 2018 cycle.
Expect King, an establishment Democrat from the Hillary Clinton wing of the party, to manufacture media coverage every time there is an opportunity.
Unifying the party and building donor confidence will be key this year, as King tries to turn Duval into “Bluval.”
Carlo Fassi: One of the sharpest political minds in Northeast Florida that most people outside of downtown haven’t heard of.
Fassi is running Baxter Troutman’s campaign for Agriculture Commissioner — sort of the Royal Rumble battle royal of GOP primary races.
Before turning his attention to statewide work, Fassi worked for State Attorney Melissa Nelson, first as her campaign manager, then handling public affairs in her office.
Fassi is not a self-promoter by trade — and that may seem anomalous to fans of the political consultant game.
But expect this: no matter how Troutman fares this year, Fassi will be increasingly sought after for Republican candidates down the road.
Reggie Brown: Is he running against Audrey Gibson for the state Senate?
To us, that sounds like a suicide mission. And we’re skeptical it’s going to happen.
Brown, a Jacksonville City Councilman, would run into some of the same issues Alvin Brown would run into versus Lawson. How does he credibly challenge a Senator who is poised to lead the caucus after the November election? Specifically, one who has institutional buy-in with corporate and institutional donors.
Rory Diamond: Diamond, an alumnus of the George W. Bush White House, the California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger administration, and head of the charitable non-profit “K9s for Warriors,” is highly regarded among local Republicans.
He’s a current Neptune Beach City Councilman, and he’s making a run for Jacksonville City Council in 2019.
He also has roughly $100,000 banked.
Yet he will face a competitive race.
There are those who contend that Diamond isn’t enough of a social conservative to replace termed-out Bill Gulliford on the City Council.
There will be a candidate that attacks Diamond on those grounds.
Garrett Dennis: With Brian Hughes moving into the office of Mayor Lenny Curry as chief of staff, there are strong expectations that the political and the policy sphere will essentially become one.
With that in mind, it’s worth watching the only Democrat on Council who has acted like a Democrat: Garrett Dennis.
Alone among Council Democrats, of whom at least a few have functioned like adjuncts of the Mayor’s office, Dennis has embodied an actual attempt to put checks and balances on the Curry agenda.
He’s taken risks. Taken slings and arrows for his trouble. But on a City Council that has not offered much resistance to any of the reforms in the last thirty months, Dennis is the sole reminder that there are two political parties in this town, each with their own agendas.
Empower Jacksonville: There’s not a breakout star of this group — a Christian conservative Liberty Counsel front that would like to see, ultimately, a City Council referendum to overturn the LGBT protections in the Human Rights Ordinance expansion of 2017.
But the group is very much worth watching. It seeks to have two ballot items next August. The first: a referendum to change the city’s charter to allow citizens to challenge any law via referendum.
The second measure: a straw ballot on whether or not the HRO should be subject to a citizen referendum. The specific area of contention: the additions to the law this February, not the previously extant law.
Those additions: protections of LGBT people in the areas of housing discrimination, workplace protections, and public accommodations.
This underscores a larger rift in the Republican Party between religious conservatives and more pragmatic conservatives; naturally, the latter category is called RINOs by those in the religious camp.
Aaron Bowman: A VP for business recruitment for the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, Bowman also is City Council VP.
And he will walk into the presidency next year.
Bowman has been an interesting case. A dyed-in-the-wool Republican, the former Mayport base commander nonetheless is the kind of Republican who embodies the “kinder, gentler America” former President George H.W. Bush talked about.
He ran for office against a Christian conservative, vowing to push for the aforementioned Human Rights Ordinance expansion. And that went through this February.
The book on Bowman among some on Council was that he thought he should have been in leadership from the start. That didn’t sit well with some Council veterans.
He’s there now, of course, and the way he won the Council VP election in 2017 was notable. Pledges materialized seemingly from thin air, with Bowman becoming the runaway choice.
Meanwhile, during the presidency of Anna Brosche, Bowman avoided making waves on hot-button issues like Confederate monuments. He clearly is amassing political capital. Will he use it during his presidency? Or does he have more ambitious plans down the road?
Earl Testy: Why Testy?
Despite having just $13 cash-on-hand, the self-styled “radical Republican” has already become the most quotable Jacksonville candidate since Rep. Kim Daniels.
Testy is known for mansplaining about how sexual harassment was a function of the female libido.
“They have themselves and their libidos to blame for much of their own abuse by men,” Testy posted to Facebook.
And if that isn’t enough, he also advocates the “conversion of Negro Democrats to the Republican Party.”
“I devote a portion of the time remaining in my life to facilitating the conversion of millions of Negro Democrats back home to the Republican Party,” Testy remarked.
Testy is running against an establishment Republican — Randy DeFoor — who will have all the endorsements and money she needs.
There likely will be a Democrat in this race — and other candidates — before all is said and done.
So why are we watching him? The reality is that he will get a sizable chunk of the vote… in the most liberal district in the city. Which says quite a bit about where Duval County really is.
Tracye Polson: Can Polson, a clinical social worker by trade, do the seemingly impossible and turn Rep. Jay Fant’s red district blue?
The Democratic candidate for House District 15 is about to find out.
Polson is keeping pace with the Republican in the race — Jacksonville lawyer Wyman Duggan — in terms of fundraising.
She also is aggressively canvassing the Westside Jacksonville district, an approach that she and her volunteers hope overcome the tendency of some voters in the district to just vote for the Republican.
Polson does have a primary opponent, but he is essentially unknown to local Democrats. Polson, by contrast, is a known quantity.