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[Opinion] The Ups and Downs of Running for Public Office…From People Who’ve Done It

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ORLANDO (FNN NEWS) - Running for political office can be grueling. These local candidates (some winners and some not) share what it takes to really win. Photo courtesy of Orange County Republican State Committeeman Paul Paulson (pictured).

ORLANDO, Fla, (FNN NEWS) – Making the decision to run for public office can bring a multitude of emotions and challenges. While I’ve worked on winning campaigns, as a person who has lost my own bids for office, I can assure you of one thing: the campaign trail can be a very lonely process. Every political race is different. Some positions require hundreds of thousands of dollars for positions that pay $30k a year; while for others it’s less about the money and more about the issues and the work and sacrifice the candidate is willing to put in to obtain the desired result of winning. Here are a few of the winners and losers of this last election cycle, and how they felt about the process of running for office.

This isn’t designed to deter you. It’s about keeping it real and hearing from people who have gone through the process of trying to make a difference. Rest assured, it’s not always the best campaign branding or candidate that wins. Sometimes, it’s more about fate. The right race…at the right time…at the right space in your life.

 

JOEL GREENBERG

Photo courtesy of Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenburg (pictured).

Photo courtesy of Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenburg (pictured).

First up, the newly elected Seminole County Tax Collector, Joel Greenberg. This was one of the most contentious races of the 2016 political season. Greenberg was running against longtime incumbent Ray Valdes. While Greenberg ran a strong race it certainly didn’t hurt that the incumbent and his role in the office had come under heavy scrutiny. Greenberg’s win here is unique in that traditionally it is very difficult to unseat an incumbent–especially an incumbent with deep roots in the community. Greenberg shows the power of one person making a decision based on a bad experience and risking it all to make a difference.

RR: What made you decide to run for public office, specifically for Seminole County Tax Collector?

Greenberg: “I had just gotten married and we were trying to plan out the future. I had sold my company to a larger company. And I had some down time to think about what was next. During that time I purchased a boat. So I went into the Seminole County tag office to title it and realized how backwards the process was. So I began to engage in the fact finding and discovery process. I realized my love for technology and competitive edge would benefit the office I was seeking. I felt I had what it took to beat the incumbent and the gamble paid off.”

RR: What would you suggest was the biggest challenge in running for public office?

Greenberg: “At first I would say convincing my family I wanted to do this. This was a hurdle as they weren’t onboard in the beginning.”

Having your family support should be a critical part of your decision making regarding running for office. Running for office is not worth damaging the family unit, nor is it worth losing friendships over.

Greenberg: “Knowing the political landscape of your community and the specific race you’re entering is critical. Financially it was a huge risk personally. I personally funded my race to the tune of $310,000.00 approximately. I had no choice but to win. The risk of losing the money was substantial.”

Don’t let his investment scare you. Most candidates, even if they have those resources, are not prepared to loan their campaigns at this level. However, it certainly is a bonus if you have money you’re ready to put in to win.

RR: Can you offer any advice to someone who might be considering a run for public office?

Greenberg: “I would say, if it were local, hit the streets and hustle. It’s a lot of hard work. Go to as many events as possible.”

RR: Had you not won, would you have considered running again for this or any other office?

Greenberg: “Yes. If I did not win Tax Collector I would have looked at a Seminole County Commissioner seat in 2018 and I might have considered the Congressional 7 race had I not won.”

Congressional Seat 7 is currently occupied by Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy (D), who unseated popular longtime Congressman John Mica (R), who likely lost as a result of redistricting.

RR: What was your take-a-way from your first entry into running for office?

Greenberg: “I can do this.”

 

CHADWICK HARDEE

Photo courtesy of Chadwick Hardee (pictured).

Photo courtesy of Chadwick Hardee (pictured).

Hardee ran for Orange County School Board in 2014 in a tough four-way race ultimately won by Linda Kobert. Hardee is President of Hospitality Services, APDC Services Inc., Vice Chairman of the Orange Country Republican Executive Committee (OCREC), Treasurer for the Orange County Parent Teachers Association (PTA), Vice Chairman of the Orange County Membership and Mission Review Board (MMRB), and immediate past Chairman of Orange County Watch. Hardee acknowledges he may now have more political influence having run and lost verses winning as one of his roles, MMRB, doesn’t allow for elected officials to serve. A learning here is taking a look at all you’re involved in. It may not be worth it, as you weigh the pros and cons of running, if it means it would interfere with your job or community engagement.

