On Sunday afternoon, a politically astute friend called to say:
“Pat Rice just won the District 4 County Council race for Heather Post.”
That prognostication came after Mr. Rice’ recent column in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Post’s about-face on campaign contributions,” wherein he piled on with the likes of our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, the demonstrably dishonest Councilwoman Deb Denys, and the other poohbahs on the dais of power to slam Ms. Post for daring to raise the specter of campaign finance reform.
Frankly, Mr. Rice should have stayed out of the ring.
It was an unsophisticated attack. But an attack, nonetheless.
And it demonstrated just how low the Volusia County triumvirate of Big Money donors, the malleable candidates they buy like cheap livestock through exorbitant campaign contributions, and the News-Journal – who always seems too close to the other two legs of the stool for comfort – will go to protect the status quo.
In 2016, Ms. Post, then a political newcomer, benefited from a bidding war between members of the well-heeled donor class during her race against Al Smith for the District 4 seat – a contest that saw over a half a million dollars in donations for a seat that pays some $43,000 a year.
Most telling, more than half of the $503,000 in campaign contributions to Post and Smith came from just six uber-wealthy political power brokers and corporate entities under their control.
According to research done in 2017 by former News-Journal investigative reporter Seth Robbins:
“…the largest contributions in the District 4 race came from companies and donations associated with George Anderson, developer of the Ocean Walk and a real estate investor; J. Hyatt Brown, chairman and chief executive officer of Brown & Brown Inc.; homebuilder Mori Hosseini, chairman and CEO of ICI Homes; Theresa Doan, whose beachside properties and investments include three Main Street bars; businesses affiliated with International Speedway Corp. and its president, John Saunders; and companies affiliated with Consolidated-Tomoka, a land holding company.”
Anyone care to guess why these individuals and industries would invest so heavily in a Volusia County Council seat?
Look, I haven’t always agreed with Heather Post – she voted with the majority on many issues I disagreed with – and continues to play the role of a self-promoting professional victim – something I think detracts from the many positive qualities that have endeared Ms. Post to her constituents.
I also watched as Ms. Post transitioned into a cagey politician – sometimes quibbling and arguing semantics with me on important issues – and shunning any News-Journal reporter who tried to get her take on an issue – relying instead on a canned social media presence (which she controls exclusively) to communicate with those she serves.
But, by and large, she has been her own person – holding firm to that which she felt was right – always personally accessible to her constituents and committed to helping wherever needed – even when it chafed her fellow council members.
It became apparent early in her term that Ms. Post would not be pigeonholed, or beaten into the round hole of political conformity, and her staunch resistance made her Ol Ed Kelley’s personal punching bag.
Time and again, Chairman Kelley took great delight in verbally pummeling Ms. Post – complete with his dramatic eye-rolling, deep sighs and other histrionic gestures – as Mr. Kelley obediently did as he was told and defended the status quo.
Unfortunately, Old Ed’s mean-spirited bullying transferred to many of Ms. Post’s “colleagues” on the dais of power – each of whom opportunistically landed a few blows of their own – or just willingly joined in with the dismissive shrugs and parliamentary blocking maneuvers which painted Post as an ineffectual nonconformist.
Then, during what passed for a Volusia County Council meeting earlier this month, Ms. Post had the courage to seek change to Volusia’s no-holds-barred campaign finance system which allows well-heeled political insiders to control the outcome of local elections with massive infusions of cash into the coffers of hand-select candidates.
In my view, campaign finance reform is the most pressing issue facing Volusia County – something I have been bellowing about like a wounded wildebeest for years. . .
I have no doubt Ms. Post knew the personal and political ramifications when she made the motion to put language on the November ballot that would limit the auction house spending and level the playing field for all candidates.
That is why it was no surprise to anyone paying attention that Mr. Rice would support his influential friends by painting Ms. Post’s suggestion as sour grapes – pointing out that Councilwoman Post didn’t kick when she was the recipient of similar largesse.
Then, someone Mr. Rice’s own size stepped into the ring. . .
On Sunday, Volusia County Sheriff Michael Chitwood boldly wrote a social media post taking Mr. Rice to task for his attack on Heather Post – and decrying the fact that politically active companies linked to mega-donor Mori Hossieni are currently accepting federal funds under the Paycheck Protection Program, all while making large cash donations to Dishonest Deb Denys and other local political campaigns.
According to a subsequent post by Sheriff Chitwood – after he had the temerity to challenge the way things are – he was reminded by Pat Rice that he accepted some $8,000 from Mr. Hossieni and company during his 2016 campaign.
In his own inimitable style, Sheriff Chitwood responded, “That is absolutely true, and had I known then what I know now, I would have sent it straight back. Instead, I have repaid him ever since by calling out the pay-to-play political system he runs in Volusia County.”
Good for you, Sheriff!
Clearly, Mr. Rice was fighting outside his weight class.
And it is equally clear that Sheriff Chitwood will not be bullied – or compromised – by anyone.
Perhaps it’s time that Mr. Rice, and his chums in the Halifax areas social and civic elite, understand that those of us here in the ‘Real World’ have had our fill of mercenary politicians and those who seek to profit from massive investments in local political campaigns.
Welcome to the change Volusia County residents so richly deserve.
Photo Credit: The Daytona Beach News-Journal