By Michael Dobson
It appears that the Florida Democratic Party(FDP) has one rising star in its ranks that can break the curse that has kept the entire Florida cabinet in the hands of the Republican Party, making the Governor’s office illusive. Alex Sink is the last Democrat to hold a cabinet seat in Florida as CFO, and was the only Democrat to win statewide in nearly 20 years other than former U.S. Senator Bob Graham and current U.S. Senator Bill Nelson. At the urging of Karen Thurman, Mrs. Sink resigned the office of CFO to run a losing gubernatorial race against Rick Scott, and in recent years the Florida Democratic Party has run candidates with little to zero statewide name recognition, and without enough resources to mount a campaign to overcome that name ID challenge.
Moving forward, after a factious FDP Election for Chair and its need to regroup for 2018, accept for the potential gubernatorial candidacies of John Morgan or another Charlie Crist campaign, it has no one with immediate statewide name identification, like before. Other potential candidates included Mayor Bob Buckhorn of Tampa, Mayor Jack Seiler of Ft. Lauderdale, Mayor Buddy Dyer of Orlando or former Congresswomen Gwen Graham, daughter of our beloved Bob Graham; or even perhaps a former legislator in Senator Jeremy Ring. Clearly, to the party’s credit, it is beginning to acknowledge that its bench is best defined in its slew of Mayors, which also include Tallahassee’s Andrew Gillum. Another such mayor, and one with all the right stuff is former Gainesville Mayor Pegeen Hanrahan, a very popular Mayor. She is being overlooked. A quick perusal of Mayor Hanrahan’s accomplishments as reported by the media and in her various in-depth interviews via YouTube, you will find a passionate smart and dedicated Floridian with a deep knowledge of local, state and federal government, a love for our environment, a person who is approachable, a loving mother, wife and proud Gator. Florida has had many of Governors whom are University of Florida Alum, which Commissioner Adam Putnam hopes to become one. With regard to the key policy areas that are of concern to most Floridian, Mrs. Hanrahan is no slouch. Her deep relationship with University of Florida and its IFAS has instilled into her a real understanding of Florida’s agriculture, agriculture science, the needs and opportunities for Florida once booming agriculture industry, and as a conservationist .. well versed in our water issues. As an environmental engineer and passionate environmentalists, she made Gainesville the states leader in renewable energy production leveraging Gainesville business community to engage in the nation’s first feed in tariff, a policy that allowed Gainesville to lead the tate in solar energy production. She is telegenic, unflappable and can articulate Florida’s challenges as well as its opportunities in a manner and with the bonafides that seems second hand. In every way, Mrs. Hanrahan would be a real challenge to the equally skillful Adam Putnam.
Once contacted about the possibility of a run for Governor, Mrs. Harahan suggested that it was a daunting endeavor, which it is, and that there are other qualified candidates that she could support. To the latter, she may be wrong. There are no other candidates with her combination of qualifications or political skill sets. She and Adam Putnam are UF grads and are both members of Blue Key. He hails from Bartow, this writers hometown, she from Gainesville. There is always an argument about from what city or part of the state is it best to launch a statewide campaign from, but after some analysis, you will find that there is no good answer. Is Lakeland a good place to launch a gubernatorial campaign? You would think so since Governor Chiles was a native of Lakeland and served two terms as Governor. Is St. Petersburg a good place, Charlie Crist hometown? What about Ft. Myers, the adopted home of Governor Rick Scott. A transplant from Texas, Governor Jeb Bush lived in Coral Gables; while Bob Graham hailed from Miami Lakes, with Governor Bob Martinez hailing from Tampa, and Lt Governor as well as Governor Buddy McKay was from Ocala. Florida’s history will tell us that there is no special place or certain demographic makeup that best suits a run for Governor as its launching pad. The candidate success relied heavily on the resources and organization they can muster, in addition to that candidates tenacity and work ethic to fan out relentlessly day to day and make their case to voters in every nook and cranny of this large and diverse state. So, that candidate has to relish campaigning and is energized by the citizens in Florida he/she meets in rural and urban areas equally. It requires a practiced politician with innate personal traits which lend to a personal connection with voters, something Pegeen Hanrahan has. These traits translate an authenticity that voters and Democratic donors hunger for, and are the same positive traits that take candidates across party lines. If the Democratic donors really want a winner this time, perhaps letting Mrs. Hanrahan know that she has their support or (at least) there consideration will make this climb appear less daunting and more possible. However, If she was to decide this route, there are other political entanglements she will need to maneuver as well, given her various involvements with Universities and organizations. As these thoughts marinate, Mrs. Hanrahan continues to fan out around the state as she has for some years, speaking to different groups about those areas of policy for which she has an expertise. She can also begin speaking on more diverse policy subjects, which will send the donors a message. Her love for the state of Florida is itself legendary, whose eyes sparkle when the subject of Gainesville comes up. But, when taking on the task of a statewide campaign, no matter one’s personal confidence, there has to be a level of trust in a party and its donor base that has been nothing but fickle and at times self-defeating in the past. For those reasons, many good leaders often forgo the temptation of making a quest to lead our great state. There are only two camps for the Democratic Party to rest its head. In one camp, they keep doing what they have always done and get the same results. In the other camp, they can embrace their future, which lies in the hands of strong Mayors like Pegeen Hanrahan who have served multiple terms and changed the trajectory of their cities, making it more robust and dynamic. Mrs. Hanrahan has done that with Gainesville, and there are bets that she can do that for Florida as well. There is no way of knowing if Mrs. Hanrahan could be moved to take on a run for Governor, even if she gets a sense that she could amass the resources and support. But, in whatever shape the Democratic party takes in the future, Pegeen Hanrahan should be a lead player in its development. She leads the bench.
Michael Dobson, is a long time Tallahassee based governmental relations professional and columnist; President/CEO of Dobson, Craig and Associates (aka Dobson and Associates), and renewable energy policy leader as founder of Florida Renewable Energy Producers Association. Can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or Michael@dobsonandcraig.com