Last Updated: Friday, 7:13 a.m., with Barbara Revels interview.
Milissa Holland is back. The two-time Flagler County Commissioner who narrowly lost a bid for the state House in 2012 filed today to run for Palm Coast mayor in 2016. She’ll run in a race to succeed Jon Netts, who’s term-limited, and has already scored one victory: with her entry in the race, council member Bill McGuire, who’d been considering the mayor’s race, chose to run for his council seat again instead.
McGuire and Netts both welcomed Holland’s entry in the race, both saying she would be a strong leader on the council. Still, she is likely to face significant opposition, as open seats generally draw numerous candidates regardless.
Holland filed her papers with Palm Coast’s city clerk late this afternoon.
“Obviously Palm Coast has been my home for 28 years,” Holland said this afternoon, shortly after filing. “It’s near and dear to my heart, this community. My father has always played a role with regards to me politically as far as me running the first time, the second and third, and now this time.” When she first ran for the county commission in 2006–and became Flagler County’s first female commissioner in history–shed wrestled between running for county or city. She opted for the county, thinking she’d be of best use there “at a time when, you remember, the county and city were suing each other over the water wars.” Holland saw herself as bridging a divide.
“I equally feel I can be of great use now as a city representative, as I believe I’m uniquely qualified because I have served in a county seat, and can understand county government,” Holland said. Two former council members have successfully made the jump to the county–Alan Peterson and Frank meeker–but no commissioner has yet made the switch from the county commission to the Palm Coast council. “Netts is now termed out and the opportunity turned up for me to run for that seat,” Holland said.
A lifelong Democrat and the daughter of founding council member and Democrat Jim Holland, who died in office in 2002, Milissa Holland about six months ago switched her registration to the Republican Party, and explained her decision as part of a journey and an evolution, all along maintaining that the Palm Coast council is non-partisan.
“As we grow and evolve and things occur in our lives, it changes our perspectives at times,” Holland said. “I’ve had the ability now to understand the inner workings of Tallahassee and I’ve understood and analyzed the state budget for my clients when I was lobbying for them the last couple of years.” Holland worked with the Southern Strategy Group, the lobbying firm. “Your perspective changes on things, you understand who you are and what your belief system is at the end of the day. For a long time I’ve struggled with that fiscal conservative side of me, which is very strong,” though she said she remains socially liberal. “Other than that I think it’s been an evolution win my, life that’s brought me to this point.”
Most of her campaign staff, she says, is still Democratic. Arlene Burnett, who’s been at her side politically throughout, is again her campaign manager.
Barbara Revels, the county commissioner whose career on the commission intersected with Holland’s for several years, and a Democrat, was surprised by the party switch. “I don’t know if that will affect her or not, because a lot of her loyal base in Flagler was disheartened, but on a non-partisan race, maybe it shouldn’t matter,” Revels said. Asked if she understood the switch, Revels said: “I don;t know if I can share what I was told, but the intent had been to get an appointment, and the fact that who she’s been working with is Southern Strategy, Thrasher. She just told me that it was more to her political thoughts, I guess, leanings. So, no, I don’t understand. She and I had a good chat about it one day.”
The switch aside, Revels continued: “I will credit Melissa in the fact that when she puts her mind to do something, she does it wholeheartedly, she’s generally well researched, and she was always very good with her constituent services, as a commissioner, I believe. And again that’s what a mayor does, see to issues, constituent problems, and is a spokesperson for the city, and she speaks well. The question is whether or not she will be able to buck the administration if there’s a need to. Not saying there’s a need to, I’m saying if there’s a need to. There’s a lot of people that talk about wanting to see a new change in administration, and I’m sure it’s just like county commission, same with city council, once you get elected and learn the ins and outs of programs and policy and budgets, you start to, as a lot of people say, drink the Kool-Aid, and you see a little bit different vision of what you might have been critical of before. So that’ll be an issue. Can she do it and will she make a good mayor?> I think that Melissa can do whatever she puts her mind to.”
Holland decided to run for a House seat in 2012 after redistricting created a Flagler-centered House district, with about 60 percent of the electorate in the county, and 20 percent each in Volusia and St. Johns. She appeared at the time to give the county its strongest chance in two generations to have a direct representative in Tallahassee. But Travis Hutson, the eventual winner, outspent her 10-to-1, and in the critical summer weeks of the election, Holland was not campaigning as hard as she had in her previous races.
She lost by a narrow margin, a loss that hit her hard and paralleled difficulties in her marriage to David O’Brien, the former senior commander at the Sheriff’s Office. They’ve been separated since. For a time Holland hosted a show on WNZF and wrote columns for FlaglerLive, then took the job with the Southern Strategy Group. But she was never far removed from Flagler or Palm Coast (she lives in the city’s C-Section). Her return to politics is no surprise. She had been rumored to be eyeing the supervisor of election’s job, after Kimberle Weeks’s fall–Weeks resigned and now faces 12 felony counts–but that job, Holland said, would not have matched with her goals.
That her decision to run for the council was welcomed by its two senior Republicans is an indication of Holland’s establishment credentials, and suggests more continuity than change. She cited two issues when asked about likely priorities of her first tenure, if she were to win: more communication with the county, and maximizing the city’s technological infrastructure, such as its FiberNet, its high-speed Internet network, made available to larger, commercial concerns around town.
“She’ll be a great candidate,” Netts said. “If she runs and she wins, she brings something to Palm Coast that we’ve never had before, and that’s somebody with experience at the county level. We continue to discuss, debate how best to partner with the county. But here’s somebody who’s got inside information on how the county operates.”
Netts and Holland have been close for years, through Holland’s friendship with Netts and his wife Priscilla, and because of her father’s connection to the council. They’ve served on the same boards, crossed paths routinely as mayor and county commissioner, and been more similar than not in their political outlook. Holland’s run for the mayorship would be more of a continuation from than a break with the Netts era. Both, when asked about their differences, seized on the same one: when the county ended the Hammock Dunes Development of Regional Impact, an initiative Holland pushed, the city opposed it (because it was losing out on money and certain rights).
Netts has also developed a prickly attitude toward the county’s Fire Rescue system, whereas Holland drew some of her political support from Fire Rescue ranks and has a friendlier attitude toward the system, though she is not, she says, thinking consolidation.
“I take a lot of my direction from the first city council, which of course included her father,” Netts said. “In fact he was the one who kind of encouraged me to run. I don’t know for a fact but I suspect that she has, maintains, carries on some of the passion that Jim Holland has for the city. I don’t think there’ll be a huge discontinuity.”
McGuire, whose term is also up in 2016, along with that of Jason DeLorenzo, said his concern is to keep the council from falling into the hands of more extreme forces–a direct reference to the Ronald Reagan Republican group from which he broke away several years ago. “I would not run for mayor if Jason DeLorenzo or Milissa Holland were to run because I think either of them would be a good mayor,” McGuire said. “The only thing that would persuade me to run for mayor were if somebody like Anne-Marie Shaffer would run.”
Shaffer, a Reagan group member and now the head of what’s left of the local Republican Executive Committee, ran for a council seat in 2014 and lost to Heidi Shipley. The Reagan group is expected to aggressively field candidates in most local races, as it did in 2014. Should it field Shaffer for the mayor’s race, McGuire said Holland “will eat her alive.”
DeLorenzo confirmed in a brief interview this afternoon that he’s not running for mayor. He’s exploring his political options, possibly off the council.
Holland has three children–two sons, age 20 and 25, and a daughter, 19–and is going to school at Daytona State College, with a focus on health care. She had been consulting with the Southern Strategy Group, but no longer is, now that she is a declared candidate.