“Why on earth would you want to take that job?! You do so much good in the world already?” That’s a frequent question that has greeted the smiling face of Damon Victor throughout his campaign to replace incumbent Rick Minor as the new Leon County Commissioner for district three. It’s a common question that usually greets any candidate as he makes the sometimes isolated journey from citizen to elected official. Damon is no different, after a lifetime of dedicated service, community volunteerism, and reaching the top level in his profession; his friends seem puzzled. He’s done so much good on a global level creating and manufacturing prosthetic limbs for people, much more genuine and measurable change than most county commissioners could ever dream of achieving. Why run?
The passionate and patient face of the candidate will just give that slim knowing smile that has become a mainstay of his potential district. The answer is instantly obvious. Isn’t that the kind of person that Commission seats were made for? Shouldn’t this man, after a lifetime of impact be the best person to obtain this position?
“There are a lot of cynical reasons to not run for office and a lot of practical reasons. But, if it’s available to you and you can, it’s tragic for the process if you don’t run,” says Damon.
It’s a compelling answer and one that has in many ways challenged the fragile ideological house of cards that frames the mindsets of many democratic activists in districts throughout America today. What do you do when an ordinary citizen comes along who is a champion of the working class, who has a proven track record, lifelong associations with Leon county, who outstrips his opponents in any unbiased measurement, with an earnest desire for reform, and is an NPA?
Its been an interesting process for the most Blue district of North Florida to grapple with. But, for the candidate himself and his brilliant team of activists and volunteers, it’s merely an interesting sideshow to the goal of the campaign. Reconnecting with the public, and transforming the position from a partisan stepping stone into what it was designed for, a nonpartisan position that focuses on nonpartisan local issues. For a long time in both red and blue districts that was code for a person of the opposite party who is trying to use the independent label as a mask, and trick the voters into electing a reactionary. It’s a charge that has been made by some democratic old-timers whose political educations ended with the fall of the Berlin wall. But, here again, it gets interesting.
Damon is an independent. By god, he is, so much so that his friends created a meme of him in which his face is inserted into the famed Gilbert portrait of George Washington. They make jokes at Damon’s ability, just like that of America’s first and only independent President, to remain objective. It’s not dodging! It’s integrity and it’s a trait this community, state, and the country have seen precise little of. Damon for his part sees his NPA status as an advantage, and it is perfectly suited for the district.
“I’m a nonpartisan running for a nonpartisan position… This has nothing to do with a national political system and it’s about bringing things back to the local level. It’s about community action and community agreement. It’s about making our communities more proactive,” remarks Damon.
A commissioner who is representative of the residences? Who resents that the seat is being treated as a politician’s stepping stone? What strange times we live in, where such simple notions seem almost revolutionary. “I follow my instincts and my values and it’s made the difference. His purpose (Rick Minor) is to defund the district, I’m trying to defend it. This campaign is a reaction to these past few years.” No small wonder that the issues Damon’s campaign preaches seem to make their way into the mindset of the out-of-touch incumbent commissioner. In recent days criticism has increased among longtime Democrats and avid campaign cycle spectators that Minor is constantly parroting Victor’s positions. It’s never a good sign for an incumbent to steal from their challengers, it’s deadly when the public recognizes it.
“The driving factor is the lack of representation in District 3. Our current Commissioner ran for this post after running for City Commission three times, it appears he didn’t even want this role. This isn’t a consolation prize, it’s a calling.” On the day of our phone interview, the candidate and I had already managed to understand each other. It was after all our third phone call. Ever the engineer and designer, Damon made sure we spoke at least once beforehand, to not only provide insight, but context for the article. As in everything, even an interview for this publication, Damon takes time and care for it to be done effectively. It’s the kind of process that an ordinary politico would find taxing and even annoying. For Damon, it is just the polite and decent thing to do for anyone interested in his candidacy. It is also helpful. It takes no time for him to comment on the frustrating conditions for the residents in Leon’s third district. “The inequities in our society are being played out right here in our own district three. 20 percent poverty rates just a few streets away from prosperity. One side has brand new sidewalks, the other has needed no sidewalks for nearly a generation.”
