PerspectivesA.G. Gancarski Jacksonville Today Contributor

Opinion: Will DeSantis get his Duval revenge?

Published on June 12, 2022 at 8:59 pm
Gov. Ron DeSantis | AP
Gov. Ron DeSantis | AP

In the final analysis, Gov. Ron DeSantis may be the big winner of the Jacksonville sheriff’s race in 2023.

Consider how he handled the opening last week for the position.

His friend Mike Williams was forced into resignation after it became clear he would not be able to ignore the charter provision compelling sheriffs of Duval County to live in the county.

No worries, of course. 

DeSantis gave the sheriff all the cover he could want during a media conference in Jacksonville, extolling his performance and his friendship in what are glowing terms for this governor, before making the correct play by installing Pat Ivey in the interim sheriff role and making it crystal clear that his preference for the permanent gig is T.K. Waters.

Some people close to the governor advocated skipping the Ivey step. That advocacy did not come into play. But no matter.

The longer Waters is a candidate, the longer he gets the rub from the DeSantis machine. Whatever happens in Jacksonville this summer, it’s not on his watch. And he’s making the smart play by resigning from office and focusing on the campaign. There’s no requirement to “resign to run,” but it allows that buffer between the realities of police work and the pitched hypotheticality of campaign material.  


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DeSantis’ scripting the sheriff’s race adds a new challenge for the non-Waters candidates in the field. Mat Nemeth, backed by the right-wingers who dislike Mayor Lenny Curry for one reason or another, has a narrow path given Alpha Dog DeSantis’ barking it up. 

And the four Democrats in the field? Well, they aren’t helped either. These are cops, after all, people who are in middle age or older and have jumped through the hoops to move up in the department (or around the dial on TV, as is the case with Ken Jefferson). If you’re looking for criminal justice reform or really anything else that seems like a tangible difference from the outside, you won’t get it from this field. And even if they were inclined, good luck getting it through the Jacksonville City Council.

So months ahead of the special election, which sees the first vote in August and a runoff vote, if needed, in the November general election, we have not just a frontrunner candidate, but a frontrunner backed by the only politician in this state with real juice right now. And don’t expect that serious competition would challenge Waters in next year’s elections: This is it, basically, for real opposition to the governor’s chosen candidate.

The sheriff’s office is arguably the second most important in Duval County, just below the mayor’s office. And when we look at the mayor’s race, it’s less defined now, with no special election to compress the timeline. 

Seven candidates are in the field, with state Sen. Audrey Gibson entering finally last week and giving Democrats an alternative to Donna Deegan. Expect the Democratic side of the race to get interesting.

Republican City Council members LeAnna Cumber and Al Ferraro are still in the mix, along with another minor Republican candidate (Frank Keasler) who will only muddy the waters. The world is waiting to see when Jax Chamber CEO Daniel Davis gets in.

Davis, who hasn’t been in office since he was in the state House a decade or so ago, has not gotten the formal DeSantis endorsement. He was, however, on camera beside DeSantis at a Jacksonville appearance a few months ago. DeSantis also put Davis on the St. Johns River Water Management District Board in 2019, another sign of compatibility.

How long does the governor stay out of the mayoral race with what would be four GOP candidates, pending a Davis entry? Some in the governor’s orbit have groused about the Cumber campaign already. Just a matter of time before Davis gets the “my man” endorsement Waters got last week.

We’ve mentioned this before, of course, but it bears mentioning again and again through the May 2023 election: Ron DeSantis did not carry Duval in 2018. Local GOP leadership at the time blamed him and a soggy campaign for that. 

This time around, the governor is looking to win it all. Part of that game plan will ensure another decade of GOP domination, if successful. No small feat, given that Democrats, at least in terms of raw numbers, hold a considerable edge in registration numbers in the county.


author image Jacksonville Today Contributor

A.G. Gancarski's columns were a staple in Folio Weekly for nearly two decades, and he has been the Northeast Florida correspondent for Florida Politics since 2014. He writes about the intersection of state and local politics and policy.

author image Jacksonville Today Contributor

A.G. Gancarski's columns were a staple in Folio Weekly for nearly two decades, and he has been the Northeast Florida correspondent for Florida Politics since 2014. He writes about the intersection of state and local politics and policy.


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