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Lifelong Republican Turned independent: Howard Holley Launches All-Business Bid For County Commission

| April 1, 2014

Howard Holley eyes history. (c FlaglerLive)

Howard Holley eyes history. (c FlaglerLive)

A political candidate’s campaign kick-off is rarely newsworthy. Howard Holley’s on Monday evening was: It’s the first time in the era of hyper-partisanship that a local candidate managed to have diehard Republicans, diehard Democrats, tea party regulars, chamber of commerce fixtures and even a platoon of teens all under the same roof, hollering “United for Howard” and believing he can win a Flagler County Commission seat in November.

If he does, he’ll be making history in several regards, because he already has two strikes against him.

Holley is black. No black individual has ever won a county commission seat in Flagler. It’s been eight years since a black candidate managed to win a countywide race at all–Jim Guines for school board in 2006, when he polled nearly 70 percent. (Guines, still kicking from his wheelchair, made one of his rarest of public appearances Monday in support of Holley, telling him he’ll go out of his way to support him “even if I have to get out there with a tin cup.”)

It was standing room only at Howard Holley's campaign kick-off Monday at the Hilton Garden Inn in Palm Coast. Click on the image for larger view. (c FlaglerLive)

It was standing room only at Howard Holley’s campaign kick-off Monday at the Hilton Garden Inn in Palm Coast. Click on the image for larger view. (c FlaglerLive)

Holley is a Republican choosing to run as an Independent. No independent has ever won a county commission seat in Flagler. The last to try, Abby Romaine—like Holley, a Hammock resident—lost to Frank Meeker in 2012, though Romaine, a newcomer, polled a respectable 45 percent despite Meeker outspending her three-to-one.

Holley is running against Meeker, a vulnerable candidate with a shaky Republican base, assuming Meeker makes it through the Aug. 26 Republican primary. So far Meeker has no opponent. Dennis McDonald, the perennial government critic and member of the hard-right Ronald Reagan Republican Assemblies, announced a few weeks ago that he would run against Meeker again, as he did in 2012, a race McDonald lost by six points. Given Flagler’s purplish electorate, which favors centrism over extremism in general elections, Holley may have an easier time beating McDonald than Meeker, though he would have almost certainly lost a primary against either. (Meeker did not respond to emailed questions and a phone call Tuesday.)

Two strikes may not be that much to overcome for Holley. At 66, he has the commanding presence of a natural leader with a baritone voice to boot. It serves him on his weekly radio show on WNZF, “Against All Odds,” where he interviews individuals who’ve overcome significant odds to be successful. (Holley pays close to $200 to buy the time on the air, with advertisers also sponsoring the show. It’s not yet clear, however, whether the arrangement is in line with campaign finance rules. WNZF’s David Ayres, the station’s general manager, told Holley it was. Holley said he’d seek an opinion from the state elections office. Romaine had a current affairs radio show before she started her campaign two years ago, and had to give it up.)

Holley is also likely the most accomplished executive to run for a commission seat. He spent 33 years rising through the ranks at Xerox Corp., at one point taking over Xerox Business Services’ China operation and quadrupling its staff there (while leading the division in India, Russia and South Africa). One of his “Teens For Holley” Monday was in charge of steering guests toward two long tables covered with Holley’s business and civic awards and commendations over the years (San Diego once proclaimed a “Howard Holley Day”). He now heads two companies—The Holley Group, a marketing firm, and TouchPoint Alliance, a non-profit member organization that maximizes businesses’ potential by leveraging and combining their capabilities.

The production value behind Holley’s $1,200 kick-off at the Hilton Garden Inn was slick and efficient, with many of the more than 120 people who turned up lining the walls of the hotel’s conference rom in a standing-rom-only bit of theater that featured emcee Frank DeAngelo, a lifelong Republican, embracing Ralph Lightfoot, the campaign treasurer and lifelong Democrat, before former county commissioner and tea party member Jim O’Connell and Holley’s wife, Barbara, a former school principal, built up to Holley’s introduction. In the crowd, the likes of such prominent Democrats as Art Dycke rubbed shoulders with GoToby’s Toby Tobin (Republican), the Palm Coast Business Assistance Center’s Joe Roy, Daytona State College’s Kent Ryan, and the Flagler Chamber of Commerce’s Donald O’Brien, among others (Holley has close ties to the chamber). The crowd was a 50-50 mix of black and white, the chatter resolutely non-partisan, as it limited itself to Holley’s back-story and his almost exclusively (if perhaps too-narrowly, for a countywide race) economy-minded platform.

“What I really wanted to do was come to the table with this issue of economic growth, and to really try to get everybody to participate in the dialogue,” whatever people’s party affiliation, Holley said in an interview Tuesday, all the while conceding that he’s been a lifelong Republican. “We just get pigeonholed into this rather than focusing on our local issues.”

