By James Thompson
On Nov. 6, Florida, and specifically North Central Florida, lost some big elections to some very dangerous people. Statewide results are not finalized at this time.
Dr. Kayser Enneking’s courageous and costly run to oust corporate servant Keith Perry in Florida Senate District 8 (Alachua, Putnam, and North Marion counties) hurts the most. We needed this seat to begin undoing the ghastly gerrymandering Republicans enacted after the 2010 Florida census. This was the most expensive regional campaign, and strategists took notice.
Dark money PACs bashed the Florida Democratic Party’s blue-washed corporate funding of Dr. Enneking’s efforts through its Florida Democratic Leadership Campaign Committee (Perry takes his more expansive portfolio of corporate cash directly to his campaign coffers). Perry’s campaign iced the cake with a fierce barrage of deceptive flyers and media advertising against Enneking in the general election.
Other than Keith Perry’s demonically stellar name recognition and his unlikely reputation for “helping people” (almost every working class supporter I talk to mentions this), the dark money ads may have hurt the most. Aside from Dr. Enneking’s unassailable character, reliable if moderate progressive messaging, and golden reputation as a physician, the party machine that ran her campaign is in fact funded by corporations that poison our people, our government, and our water: Big Tobacco, Big Sugar, liquor distributors, and health insurance companies, to name a few.
This matter of public record – one main focus of the dark money mailers – made it difficult to attack Keith Perry where he is most vulnerable across party lines, his absolute devotion to the money interests, which govern his every action.
Another tough hit was the close loss by military veteran and out-of-the-gate progressively platformed Jason Haeseler, to that other corporate servant in our regional legislative delegation, Chuck Clemons (Florida House D21, Gilchrist, Dixie, and West Alachua counties).
Mr. Haeseler’s campaign got outspent almost five to one, but stuck with tireless fieldwork, progressive messaging, and open attacks on Clemons’s right wing policies and voting record. The lack of negative state party maneuvering in this race made it easy for Mr. Haeseler to ask for support from his strong primary opponent, the fierce organizer Amol Jethwani. An aside, Mr. Jethwani is much to thank for the injunction that kept our new university polling locations open across the state for Nov. 6.
Both Dr. Enneking’s and Mr. Haeseler’s races were very close, and the distribution of County votes typical. Each won huge victories in Alachua County, while outlying county results were almost symmetrically flipped in Senate D8 and were outright catastrophic in House 21.
This has been a pattern for Democratic candidates in the past. Having spent as much time, money, party, and people power as we possibly could on multiple victorious progressive candidates and issue campaigns this cycle in Alachua County and Gainesville – Children Services Trust, 1/2 Cent School Facilities Tax, saving our public utility (GRU Referendum), Amendment 4 – the clear Wednesday morning quarterback solution is to distribute some of our valuable organizing and electioneering talent into neighboring counties as soon as possible.
We can’t just wait for old white Dixiecrats to die, or try to flip racists in places where the Civil War never ended. We do have to seek out rural county citizens that share our values and know our struggle. The electoral dilemma is outside our bubble, not on our tiny “blue island.”
The success of all our local referendums on public school funding (kids, parks, and conservation are frequently positive bipartisan referendum issues in our County), election reforms (no more stand alone Gainesville City elections), and our public utility governance (which stays with elected officials) are to be noted. They are joined by plainspoken public educator Marihelen Wheeler’s trouncing of pro-development NPA Scott Costello and Libertarian Gregory Caudill. Her two opponents mustered only 35 percent of the vote.
Costello openly played the corporate land developers’ card – as if zoning for McMansions on our wetlands is going to lift anyone out of poverty or hardship. But his resounding loss signals that citizens across faction, party, and racial boundaries are ready to let a highly functioning County Commission continue its work with a leader who shares their values.
A once unlikely importance has become attached to environmentalist and citizen advocate Kaithleen Hernandez defeating Neo-Confederate Chris Rose for Soil and Water Conservation District 3. But all of us now realize that restoring our planet and crushing fascism is at the top of every checklist.
The School Board contest won by incumbent Chair Dr. Gunnar Paulson, a Democrat in this fictionally non-partisan race, is complicated enough to merit a separate article. I confess I do not have the courage to write it at this time, and many progressives feel the same way. The truth is, April Tisher might have won had she focused on her role as a majority vote on equity issues with sitting Board Member Dr. Leanetta McNeally and Member-Elect Tina Certain. Instead she displayed her Republican credentials to a fault.
Dr. Paulson and the Board majority were not too long ago a beam of reforming light to an outgoing conservative Board. They must now decide on their legacy as our community demands more rapid and radical redress on change on equity issues.
At the end of the day, it’s a mixed bag for North Central Florida. But statewide we saw absolute catastrophe as half of our neighbors elected an openly fascist governor. And yet, our former slave state won a big second chance. That second chance is 1.5 million people strong – the number of formerly incarcerated Floridians, most of them working poor and people of color, who now have the right to vote because we passed Amendment 4. Sixty-four percent of voters approved it. One hundred percent of the people affected will tell you what it’s like to lose everything and keep on struggling.
To that end let us share the wisdom of journalist Roland Martin, the 2018 Alachua County NAACP Freedom Fund Banquet keynote speaker. On Nov. 4, to a packed gymnasium at Mt. Carmel Baptist Church in Gainesville, he urged us to “Fight until Hell freezes over, then do battle on the ice.” Those are not words of compromise or surrender. They are fighting words. We need to shout them over and over and over again until we get this right.
Blue island electioneering and big money campaigns clearly are not solutions. We need the movement organizing that drives the readership of this journal to continue to do its two-pronged work of being issue-focused and election savvy.
Hell has frozen over. Now we battle on the ice.
James Thompson is the Vice Chair of the Alachua County Democratic Party and wishes to be explicit that his opinions and analysis are his own. They do not in any way represent official Party positions.