A.G. Gancarski’s 10 people to watch in Northeast Florida politics: 2018 edition


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.

A.G. Gancarski

A.G. Gancarski has written for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. He is based in Northeast Florida. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter: @AGGancarski


  • seber newsome III

    December 29, 2017 at 8:10 am

    Aaron Bowman is smart. He knows if he joins Mrs. Brosche and wants to remove the Confederate Monuments from public property, this his political career is over in Jacksonville. All of the other city council members as well, and including Mayor Curry, better understand this as well. Poll after poll have shown how the vast majority of the voting citizens of Jacksonville feel about the Confederate Monuments. Leave them alone, or, let the people vote on it.

  • Actual Floridian

    December 29, 2017 at 8:11 am

    Former Michigan assistant attorney general Andrew Shirvell has been disbarred as a result of the anti-gay harassment in 2010 of Chris Armstrong, a gay college student and student leader at the University of Michigan.

    In addition to demonstrating on campus, Shirvell published a blog, the Chris Armstrong Watch, where he accused Armstrong of being a Nazi as well as a recruiter for ‘the cult that is homosexuality.’

    MLive reports:

    Andrew Shirvell’s disbarment was ordered Thursday, March 30, by a panel at the Attorney Discipline Board, according to the AP. He can appeal to the full board.

    In October 2016, the Michigan Attorney Discipline Board said the former state assistant attorney general committed misconduct when he harassed Christopher Armstrong, the university’s first openly gay student body president. Shirvell was fired in 2010.

    In 2012, a jury found Shirvell had stalked, defamed and invaded Armstrong’s privacy and Shirvell was ordered to pay $4.5 million.

    The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the judgment against Shirvell in February 2015.

  • Kevin F

    December 29, 2017 at 8:17 am

    It seems like it doesn’t matter who the candidate is in any of these races. Looking at who raises the most money appears to be all that matters.

    In 2015, the Jacksonville city council candidate who raised the most most money won the race each time with only one exception.

    The same is true in the state rep races.

    Follow the money.

    I only wish that Jacksonville would start to focus on traffic.

    The traffic in Jax is getting overwhelming.

    What are we doing about it?

    It seems like nothing!

  • Sam Stevens

    December 29, 2017 at 9:53 am

    Nice job including Rory Diamond! He’s definitely someone to watch. He’s done an incredible job leading K9s for Warriors. Anyone who decides to run against him would be wasting their time. Further, if you’ve ever discussed politics with him or checked his record, any reasonable person would conclude he’s sufficiently socially conservative.

  • Andrew Shirvell

    December 29, 2017 at 8:59 pm

    Since I’m mentioned in a comment on this very interesting article, a few points of clarification are in order. First, the 2012 civil trial was a complete farce, from beginning to end. That’s one of the reasons why I was represented on appeal by some of the best First Amendment attorneys in the country, which were generously provided pro bono by the Thomas More Society – the same Catholic legal group that is currently helping to defend David Daleiden, the activist who exposed Planned Parenthood’s grisly trafficking in baby-parts. Unfortunately, in my case, the courts were overwhelmingly stacked against me – and justice did not prevail.

    Secondly, as to the revocation of my Michigan law license, which remains on appeal, here is an excerpt from my October 17, 2017 press release, as reproduced verbatim in the Detroit Free Press:

    “Given that my case is one of the most politically-charged to have ever come before a Hearing Panel … I cannot imagine a more biased panel of attorneys who sat in judgment of me. With Donald Trump now in the White House, conservative Christians like me will no longer tolerate being railroaded by the liberal elite.

    The hearing panel that revoked my law license consisted of metro-Detroit attorneys Lamont E. Buffington (chairman), Margaret A. (“Peggy”) Costello, and Anthea E. Papista.

    Among other things, Costello failed to disclose that, as a candidate for judge of the 3rd Circuit Court (Wayne County) during the August 8, 2000 primary election, she had been publicly and ‘strongly’ endorsed by ‘Pride PAC,’ Michigan’s leading homosexual activist political action committee. In addition, while my case was still pending before her, Costello signed onto a letter attacking then-U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions’ nomination for Attorney General because Costello claimed that Sessions had opposed ‘legislative efforts to promote the rights of women and members of the LGBTQ community.’

    Papista, among other things, failed to disclose that she is an enthusiastic financial supporter of homosexual rights and of Democratic candidates. And, Chairman Buffington failed to disclose that he was a member of the student government at the University of Michigan Law School who had ‘long experience in student government affairs.’

    It is time for the Michigan Attorney Discipline Board to overturn the hearing panel’s biased determinations and restore my law license.”

  • Thomas

    December 30, 2017 at 9:54 am

    My eye is on Polson. It’s refreshing to see someone from a humanistic profession come in and run an honest campaign. She appears to have local interests at heart and is making the effort to get in touch with her base and their needs.

Comments are closed.


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