Now it’s the bread and butter of any challenger to speak like this, it is just what you do when you run against an incumbent in trouble, an incumbent that never should have been there. But, when Damon says it, there is an earnest heartsickness to the process. You sense that this is a citizen who has poured over the numbers and has grown truly angered at the way his fellow citizens have been mistreated by a politician turned commissioner who is tone-deaf to their needs.
“I’ve lived in district three for over twenty years, I’ve been able to see over the past few decades, I’ve seen the negative changes. We’ve had only two commissioners in the past 16 years, so it is apparent where the blame should be placed.” Damon of course refers to Rick Minor and his immediate predecessor John Dailey, now the city’s incumbent mayor, and also like Minor, fighting for his political life.
Damon’s campaign is in many ways the polar opposite of the kind of mega-donor spectacles that have come to symbolize Democratic politics in Tallahassee. While his principal challenger is eagerly seeking and accepting every max donation he can grasp, Damon as usual is taking a different approach.
“I will not be taking money from corporations that I’m trying to defend you from,” Damon announces, and true to his word whenever he receives special interest or corporate donations, they are promptly returned to sender. In the manner of former populist candidates of old, the likes of Askew and Chiles, Damon has managed to collect an impressive donation total fueled by only small donations, hundreds of them, from citizens and small businesses. What does he do with this campaign war chest? Again something fantastically refreshing; he uses it effectively. No thousands handed out to consultants, no large media ad buys, and no wasteful expenditures of the vanity items that bankrupt many a campaign. The sole usage of the money is to use every drop of it towards outreach.
What media the campaign has purchased are in avenues that have proven most effective in recent Leon campaigns; Digital and radio ads with a healthy dose of community events sprinkled into the mix. Damon and his skilled campaign manager Margaret Moore are trying to prove that you can run an effective campaign on a limited and concentrated budget. This is a big difference from a campaign with no funds. Instead, it’s merely cutting the fat from the usual excess that has come to dominate the process. “There is a huge industry of people trying to get paid to provide services from candidates. Daily they reach out to me, pitching themselves, trying to get a piece of the money I’ve raised from all these small donors.”
Before ending our interview process I asked Damon to explain his famed Change equation, a tool he has used to motivate volunteers and voters throughout the campaign. Damon is a man of science and mechanical theory, the kind of person who learns and measures mathematical and scientific laws; using them as windows into real-world tasks. You can tell that the question lights something up in Damon and he cheerfully explains the equation.
The equation states that for change to occur, dissatisfaction with the status quo, a clear vision, and first steps towards the vision must be greater than the resistance to change. In scientific terms, it is written out as D x V x F > R. Taking the first steps into unfamiliar territory can be daunting for both a candidate and a community. Those affected by a change must be convinced that the change is desirable, purposeful, and executable, this is ultimately how change agents regardless of political identity get elected. The status quo will fight the instruments of change that deny them the creature comforts they have come to depend upon, the holders of political positions, party veterans that are wary of change, and those that demand expensive fees for campaign services.
At each step of Damon’s journey, he has remembered the change equation – no change without dissatisfaction. He has seen the dissatisfaction on every block of district three, witnessed the need for change on every road without a sidewalk, every forum that the incumbent ignores, and every social service cut in favor of unnecessary development.
As this race is being transformed into a stark choice of two very different men, the answer to Damon’s friend’s question becomes all the more transparent. An incumbent who always coveted a seat on the city commission, who dropped out of contention for such a seat in 2016 to make way for now imprisoned commissioner Scott Maddox to retain it. An incumbent who ran for his county commission seat only after John Dailey’s unexpected entrance in the Mayor’s race and Minor’s second attempt at a city commission seat wasn’t gaining traction in 2018. An incumbent who first voted for the FSU/DOAK funding proudly exclaimed “FSU! FSU!” before switching positions when Damon spoke out on the issue and the political tides were changing against the funding.
The other option is Damon Victor, a man who is willing to make his campaign more difficult by not accepting developer’s money or refusing the advice of an entire class of political consultants, all so he can come into office free from their influence. Why is Damon running? After a lifetime of service, why is he doing this?
He’s running for all the right reasons and as always he’s doing it to help the most people in the most meaningful and effective manner possible. This dear reader is why we have county commissioners!
Great and informative commentary!