RR: What made you decide to run for public office?

Hardee: “I love my community. I wanted to participate in the process. And with two children and one on the way (at the time), I wanted to ensure a common sense voice would be heard for my children’s futures.”

RR: What would you suggest was the biggest challenge in running for public office?

Hardee: “Understanding the process and all the rules in running. And truly the investment of time it takes to run a competitive campaign.”

RR: Can you offer any advice to someone who might be considering a run for public office?

Hardee: “Get your head examined. [He chuckles] Go into it with an open heart and open mind, because you’re going to learn a lot of things very quickly.”

RR: Will you consider running for public office again?

Hardee: “I probably will. Should the opportunity arise, it will be what my heart and head tells me to do. For me leaving town and going to Tallahassee is not an option. To me running for office is a family decision.”

RR: What was your take-a-way from your first entry into running for office?

Hardee: “Be prepared. Know what it takes to win. Understand that the time and money it will take to win are truly at the root of whether you can be successful. By not winning I actually have become far more engaged and involved in Orange County politics than I would have expected.”

 

PAUL PAULSON

Photo courtesy of Orange County Republican State Committeeman Paul Paulson (pictured).

Photo courtesy of Orange County Republican State Committeeman Paul Paulson (pictured).

Paulson is a retired attorney and is heavily involved in real estate, construction and mortgage financing. He is an interesting case study because he ran for Orlando Mayor and wasn’t successful against long time Mayor Buddy Dyer. Soon after, Paulson decided he would run for Orange County Republican State Committeeman and singlehandedly won against four opponents. Currently, Paulson is taking his politics to the state level in a bid for Florida Agriculture Commissioner. These days you’ll find Paulson himself and an assistant traveling the state putting out large campaign signs for his 2018 election bid. Now that’s commitment and a sign he’s not afraid of hard work.

RR: What made you decide to run for public office?

Paulson: “I had always been involved in Student Government in my early days including when I was in law school. Ironically, I went to law school with Mayor Buddy Dyer, Orange County School Board Chairman Bill Sublet, even Orange County Controller Phil Diamond. There are different opportunities for service and running for office gives you a chance to use your gifts and promote your passions.”

RR: What would you suggest was the biggest challenge in running for public office?

Paulson: “Well you certainly have to have certain amount of money and supporters. And you have to be a right fit for the office you’re running for. For example, when I ran for Mayor…the demographics weren’t in my favor. But the State Committeeman position I was more suited to because it was a Republican position. It helps, as well, to care about other people.”

RR: Can offer any advice to someone who might be considering a run for public office?

Paulson: “What former Mayor Richard Crotty suggested recently is pretty good advice. Find something that is well suited for your skills and run for it with all you have. It must be something that fits your passions. Regardless of whether you win or lose, there will be a time something matches your skills. In my case, it was Florida Governor Rick Scott that suggested I run for State Agriculture Commissioner, otherwise I might not have explored it.”

RR: What was your takeaway from your first entry into running for office?

Paulson: “Well I’ve run for a few offices and you learn from each one. It’s difficult for a Republican to be elected, for example, in a highly Democratic town.”

 

MELISSA MCGEE

Photo courtesy of Melissa McGee (pictured).

Photo courtesy of Melissa McGee (pictured).

McGee, with a law degree, entered the political arena while in the role of Outreach Chair for the Orange County for Trump campaign, running for Orange County Republican State Committeewoman. McGee came within eight points of the winner State Committeewoman Kathy Gibson. Not too shabby for a political unknown. “I wouldn’t do anything differently. It just wasn’t my time I guess,” says McGee. McGee is easily one of the hardest working people I’ve observed working in Orange County politics today. She consistently illustrates a feverish balance between home life as a wife and mother and the time commitments of running for office and working in politics.

RR: What made you decide to run for public office?

McGee: “I ran for public office because politics at the local level, I felt, was failing Republicans. I felt we were losing elections because of how heavy the Democratic stronghold was on the number of registered voters. I was in a unique position, having been so involved in the Trump campaign and getting to know so many outstanding volunteers, I felt I could help to infuse them into the party.”

RR: What would you suggest was the biggest challenge in running for State Committeewoman?

McGee: “For me I think it was finding the balance between life and politics. When I go in I go all in. I think I could balance my family and the time restraints a bit better. I didn’t have to be on 24/7.”

A common theme I’ve consistently heard over the years is this managing of life and the goal of winning a political race. Certainly something to think about when heading to the wishing well to potentially toss a coin–or your hat, if you will–into politics.

