[TFS Editors’ note: the Squeeze’s endorsements are gaining notice including in the Tallahassee Democrat, the Capital City’s newspaper of record! Grateful for the recognition and their work keeping Tallahassee accountable and informed.]
This week, we continue our look at critical 2022 elections in Leon County. We’ve discussed at some length the growing movement for reform occurring in Tallahassee, where grassroots candidates are now routinely thumping establishment-backed candidates.
One of the most positive developments in Leon County’s shifting political currents is the candidacy of Josh Johnson for the At-Large, Group 2 seat, where Johnson is in strong shape to continue to shake things up and oust another an out-of-touch incumbent.
Johnson teaches economics and government at Godby High School, a Title 1 public school that has awarded him “Educator of the Year.” He is also a small business owner and the President of the 621 Art Gallery, a local cultural institution.
The Johnson campaign is endorsed by School Board Member-elect Marcus Nicolas, the Leon Classroom Teachers Association, the Big Bend Labor Council, former County Commissioner Bob Rackleff, and City Commissioner Jeremy Matlow, who the Squeeze has also proudly endorsed.
Johnson is a breath of fresh air in Leon County elections, where over the last decade a pro-development ‘VancoreJones majority’ described by J.T. Burnette during the Scott Maddox corruption trial has lazily ruled without inspiration — or much of a public mandate.
Johnson’s opponent Commissioner Nick Maddox began his career inauspiciously — unseating neighborhoods champion Commissioner Cliff Thaell, powered by support from local Chamber of Commerce players — and his record has been about what you’d expect from those origins.
Maddox has been a loyal soldier of the business establishment, consistently voting in favor of developer interests against public opposition on major land-use matters, controversial Blueprint mega-projects that speculatively subsidize urban sprawl, and of course, the infamous $27 million Doak Campbell stadium giveaway largely shaping the 2022 political landscape.
In his fourth campaign, Maddox has relied heavily on bundled contributions from real estate and developer interests. In March, he raised $17,000 from just a handful of real estate/developer bigwigs indicating not just major influence from an increasingly discredited local machine, but a small base of active support — a fact that seems to be dawning on the establishment as Maddox scrambles, hiring Sean Pittman’s media consulting firm in July.
Meanwhile, Johnson’s lively campaign has also earned the endorsement of former Tallahassee Mayor & Commissioner Debbie Lightsey, who wrote last week about the broken local system of governance which has generated unpopular, undemocratic outcomes.
Part of that dysfunctional system included forcing the biggest land-use decision in recent memory through during a lame-duck vote that allowed Commissioners Bryan Desloge (who had just been roundly rejected at the ballot box) and Elaine Bryant (who was never elected) to cast votes, despite objections to fast-tracking it.
[Former Commissioner Mary Ann Lindley, who also started and ended her tenure with developer favors, expressed neighborhood concerns before flip-flopping, as did City Commissioner Dianne Williams-Cox, casting a vote to pass the ghastly Comp Plan amendments and interlocal agreements with the Welaunee Plantation landowners, which run contrary to every principle of sound urban planning and good government.]
As usual, Maddox voted with the majority to approve the rotten deal.
“Year after year, we see the same powerful interests get special treatment while the people, organizations, and neighborhoods that need help the most get left behind,” Johnson recently said in an exclusive Florida Squeeze interview. “People take these jobs as stepping stones, and you end up stepping on people.”
In 2022, Johnson is running on a forward-thinking, profoundly earnest platform. In his view the great majority of Leon County are “outsiders,” whom the entire local governmental process has left behind. Only with open engagement by public servants with deep roots in the community — not just the Chamber cocktail circuit — can the balance be restored.
Informed by that notion, Johnson has been running a campaign that feels like a callback to the glory days of former Senator and Florida Governor Lawton Chiles, a mostly one-man band operation. He has a sizable network of supporters and volunteers to be sure, but no handlers, no gatekeepers and no insider consultants. It’s all him, the campaign, its themes, its speeches, all stem from this candidate. It’s a refreshing change in a milieu like Tallahassee, long known for its pre-scripted pols.
Then there’s the unfortunate but unavoidable subject of his opponent Maddox’s personal scandals while in office. Even debate moderators have been understandably queasy about discussing the matter, but it’s important for voters to weigh.
Last year, Maddox resigned abruptly as director at the Boys & Girls Club of the Big Bend following harassment and hostile workplace complaints. His “unceremonious exit” followed sexual harassment allegations, according to a Tallahassee Democrat story in February. As voters clearly voice their desire for a new direction in local government, the distractions stemming from Maddox’s personal conduct are just not tenable.
2022 provides a distinct opportunity to bring Tallahassee and Leon County beyond the Maddox era, and transcend the outworn arrangements of the Bad Old Days where a complacent majority deeply influenced by organized money ruled the day on major decisions, regardless of public input.
Johnson’s campaign has been decidedly uplifting. He has canvassed dozens of Tallahassee neighborhoods, often joined by Ruth Chase of “No 2 Doak” fame from her role helping lead the massive public opposition to the $27 million giveaway.
This county-wide At Large seat could be a bullwark of the kind of vigorous and proactive leadership our Capital County so badly needs, instead of foundering in the backwash of business as usual.
At 6’3″ with a gregarious personality, Johnson will stand tall for Tallahassee’s values — while working creatively with his colleagues and the public to help forge a new consensus at the County. We at the Squeeze are proud to give him our full enthusiastic endorsement.