He listed four objectives: jobs, diversifying the tax base, education and workforce development, and quality of life.

In other words, nothing every candidate for county commission and every local municipality hasn’t listed before, in whole or in part, going back to the dawn of modern Flagler County elections. Nothing, for that matter, that almost every candidate who spoke in a combined kick-off at the Ronald Reagan Assemblies in mid-February hadn’t said, with one difference: while ideological opposition and disaffected criticism against established politicians is a staple of Ronald Reagan candidates’ approach, there was little such criticism from Holley or his supporters Monday. The tone was prodigiously upbeat, the generalities free of much negative commentary, the look resolutely poised on what can be improved, rather than overturned. Holley wants to burnish the establishment, not topple it.

Holley had little good to say about the county’s continuing high unemployment of course, but rather than blame existing governments, he asked: “Has anybody told us where we want to get to?” And: “Toward what? Toward what are we trying to go? What’s our goal?”

The questions may have sounded fresh to some in the audience, particularly because of the assertive, compelling way Holley was posing them, though sitting commissioners (and municipal leaders) could easily say that their strategic plans answer those questions, whether through the county’s and Palm Coast’s renewed focus on economic development in the last two years (through Flagler Economic Development Director Helga van Eckert and Palm Coast’s Joe Roy, both of whom Holley complimented) or through the county’s focus on tourism, which has shown promise, at least by way of rising bed tax revenue.

“I’m running for county commission to ignite the changes we need,” Holley said, clearly pleased with the turnout and what he would later call the “energy” in the room, which included his mother, a daughter who’d flown in from Atlanta, and two grandchildren. “There seems to be a lot of responsiveness to this candidacy, and many of the people had never met me,” he said.

Romaine, the candidate who tried winning the commission seat as an independent—and who’s had conversations with Holley, but wasn’t at his kick-off—was guarded about his approach.

“Independent must really mean something to you. It can’t be a monicker in exchange for those other two parties because you think it’s politically expedient,” Romaine said Tuesday. She described running as an independent because aside from reflecting her political sensibilities, it freed her from having to speak to constituents through an ideological prism—and equally freed constituents to speak to her without feeling closed off by one side or another. “I didn’t run as an independent because I thought that would help me, in fact it hurt me at the end of the day.”

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18 Responses for “Lifelong Republican Turned independent: Howard Holley Launches All-Business Bid For County Commission”

  1. A.S.F. says:

    I can imagine Landon imploding from the inside out if Holley actually won.

  2. Genie says:

    Very interesting to me that Holley is the second of WNZF people to run for the County Commission. Also interesting to note his close connections to the Chamber. Palm Coast politics are always fun to watch.

    “Die hards, Extremists? ” Have not seen much of either here. I would think at this point we’d all just be grateful to end the flow of business leaving Flagler County. We need jobs here. That’s got to be a priority. And last time I looked, that need was something that I think all parties can agree on.

    Good luck with your election, Mr. Holley.

  3. Joe says:

    Howard sounds like a very interesting candidate, I would like to hear more about him, fresh new ideas, goals and visions. I will never vote for Frank ( why I voted to buy the old hospital) Meeker again! Red light camera Frank should not even run! Go for it Howard and good luck to you!

  4. w.ryan says:

    What is his position on the Arts in this county! The Art community in Flagler needs an ally!

    • Steve Wolfe says:

      The arts community needs an economic base large enough to support the arts market. I came here with no illusions about pursuing my passion. I had no shortage of venues to play at in the DC Metro market. I just hung it up in order to get “my Florida.” But we are so far from the economic vitality required to support live jazz (oh please, somebody prove me wrong just this once) that you’ll just have to get by on radio and itunes.

      • w.ryan says:

        First…come out and support at the Hollingsworth, and FCAL on Second Saturdays, City Repertory Theatre when they have their shows and Flagler Beach Fine Art Festival on the 3rd Sunday of every month, Plus support the other Flagler Beach art venues. Art is…the saying”Build it and they will come” applies to art!!! Soho wasn’t financially viable until the artists moved in forming an art community and made it trendy. Give the art community a chance first and then we can talk. We’ve seen this happen in many places and it has improved the financial state of where the arts have been. Besides, the upside is big regardless because there is energy that pulsates in a community when you have art! You too can make joyful Palm Coast. What would life be without art. I want to know if he favors the Arts because it is important to our survival!!!

    • S. Perkovich says:

      Howard is a Trustee and the Chairman of the Capital Campaign for PCAF (the Palm Coast Arts Foundation)

    • Will says:

      Howard Holley is on this board:

      He is supportive of the arts. Having a strong local artistic and cultural base is quite important to business owners who might want to move or expand their businesses in Flagler County. I think it’s part of his formula for economic growth.

