There is one story that I’m watching as the 2018 elections approach.
Will Jacksonville take back its rightful property? By this, I mean its second seat in the U.S. Congress.
The state of Florida subjected the city to eminent domain, redrawing the Fifth Congressional District and making it tough for the incumbent, Corrine Brown, to defend.
Brown couldn’t raise money or run an effective campaign, given her legal issues, and she lost her primary. Now we are represented–we, one of the biggest cities in the state–by a guy from outside the area code.
I’m writing, of course, of Rep. Al Lawson.
If you’ve heard him discuss Marco Rubio and Eureka Garden, being friends with Artis Gilmore, and shopping here when he was a kid because it was the only place that had clothes that worked with his basketball player’s frame, you’ve heard the distillation of his local knowledge.
I talked to one local Democrat who knows a lot about campaigns and the process. His take was that Lawson should have camped out here after the August primary, getting to know the needs of the biggest city in his district. And getting to know the culture–a unique and localized political culture, especially in the parts of town that are in his district.
Jacksonville: a tale of two cities. Your Town Center, your Mandarin, and so on–Transplant City, where Yankees come to escape income tax.
But the real Jacksonville is in CD 5. The part of Jacksonville that’s home to people who remember the promises made decades back, and the lack of progress on those promises.
That is Corrine Brown’s Jacksonville. Whatever her other issues, to be litigated in federal court in the coming weeks, she lived and breathed the city.
Jacksonville is a “where did you go to high school?” town. It’s a place that demands local immersion. That should have been Lawson’s initial action, upon winning the nomination last year.
He didn’t make the effort. And his Republican opponent was too bad a politician to wrap herself in the flag of Dirty Duval, making the case that there was only one person in the race who understood local needs enough to fight for them.
Lawson came to Jacksonville last week, and I covered it exactly as it was, looking to see if he had found a way to bridge the distance between North Florida and Jacksonville–a difference that Corrine Brown was derided for bringing up, yet which proved to be precisely correct.
How did it go?
Rubio and Ben Carson accompanied Lawson to Eureka Garden, where it was the Ben Carson Show from jump. Carson delivered some talking points, rendered some conspiracy theory, and primarily interfaced with Rubio.
It got rockier from there.
Lawson went to the Jacksonville City Council meeting Tuesday night. He didn’t make the sale to the Council Democrats–at least not the ones in his district. He wasn’t able to sound like a credible advocate of Jacksonville’s issues; at least, that’s the buzz I heard when the notebook was closed.
We will see if that matters.
Fun fact: Not a single elected Jacksonville official was at Lawson’s town hall.
Is that meaningful? Depends on if you think any of them are looking to take him down.
I asked Lawson if he’d done enough to reach out to council, and he told me they were one of many “city commissions.”
He didn’t have any one-on-one with members in his district, however. Just like he hasn’t filed a bill. And he couldn’t discuss any specific appropriations requests he’d made regarding local priorities.
If I'm running against him, here's what I'm doing:
I’m representing myself as Jacksonville’s Choice. Someone who knows the history, year over year, decade over decade.
I’m representing the race as a zero-sum game. “The Tallahassee powerbrokers took away your voice in Congress; let’s take it back” and other phrases along those lines.
I’m talking—right now—to the money folks Downtown, to the preachers, to the activists.
This would need to be happening right now. And there’s also a need for just ONE Jacksonville candidate.
How a lot of ambitious people settle that is anyone’s guess, but fortune favors the bold.
That’s how Lawson got this spot and Andrew Gillum did not.
If I'm Lawson, here's what I'm doing:
I am bringing in people to bridge the gap with Jacksonville.
I’m making sure I meet with local council members one-on-one.
And I’m hoping I can mend fences with people before they make their moves.
Lawson will be back here again in a matter of weeks for another town hall and other such events.
Let’s see if he mends those fences.