Over the last few weeks, the campaign between Joe Saunders and Shayan Elahi has been heating up. A few weeks ago, Elahi sent out a mailer talking about how Saunders lived outside of the district. And while this has been the most tame of attacks, others have said, even on this blog, that Mr. Saunders is only going to help the gay community if he is elected. The path that this race has gone down is purely shameful. Right now, only one side is doing the shame.
Even so, while the campaign between the two candidates is heating up, is it the candidates that are heating it up, or is it the members of the Orange County Democratic Executive Committee that are heating things up? What is already pretty obvious is that sides are being taken, and it isn’t really a surprise.
Those that are supporting Joe Saunders appear to be the new guard in the Orange County DEC. When I say new guard, I am talking about those that starting becoming involved in the Democratic Party back in 2004. These people were highly instrumental in making the current changes that we see in today’s Orange County DEC. While some of them are newer, and some older, they are still considered to be part of the new look DEC.
Those that are backing Elahi seem to be supporters of the DEC old guard. One of those that have been very vocal in this race has been former Orange County DEC Chair Doug Head. Mr Head has been strongly against Mr. Saunders’ in this race, even going as far as making posts on Saunders’ campaign Facebook page questioning his residency. Those that also seem to be for Elahi are also supporters of Mr. Head and strongly against the current chair, Representative Scott Randolph. To no surprise, most of those that are supporters of Randolph also support Saunders.
While it is true that sides are always taken by individuals in primary contests, what is interesting in this case is that each side is oddly uniformed. Most of those that are pro-Randolph are strongly for Saunders. And, of course, those that are pro-Head are very much for Elahi. Is the House District 49 Democratic Primary becoming the first battle over possible control of the Orange County DEC?
In addition to this primary, a number of other forces are lining up, which could make interesting alliances when it comes time for DEC members to vote for a new chair in a few months. Some in the Hispanic community have criticized Rep. Randolph’s lack of reaching out to their community. Some accuse Mr. Randolph of not trying to recruit a Hispanic candidate to run in the newly drawn 9th Congressional District, leaving Alan Grayson as the lone Democratic candidate.
Some Hispanics are crediting Mr. Head with working with them in regards to the battle over the recently drawn lines for the Orange County Commission districts. In aligning with the Hispanics, Mr. Head seems to be trying to position himself to retake the position of Orange County DEC Chair, or find someone that would be closely advised by Mr. Head.
If Elahi wins Tuesday’s primary, Mr. Head and his supporters will claim that it is a victory over not just Mr. Saunders, but Mr. Randolph as well. While this primary doesn’t change the make up of the DEC once it is time to elect a new chair, it will more than likely help Head’s campaign to take over the Orange DEC. An Elahi win gives Mr. Head that momentum.
Even so, most of the numbers seem to be on the side of Mr. Randolph. Most of the DEC seems to be intact. And while their choice in leaders over the last few years have not been the most impressive, Mr. Randolph has given the organization stability and has tried to build them instead of using the organization for his own personal gain.
Mr. Head’s time as the DEC Chair can only be described as less than impressive. Mostly lethargic during in tenure, the Democrats didn’t see any real substantial change. When Head took over from Irby Pugh in December of 1992, there was a lot of promise. Orlando looked as if it was trending, Bill Clinton made a last minute stop in Orlando, Kim Shephard defeated incumbent Bruce McEwen and other Democrats performed stronger than expected against strong Republican candidates. But after Mr. Head took over, enthusiasm in the party fell. Less people were attending DEC meetings. Finances were not in the best of shape and candidate recruitment fell to a new low. In the 2002 election, more Libertarians were running for the Florida House of Representatives in Orange County than Democrats. But the icing on the cake was Mr. Head’s warm working relationship with former Orange County Mayor Rich Crotty.
Even with all this, the Hispanics supporting Head claim that he is the only one that can reach out to others. On the other hand, Mr. Head was criticized by former Democratic House member Dick Batchelor in 2002 for the exact opposite. In an Orlando Weekly article about Mr. Head’s leadership of the DEC, Batchelor said “The leader of the party has got to be someone who reaches out and invites participation. A local chairman has got to be someone who excites enough interest to be part of the organization. That’s not happening now.”
Yet this is the person that some are trusting to help build the Democratic Party.
This battle in HD 49 could be a big one. If it isn’t a big battle for the seat, it will be a big Battle for the Orange County DEC. Most people only see the surface of this race…but the infighting is much more interesting.