  5. Steve Wolfe says:

    Nice story, but I have learned of candidates who promise big then fall into the status quo trap right here in PC and Flagler Co. We need some people to step up and really do what it takes. I’m still trying to figure out exactly what “doing what it takes” means, but it will take the courage of conviction above all. Since I am new, I will be keen on holding the winners to account for what they promise in their campaigns. There is something bigger than candidates and elected politicians at work in this county. Can anyone stand up to it? Is there truly any power in our votes? Or are we stuck in our own little Sargasso Sea here in Flagler? I hope we can pull the curtain back on the wizard and get Flagler and PC out of the weeds and into the sun.

    I am leery of any candidate that is cozy with all the current power players. That is the definition of status quo. Do you work with them or kick them out? We’ve already seen what working with them will get.

  6. NortonSmitty says:

    Well, my first thought is that anybody who is embarrassed enough not to run as a Republican can’t be all bad. I’ll give him a look.

    • Rob says:

      @ Norton Smitty.
      This man is a lifelong Republican now he wants me to believe he has had an all of a sudden epiphany.
      Who did he align himself with before this so called change of perspective; Tea Baggers, McCain & Palin, Romney& Ryan, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Rick Scott? Or all of the above? The list could go on. Oh, allow me not to forget Mr. Mission Accomplished who drove this country into two acknowledged wars and was so sorry all those people lost their homes. The fact that he is/was a Republican speaks to his ideologies about; business, people, unemployed people, less fortunate people, women’s rights etc.

      My opinion is that the choice between him and Frank Meeker is do you wish to keep more of the same or elect more of the same.

  7. Diana L says:

    Novel thought these days, talking of vision. I want government to work, not see it destroyed. I will not vote for extremism. Saying no and criticizing everything is not the way forward. Be careful what you ask for.

  8. Lin says:

    I like that Mr Holley is a business owner and therefore should know profit and loss etc and risks vs benefit
    But his connections with the current powers that be are a question? I’ve been fooled b4.

    How many prospective politicians SAY the right things when running about what we need as a community but fall into that dark hole with the rest of the good old boys when they are seated. What would he DO when faced with the decisions if the Commission like the plantation water company & hospital?

    Unfortunately we don’t know yet — hopefully these ?s will be asked soon maybe by Flaglerlive maybe by me at a forum.

    Also no longer Republican. Is that for purposes of this election? Or In general? Why really?
    I can relate as not being able to be in line with either party and being dissatisfied with both. I’m curious.

  9. Concerned Citizen says:

    Go Holley! Go common business sense!

  10. Samantha Claire says:

    Holley has chosen to avoid participating in this year’s Republican Primary Election seemingly to avoid its more inconvenient pesky aspects such as having to actually demonstrate to Republican voters his knowledge, committment and qualifications for the position of County Commissioner – not just promising “to do what it takes…”. As a “life-long” Republican, only now wanting to show his independence, he has used one of the worst features of Florida election statutes to get around a primary election. By filing as a “No Party Affiliation” (NPA) candidate, his name goes straight to the November General Election ballott – a cheap move at best, in that he can stay a Republican. It appears he has a high regard for his ability to sell his candidacy with no risk of primary exposure. Buying substantial air time on local radio is a one-person, one-way megaphonic PR approach unlikely to resonate with any informed Voter. No matter how much Holley pays nor how loudly he projects his anemic message, Frank Meerker outclasses at evey turn. Sorry Howard, no sale. Go Frank! Samantha Claire

  11. richard hamilton says:

    I do not know Mr Holley but he sounds like an interesting candidate and this year he may just be able to pull off the “independent” coup IF he can persuade the democratic party to cross nominate him as it did Abby Romaine. Unfortunately palm coast electorate , like the national one, has become more sectarian and a party label on the ballot form was worth roughly 4000 votes in 2012. It may be less important in 2014 without the national election increasing turnout especially if Mr Holleys early announcement gives him time to shore up his apparent democratic support in a way that Abby could not mobilize in time for 2012. His business credentials, if they stand up, should not hurt him but may not help him much, just as Milissa Holland did not achieve her aims with very similar cross party republican support. Apart from getting his
    name and policies better known, his best tactic now would be to meet with Rayonier Corp and its business allies quickly in order to dry up Meeker’s funding source.

  12. JZZT says:

    If ypu read the accomplishments of Howard Holly it tells you where his priorities lie. Xerox Business Services’ China operation and quadrupling its staff there. And how many other jobs did he pritorize to move out of the USA. Doesn’t look like he wears Red White and Blue to me. Send him back to China.

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