McGee: “There were times where instead of cooking dinner I’d run down the street to sign wave. This probably didn’t impact my race much. I’d rather have that time back with my daughter. Then again, my family probably was happy to see me entrenched in the political process.”

RR: Can offer any advice to someone who might be considering a run for public office?

McGee: “You need to be prepared to drop everything and do everything necessary to get elected. It may sound harsh… but, it’s true. My advice would be to examine your life. Is there anything in your life that would be a priority and that dominates your time…whether a family, work or a health issue…don’t run. If you want to win you have to give 110 percent.”

RR: Will you consider running for public office again?

McGee: [She laughs] “A few people have asked me about it. And I’ve said no right now. But I would never say no to running. It would need to be the right race at the right time. I wouldn’t rule out County politics, but most likely I’d look to a State or Congressional level seat.”

RR: What was your takeaway from your first entry into running for office?

McGee: “Well, someone once told me running for office is lonely. [see opening paragraph] I did find that to be the case. Even if everyone says they’re going to help you…they too have commitments and lives. You are in it pretty much on your own. Don’t assume you’ll have a giant support system. Some may… but, I don’t think it’s the norm.”

 

TEZLYN FIGARO

Photo courtesy of Tezlyn Figaro (pictured).

Photo courtesy of Tezlyn Figaro (pictured).

Tezlyn Figaro, founder of Tezlyn Figaro Communications Group, former staff member of the Bernie Sanders Presidential campaign and frequent commentator on FOX News nationally, offered up some good advice for candidates: “Candidates often feel voters will never find out about past events. Past negative issues are almost certain to be found out,” she noted. “The more competitive the race, the more the rumors will surface. So it is best to decide early on what information you want to disclose first and what information you want to prepare to answer later.” Often it’s the candidate themselves that Figaro suggests is their worst enemy. “Be prepared to answer the tough questions with a well thought out response.”

Figaro suggests one of the biggest challenges is when candidates think they can do it all on their own. “Most importantly, hire a communications professional that can help you navigate through talking points to prevent you from stumbling. Just because your favorite cousin is a great talker, doesn’t qualify him/her as a professional communication expert.”

I’ve observed Figaro in action. I liken her to a political pit bull if she happens to get wind of an opponent’s weakness. A word of advice…heed her warning.

 

DEBORAH BOOTH

Photo courtesy of Debra Booth (pictured).

Photo courtesy of Debra Booth (pictured).

Deborah Booth, a well respected local Democratic fundraiser and political strategist once gave me some advice worthy of sharing, “If you can’t sit down and write the names of fifty people that can write you a check for $500 … you have no business running for political office.” The reality is funding a campaign is easily one of the more difficult challenges any candidate faces. The discipline it takes daily to make phone calls, send emails, post on social media, lick and stuff envelopes are paramount to being a successful fundraising candidate. Not all people are good at fundraising. If you think fundraising is a weakness for you it probably is and most likely you’ll need to be in a position to self-fund your race to be competitive.

We’ve often heard it’s not about winning or losing, it’s about how you play the game. Whoever came up with this suggestion has never run for or been involved in a political campaign. It’s all about winning. If we’ve learned nothing this last election cycle, and from the candidates and elected officials above, running for political office is a significant commitment of time, energy, and money. Some of the best looking, well articulated campaigns fail. So let’s add “luck” into the equation of running for political office. If it’s your time to win…you will.

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Randy Ross is a contributing political writer for Florida National News.

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[OPINION] The Pro-Life Party is Now Targeting Children

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George Washington University's Kye Allums competing at the BankUnited Center against the University of Miami Women's Basketball Team on December 28th, 2010. Photo via the Miami Herald.

ORLANDO, Fla. (FNN) – Despite the current host of urgent issues plaguing America, Florida Republicans (and the national Republican Party) have chosen to focus their efforts on curbing civil liberties for historically underprivileged minority groups.

We’re grappling with the substantial increase in chronic homelessness, Florida being the fourth most uninsured state in the nation, an uptick in racist attacks against AAPI and other marginalized minority groups, and a rise in white supremacy.

And they are getting away with it.

Aside from the excessive voter suppression laws and anti-protest laws that give little regard for the first amendment or fifteenth amendment to the United States Constitution, Florida Republicans waited until the last minute of their retaliatory legislative session ending in the last week of April to strike a blow against school children who identify as trans, particularly trans girls.

