With Florida Democrats desperate for any kind of real statewide candidate after years of hand clenching mixed with various desperate schemes, perhaps looking backwards is in order. But instead of promoting a true retread as Democrats in the state have done, it appears Scott Maddox once Mayor of Tallahassee and FDP Chair is emerging once again albeit somewhat quietly as a potential major statewide player again. Word on the street in Tallahassee is that Maddox would like to replace Jackie Pons as Leon County Superintendent of Schools. From that powerful and visible position that will place Maddox in the news throughout the Big Bend region, another statewide run might be in order. Maddox sought statewide office three times before he turned 45, and today at just 47 remains a viable long-term option for a despairing party.
Maddox sits today on the Tallahassee City Commission, an awkward spot for a man that was elected Mayor of Florida’s capital city at the age of 28. Three years later in 1999, Maddox took a leadership role in the Florida League of Cities and by the next year, party insiders were talking openly about him being a strong fresh face for Governor. Maddox’s quixotic gubernatorial bid of 2001 turned into a surprisingly strong Attorney General’s campaign in 2002 and his star was never higher.
Mayor Maddox repeatedly showed an ability to understand the pulse of the audience he was speaking to better than any other Democrat running statewide that year. Simply put, in almost every single room he entered he was the most natural of the four Democrats running for Attorney General and better than any of the candidates for Governor or Agriculture Commissioner as well. For a party that was failing badly, a statewide star was born.
The retail political side of Mayor Maddox was amazing to witness in 2002. As someone who traveled the state for Democratic candidates that year, I was awed by Maddox’s tireless work rate and his ability to connect with the partisan base throughout the state by talking about macro issues. When an electoral debacle of epic proportions befell Florida Democrats in November of that year, Maddox was the logical person to take the reins of a battered party.
As Florida Democratic Party Chair, Maddox began rebuilding the field operation of a damaged party and moved the FDP Headquarters to a modern new facility on Bronough Street. He also spent more time outside Tallahassee than in the capital city after his tenure as Mayor ended in early 2003.
Maddox left the FDP in 2005 to run for Governor, but soon was out of the race after a major tax scandal involving the party’s finances under his watch was exposed. In political exile from late 2005 to 2009, Maddox continued to build his statewide base of powerful interests and demonstrated again his populist appeal in a 2010 campaign for Agriculture Commissioner and has reemerged as a major player in the past five years.
Now Maddox seems poised to move into a more noticeable role than serving on the Tallahassee City Commission. Having long ago built a statewide network, first through the League of Cities, then his statewide candidacies, FDP leadership and more recently through his professional work, Maddox seems a natural to take another shot at cabinet office. While being a Democrat has meant that Maddox has not won a statewide election (much like everyone else wearing the Dem label in statewide elections since 2000), it also means a party whose winning percentage in cabinet races since the year 2000 is just over 5%, might be well advised to take another long look at the Tallahassee Commissioner in the future.
Those who have observed Maddox in recent years indicate he is more mature, smarter and savvier than ever before. The one-time over anxious young candidate who many thought had a sense of entitlement now appears like a seasoned and presentable politician especially when compared to the weak Democratic bench across Florida.
Unlike any other prospective Democratic statewide candidate who need to build an infrastructure quickly, Maddox has supporters, political allies and professional contacts in almost every county in the state — and for those newbies who weren’t around when he ran in 2002 or was FDP Chairman, he is particularly strong in the three urban southeastern Florida counties among major power brokers. Many of those power brokers still wield significant influence all these years later.
I realize the natural reaction to this article might be overly negative — Scott Maddox, again, really? But honestly since the Florida Democratic Party has done virtually nothing to build a bench over the course of the last several years, Maddox’s reemergence is probably a welcome development for a party who could use any sort of viable statewide figure.
Maddox is now savvier than ever and he probably will simply sit out 2018 if he becomes Leon Superintendent of Schools after the 2016 election. Still at just 47, the 2022 and 2026 state cycles might still be opportunities for Maddox to coronate himself as “Florida Democratic Comeback Kid”.