Volusia Politics: Let’s Call It What It Is

I have always admired people who call it like they see it.

It’s why I instinctively turn to the editorial page in any newspaper I open.  Even if I don’t necessarily agree with the content, a good argument, cogently and persuasively made, tells me a lot about the outlet’s viewpoint and the community it serves.

I often judge people much the same way.

Recently, I saw a meme that rang true.  It said – “Everyone appreciates your honesty, until you’re honest with them.”

Despite the fact that most people consider themselves open-minded and accepting, I’ve found it’s a rare breed that can actually engage in an honest and open debate of opinions and still “agree to disagree” at the end of the day.

Not convinced?

Try discussing our current presidential race around the water cooler – or hash-out religious differences, immigration reform, or thoughts on your sister’s relationship issues at the Thanksgiving table.

You’ll get the idea.

I’m fortunate to have a precious few very close and very smart friends that consistently understand the issues and can air their unique thoughts and views with me in a supportive, constructive and engaging way.

Unlike any college campus in America, where anything other than group-think is verboten, we can engage in the healthy discussion and debate of the thorny social and political issues that touch us all.

Perhaps I spend too much time thinking about “things,” but I have an opinion on just about everything.  Regular readers know that I can often be brutal in my assessment of situations that I find detrimental to the public’s welfare – and I can’t stand bullies who misuse the power and influence of their position at the expense of the rest of us.

I’m equal opportunity in that regard.

Last week I read an interesting opinion piece written by Daytona Beach News-Journal Editor Pat Rice extolling the virtues and work ethic of Volusia Republican Executive Committee Chairman Tony Ledbetter.

Now, I consider Mr. Rice a friend of mine – but on this point – we’re going to have to agree to disagree.

In my view, “Chairman-for-Life” Ledbetter is perhaps the single most polarizing force in local politics.

I’m not referring to the hammer and tong battle at election time, I’m referring to the petty strife and angst he creates among his own local party affiliates.

Never one to let the rules get in his way, Tony recently violated both the letter and spirit of his own committee’s agreement with local Republican candidates – and perhaps the law – by distributing a “voters’ guide” that included an effective (if not ham-handed) scheme to give certain candidates special advantage by literally highlighting their names with a yellow marker.

As I understand it, the Republican Party of Florida has a convoluted rule that establishes a process which permits county executive committees to endorse individual candidates.

Among other things, the protocol requires that the committee notify all Republican candidates and hold a meeting where each party hopeful is given an equal opportunity to address the assembled committee members before a vote is taken.

Only candidates who receive 60% or more of the vote can be formally endorsed by the county executive committee.

While it appears Mr. Ledbetter and his committee followed the formalities of a meeting and vote, in the County Council chair race, no single candidate garnered the required percentage of votes to receive a formal individual endorsement in the committee’s voter guide.

In keeping with the state party’s rule, it was agreed that all four Republican candidates – Ed Kelley, Jason Davis, Greg Gimbert and Tom Laputka – would be given equal billing.

Then – as often happens in our era of social media – a photograph began circulating at the speed of Facebook which clearly showed that three names on the voter guide had been highlighted for special emphasis.

To include Ed Kelley.

This left even casual observers with the subliminal – if not glaringly obvious – impression that Mr. Kelley is (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) the committee’s REAL choice.

Another name highlighted for emphasis was Republican State Committeeman candidate Paul Deering.

His competitor in that race, Jim Oddie, reported that he saw a copy of the highlighted guide at a political “hob nob” in West Volusia last week – an event where both Deering and Ledbetter were said to have personally distributed the marked ballot to attendees.

Of course, Tony vehemently denied any involvement – and in true form – made the counter accusation that anyone who said he passed out altered voter guides was a “bald faced” liar.

Interestingly, the same sample ballots highlighting the names of Deering, and State Committeewoman candidate Marilyn Ford, were found stacked at the reception counter – and boldly affixed to the front door – of Ledbetter’s own Republican headquarters.

Naturally, the candidates who failed to receive Tony’s special emphasis are pissed.

Frankly, they have every right to be.

To make an agreement based upon an established party rule, then openly violate that pact, speaks volumes about the honor and character of Chairman Tony Ledbetter – and any candidate who would willingly go along with this despicable deception.