One of the fiercest proponents of the bill, Senator Kelli Stargel (R – Polk County), has tried to frame the language of the bill around equality, arguing that girls’ sports should not be open to “male students” and competitors should have “equal” genetic dispositions. Senator Stargel has faced opposition not only from Democrats, but from her own daughter. Laura Stargel, a climate activist, wrote an op-ed reasoning with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to veto the transphobic legislation, at one point stating:

“This legislation relies on birth certificates at the time of the player’s birth to determine the gender-assigned team. The policy is rooted in a false stereotype of girls being unable to compete against boys. It oversimplifies sex-neutral characteristics such as skill, weight, height, strength and/or testosterone level, and the tremendous variation in athleticism within the sexes; variation that has produced incredible female athletes like Serena Williams and Simone Biles.”

The legislation has caused a series of disagreements about whether trans kids should be forced to sit out on sports or a league of their own must be instituted. In fact, neither should be the case. Transgender individuals playing sports has been a non-issue and Republicans are attempting to spark a so-called culture war.

Unfortunately, there is a grey area: One side of this culture war is completely misinformed. According to Dr. Eric Vilain, Molecular Geneticist at George Washington University in conjunction with NPR, people born with XY chromosomes often perform 10% to 12% better than those with XX chromosomes due to testosterone and that is typically presented in a small number of athletic competitions such as 400 meter runs and hand-tossing.

The difference between athletes is even smaller for Florida’s target, which are little kids. Before the age of 13, there are very minimal differences in athletic competition between those born with XY chromosomes and those born with XX chromosomes.

Without even counting the significant changes that transgender individuals go through when taking hormone-blockers – which lowers bone density, making them weaker – there are natural advantages in certain sports that far outweigh the average differences between those with XY chromosomes and XX chromosomes. To deny the significance of training, other differences would have to be made in regards to athletic competitions if legislators want to lock transgender women out or make them separate but equal by promoting a league of their own. Taller individuals have an advantage over shorter individuals when playing basketball or volleyball and shorter individuals have an advantage over taller individuals when ice skating or rock climbing, therefore, it would only be “fair” to exclude certain people from those sports as well. Instead, people appreciate the diversity between athletes.

Furthermore, such blatant legislation will only increase discrimination against transgender individuals, especially in women’s sports where many women are already targeted for the way they look or the way their body is built.

Florida is one of the fastest growing states in the country, and it is truly unfortunate to see Florida Republicans taking significant steps to curb civil liberties and rights, especially now targeting those they frequently toss into speeches about protecting. The Republican Party is no longer the conservative party of the past built on fiscal responsibility or so-called family values–they are a reactionary party grounded on conspiracy theories and social discrimination.

I urge readers to take the NCAA’s word on this: transgender individuals in sports is a non-issue. Stand with those who are transgender and defend every child’s right to play the sport that they love while learning how to work with a team and improve themselves physically and mentally.

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Orange Soil & Water Conservation District Supervisor Nate Douglas is a Florida National News contributor. He was the youngest person elected to public office in the state of Florida during the 2020 election is currently Vice Chair on the Orange Soil & Water Conservation District board. | info@floridanationalnews.com

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[OPINION] Destroy Gerrymandering Before it Destroys Democracy

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ORLANDO, Fla. (FNN) – In 2010, more than 60% of Florida voters opted for an amendment that would outlaw gerrymandering. This was ten years ago, yet the amendment is still relevant today. In the United States, only six states have non-partisan commissions to redraw legislative and congressional districts, apart from those six states – Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Michigan, and Washington – districts are redrawn by state lawmakers (with exception of New Jersey, which has a more complex process).

Partisan redrawing presents an issue for voters, especially Asian, Latino, and black voters. One of the most famous examples of this disenfranchisement is Florida’s 5th congressional district after the 2010 census. Prior to the Florida Supreme Court’s decision to take it upon themselves to fairly redraw districts, Florida lawmakers drew a district that stretched from Jacksonville to Orlando, encompassing primarily diverse urban areas.

Gerrymandering is worrying activists as well, particularly in southern states like Georgia, where there were increases in the black turnout.

GOP operatives have also made their intentions to gerrymander districts clear, with states like Florida, North Carolina, and Georgia set as the primary targets. This will be a problem for Americans because partisan gridlock in government does not help deliver promises, it only benefits Wall Street and those at the top.

