Johnny Gaffney Blocks Reggie Fullwood's Easy Path Back to Tallahassee
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Reggie Fullwood could well pay the price for a notary’s mistake as he ponders his political future.
First elected to the Florida House in 2010, Fullwood was the only candidate running for his secure Democratic seat in Jacksonville. But Fullwood was tripped up after a a notary overlooked a box to check off regarding his financial disclosure. Fullwood tried to get back on the ballot but a judge ruled against him, meaning there will be a special election after the general election in November to fill the open House seat.
Fullwood can expect a fight as he looks ahead to getting back to Tallahassee. Fellow Jacksonville Democrat Johnny Gaffney filed to run back in early July and raised almost $16,750 during that month.
Gaffney is one of the leading Democrats in the city. Back in the early 1980s, Gaffney played for the Florida Gator football team and, before he suffered a devastating injury, he was headed to the NFL. Gaffney bounced back strongly after the end of his football career. He worked for Barnett Bank and went to grad school, eventually obtaining a doctorate in education. Gaffney also found success in politics, winning a city council seat back in 2007 and keeping it in 2011 with more than 70 percent of the vote.
But, despite his botched effort to get on the ballot, Fullwood is no lightweight. Only 39, Fullwood burst onto the political scene in 1999 when he was the youngest member ever elected to the Jacksonville City Council. Facing term limits, Fullwood rolled the dice and came up short in 2006 when he offered a primary challenge against Audrey Gibson who was then in the Florida House. Despite losing, Fullwood did surprisingly well, taking 43 percent against a pretty well-established incumbent. When Gibson faced term limits in 2010, Fullwood ran again and this time claimed the seat.
Things appeared to be going Fullwood’s way until the ballot snafu. Now he is guaranteed a much more challenging path to the House. Gaffney has said he will run for the seat, whether in 2016 or in a special election in early 2015. Both Democrats have strong ties to the community and are well-established party leaders. No matter when it is set, this is going to be a competitive primary.
Longtime Republican leader Lawrence Jefferson who is with the Duval County sheriff’s office is hoping to take advantage of a competitive Democratic primary. Jefferson has served as the Duval County GOP’s treasurer and is one of the leading black Republicans in Jacksonville. But he hasn’t had much luck when he turned his attention to higher office, including running for a Florida House seat back in 1999 when he got crushed by Denise Lee.
It’s hard to imagine Jefferson being a major factor here -- but then it was hard to imagine Fullwood failing to make the ballot in what should have been a slam dunk re-election effort. Now, at the very least, Fullwood has to go up against Gaffney in what will be a match-up of two prominent Democrats.
Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis exclusively for Sunshine State News.