In a yeoman’s effort to downplay the fact that he had been caught red-handed, on Friday Ledbetter told the News-Journal that the “voters’ guides” circulated by Republican volunteers are like “one-on-one endorsements between friends.”

Really?  Because it says, “OFFICIAL REPUBLICAN SAMPLE BALLOT” right at the top of the guide.  Just sayin’.

According to news reports, Ledbetter said, “I leave it up to my volunteers to say what they want to say.  I’m not a dictator.”

Really?  Because it sure seems like it’s Tony’s way or the highway when it comes to local party matters.  Just sayin’.

Interestingly, the self-avowed non-dictator then issued an imperial declaration that all pre-marked sample ballots be removed from Republican headquarters immediately.

In my view, despite the clumsy denials and even more awkward attempt to clean-up his mess, at his core, Ledbetter knows that the damage has already been done.

By taking a page directly from the “There is no such thing as bad publicity” school of political marketing, the Chairman carefully orchestrated a strategy that lets everyone know exactly who the Chairman of the Volusia Republican Executive Committee supports and the rules be damned.

And that, my friends, is bullshit.  It might also be criminal.

Regardless, it’s mean-spirited and counter to the Florida Republican Party’s regulations governing local committee endorsements, and Ed Kelley, Paul Deering and Marilyn Ford damn well know it.

Now, incumbent Volusia County Council Chairman Jason Davis has filed a criminal complaint against Ledbetter.

During a press conference, Davis stated, “This is a broad attempt by Mr. Ledbetter, and his personal preferred candidates, Ed Kelley, Paul Deering, and Marilyn Ford, to deceive the voters of Volusia County and violate Title IX Chapter 104 Florida Statutes.”

It has been reported that Davis is also naming Kelley, Deering and Ford in his complaints.

Good for him.  I’m not a huge fan of Chairman Davis, but it’s about time somebody exposed this insider horseshit for what it is.

Regular readers of this blog know that I have written extensively on my views regarding Ed Kelley’s candidacy for Volusia County chair.

In my view, Ed is a perennial politician with no qualms about twisting his record – and his words – to suit his immediate political needs.

Given his donor list, is it any wonder why Ledbetter and his followers would fight so hard – even jeopardizing their own reputation and credibility – just to give Ed Kelley a leg up?

It’s because money influences people and processes.

And, unfortunately, it directly manipulates the outcome of elections.

Let’s face it, all one has to do is read Mayor Kelley’s campaign contribution reports to understand where his true allegiances lie – and it isn’t with you or me.

As I’ve said before, people like J. Hyatt Brown, Lesa France-Kennedy and Mori Hosseini are highly successful for one reason only – they don’t spend a dollar without knowingly exactly what the return on that investment will be.

In Ed’s case, the “Big Three” are making massive campaign contributions for one reason only – to purchase access and political sway – and Tony Ledbetter’s influence is an important part of their plan.

Ask yourself this:  Why would Brown, Hosseini and France – along with their considerable business entities – spend tens of thousands of dollars to support Ed Kelley for elective office?

Why would Tony Ledbetter gamble with the honor and reputation of area Republican’s to ensure Kelley receives an illicit boost from his committee?

What do you think these uber-wealthy power brokers consider an appropriate return on their sizable investment in Ed Kelley’s candidacy?

While Tony Ledbetter would like to think he swings a big hammer in local politics, the fact of the matter remains – he’s a foolish pawn in a much larger game that relies on simple-minded toadies to do the scut work of the real players – and it doesn’t make a damn if you’re a Republican or a Democrat.

In my view, the system is rigged on both sides of the isle.

Unless and until candidates at all levels of the political spectrum have the personal courage to stand up against the influence of big money, speak truth to power, and truly represent the collective interests of all constituents – not just those of the highest bidder – then we are doomed to having our elections controlled by the Chairman Ledbetter’s of the world.

In perhaps the best example of speaking truth to power that I’ve seen this political season, Volusia County Council chair candidate Tom Laputka is quoted as saying, “Some people are born assholes.  There are others who try really hard to be one.  Ledbetter is both.”

Now that’s calling it like you see it.


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