The conservative-leaning United States Supreme Court ruled less than two years ago that federal courts do not have the authority to block gerrymandering. This Supreme Court vote was gross negligence that had little regard for the racial discrimination and voter suppression that gerrymandering presented for American voters.

Although the Supreme Court neglected its duties to protect American voters, there are solutions that could be considered to bring gerrymandering to a halt.

States should be responsible enough to put independent commissions in charge of the redistricting process. Independent commissions ensure that voters are picking their representatives in a fair manner instead of the system that many states have, where representatives are picking their voters. Redistricting commissions should be headed by citizens as opposed to politicians.

Furthermore, gerrymandering hurts voters in communities of color most, by ensuring that their representation is capped to only a few representatives. Independent commissions must make it a priority to get communities of color equitable and fair representation in the redistricting process, ensuring that their votes are no longer drowned out.

Gerrymandering is a corrupt process that prohibits citizens from getting equal and fair representation, oftentimes subjecting citizens to minority rule. Gerrymandering has usually been a tool used to keep members of congress in power, but states like Pennsylvania are now trying to extend the minority rule to judicial representation as well. This effort was first brought about during Republicans efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, seeing how unrealistic that was, state Republicans put their energy into retaking power of the legislative and judicial branches.

During the 2022 redistricting process, gerrymandering may help Republicans secure the seats of the representatives who voted in favor of overturning the election results after the Capitol riots on January 6th. Gerrymandering will not only have an adverse impact of communities of color, it will also lead to increased corruption. United States Representatives who undermine the democracy of the United States, such as Marjory Taylor Greene of Georgia will not be held accountable because as long as their party is able to hang on to state legislatures (through the process of gerrymandering), they will be able to gerrymander their way to holding on to those seats.

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Supervisor Nathaniel Douglas is the youngest ever elected to the Orange Soil & Water Conservation District Board of Supervisors in Orange County, Florida, and the youngest elected to public office during the 2020 election. He is a contributing political opinion writer for Florida National News. | info@floridanationalnews.com

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[OPINION] Joe Biden: An Extraordinarily Normal Inauguration

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President Joe Biden takes the Oath of Office on January 20th, 2021. Photo: Sgt. Charlotte Carulli.

ORLANDO, Fla. (FNN) – Under the circumstances, I think it’s safe to say that everyone expected Joe Biden’s inauguration to be extraordinary. And in a very real way, it was…by being anything but. From the moment the guests arrived at the Capitol to the one where the 46th President took his seat in the Oval Office, I was surprised by how absolutely… normal everything felt.

Nothing leading up to that day could be considered normal by any definition of the word. The fact that Biden himself would have been the Democratic contender. The absurdity of that first debate. The cries of fraud on Election Day. The horrifying assault on Congress on January 6th, just a week before. And how can we forget all that happened while a pandemic erased so much of what we considered a normal life?

I watched the ceremony with something akin to envy. Where I come from, there hasn’t been an actual inauguration in over twenty years. While democracy has been assaulted here in the States in a very real sense, in Venezuela the word itself has lost all meaning. I did not welcome, in fact, the feeling of familiarity that came over me on the 6th (not the first time I’d felt it in the past four years, by the way). It was one of the reasons why I was still nervous, even scared, two weeks later. If things like this could happen in one of the oldest democracies in the world, how could we, as a nation, recover?

Please don’t get me wrong. I believe the Inauguration was filled with many out-of-the-norm details. Let’s start with the fact that a woman of color and Asian descent took oath as vice president. Let’s single out a breathtaking poetic performance that promised, “we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one.” While we’re at it, let’s see how many women were front and center, what a diversity of faces and races graced the audience. We even had a moment that was charmingly meme-worthy.

Did I feel hope, though? I’m sad to say, I didn’t. Not much. Biden takes office in a country sliced in half. He will have to work with people who question his legitimacy. He has to convince citizens (especially many of my countrypeople) that think he is part of a plot to destroy us all that he is, in fact, there to unite, to repair. He faces a world where America’s spot at the table is not as close to the head as it was. And he faces a pandemic.

But Biden knows this. And the first thing he grabbed was a pen, to sign twenty-three executive orders to start repairing damages. His first hour in the office was spent working. That told me, “I’m not here to mess around.”

Though the uneventful-yet-event-filled inauguration didn’t bring me the hope I longed for, it did bring me something that perhaps was more needed. It brought me peace.

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Juan Carlos Rodriguez is an entertainment and politics writer for Florida National News. | info@floridanationalnews.com

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