Serious Flagler Candidates All Out of Special House Election; Dennis McDonald Qualifies for Senate
FlaglerLive | December 3, 2014
They all wanted to run. None ran.
Dave Sullivan, Donnie O’Brien, Howard Holley and Trevor Tucker all thought about it. For weeks, they played messy chess with each other: one after another hoping to be the choice to represent Flagler County in the Florida House seat Travis Hutson resigned to run for Senate.
One would think hard about running then pull back when the other would say he’d run. Holley, fresh from his defeat in a county commission race but still the most financially capable to take on a House race, came closest, actually announcing publicly that he was in. In the end he wasn’t. Nor were any of the other Flagler candidates. By the time Sullivan realized Holley had pulled out, he was in Texas for Thanksgiving and couldn’t reverse course.
So Flagler will almost certainly not be represented in the House by a relatively Flagler-based candidate yet again.Danielle Anderson, a community reporter for the News-Journal who’s been active in local Republican circles and community organizations, was one of the surprises in the final line-up of qualified candidates for the House seat. Anderson wants to “make sure that Flagler County is getting its fair share of funding when things come down the pipeline,” and cites “helping teachers, families and businesses navigate and afford” the Affordable Care Act as among her concerns. Anderson, 39, qualified by petition. But with no money to speak of and no political experience, her chances of posing a serious threat in a field of four Republicans are a little south of remote.
The three other qualified Republicans for the Jan. 27 primary in the House 24 race are Paul Renner, the Jacksonville lawyer who lost by two votes a primary race for a House seat last August. He just moved to Palm Coast; Ron Sanchez, a two-term St. Johns County commissioner who lost his seat in a primary to Jeb Smith, a fifth-generation farmer; and Sheamus McNeeley, an army veteran who grew up in Flagler County until he moved to St. Johns in his teens.
One Democrat qualified: Adam Morley, a guide at St. Augustine Eco Tours who’s stressing social media as a campaign tool. (“ I’m hoping my efforts make politics a little more user friendly and inspire more participation,” he wrote today on his Facebook page, “because as participation declines so does our system and that should concern everyone.”)
Holley said he’d withdrawn from the race on Monday for “a number of variables,” he said. “One of them is I just don’t see us having either the will or the shared vision about this being a Flagler seat with representation of someone in Flagler County.” Without that shared vision, he said, the seat will not go to a Flagler voice. Having also just ran a race had taken its toll, giving him little time to recover. But he said he’ll stay engaged and focused on job creation and education.
One other surprise for Flagler: Dennis McDonald, erstwhile candidate for the Flagler County Commission, has qualified to run in the Senate race, one of four Republicans to do so. That race is expected to be a fierce contest between Ronald Renuart, who resigned his House seat to run, and Hutson, who did likewise. Both are bringing bundles of cash to the campaign. McDonald isn’t incapable of matching them: he’s personally wealthy, but the money would have to be largely his own if he’s to contend with the legislators, who can draw on mounds of special interest dollars. The fourth Republican in that race is Beth Sweeny, who’d worked as a lobbyists in Tallahassee for the St. Johns County school system.
“I’m not going to say anything right now, I have my own thoughts,” Sullivan, who is the Flagler County Republican Executive Committee chairman until Dec. 17, said of the McDonald candidacy. The REC has been torn by a struggle between the more moderate or establishment Republicans, represented by Sullivan, and the more radical side of the party, which includes the Ronald Reagan Republican Assemblies membership, including McDonald. The radicals are expected to take over the REC chairmanship, with Anne-Marie Shaffer at its head, at the Dec. 17 meeting of the group. McDonald’s wife, Janet McDonald, won a seat on the school board in the November election, while Steven Nobile, another Reagan group member, won a seat on the Palm Coast City Council. Dennis McDonald’s candidacy for the Senate signals the Reagan group’s continued intention to field candidates in most races.
After this article appeared, one Republican insider said McDonald was not running with any hope of winning, but to drain votes from Hutson, who had supported Commissioner Frank Meeker in his re-election campaign for the Flagler County Commission. McDonald for the second time in two years lost the primary against Meeker.
McDonald qualified by paying the qualifying fee rather than, with little time on hand, going the route of petitions. “Everybody complains about Kimberle Weeks being difficult. It’s a walk in the park compared to these people,” McDonald said of the qualifying process in Tallahassee. Weeks is the Flagler County elections supervisor.
“I’ve been considering a run for a while now,” McDonald said. “Why, because there needs to be a good candidate with a different kind of focus than what’s going on right now. I have to tell you, I was very upset with people qualifying, we all go out and vote, and then then deicing ‘I’m going to move up.’” McDonald said both Hutson and Renuart did just that instead of sticking with the job they were elected to do. “It demonstrates to me what’s wrong with politics, it’s all about climbing the ladder.”
McDonald said he’ll be turning his focus to education, with particular attention on what’s turning into a system dominated by standardized testing and the Common Core approach to education, which has sundered relationships between teacher and student by making tests the local district and local teachers cannot control the dominant factor in a child’s education.
One Democrat has qualified for the Senate race: David Cox, who ran unsuccessfully against U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis in the November election.
The primary is scheduled for Jan. 27. The general election is scheduled for April 7.