PerspectivesA.G. Gancarski Jacksonville Today Contributor
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OPINION | Most compelling race of 2024? The Democratic primary in House District 13

Published on December 3, 2023 at 9:42 pm

It’s never too early to think about the summer.

I reached that conclusion during a bitter cold night last week when I started to look forward to humid, hot days with perpetual sun.

Professionally, I reached that conclusion when I realized that, despite a lack of competitive races on the November ballot, there are a number of interesting primary contests to look forward to next August.

Partially, it’s a function of historic gerrymandering: It’s hard for Democrats to flip Republican-majority seats, and Republicans don’t seem to mind — packing the minority vote into as few districts as possible (as you can tell by Jacksonville’s seven-person state legislative delegation, with two Democrats and five Republicans).

And even in Democratic-dominated districts, there is room for Republicans to play, as is the case in HD 13 on Jacksonville’s Westside, where the major drama of the 2024 election locally in August looks likely to transpire.

Rep. Angie Nixon, who had close to 90% of the vote in the 2022 Democratic primary, will face off against former City Council member Brenda Priestly Jackson, who opened a campaign account last month.

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Two of the best quotes in local politics, they have already thrown elbows at each other.

“Legislative effectiveness is measured by an elected official’s ability to advance legislation and secure funding to improve the quality of her/his constituents’/neighbors’ lives. I don’t believe that is currently occurring,” Priestly Jackson told me after filing.

Asked for reaction to that read on her record, Nixon was no more complimentary to her opponent, calling her a “lifelong establishment politician that will uphold the status quo” and a “politician that will maintain quality of life exactly as it is with no hope for improvement.”

Nixon has pushed a number of interesting bills, including her brave and almost entirely isolated stance during the recent special session in favor of an Israeli-Hamas ceasefire (which, of course, came to pass amid a hostage exchange last week).

This upcoming session, she is pushing legislation for a state Department of Labor (likely not a Ron DeSantis priority, even though his governor’s office serves as an employment halfway house for his various comms pros his presidential campaign can’t afford), and for guaranteed air conditioning in prisons and rental properties — neither of which are likely to pass.

It’s also going to be very difficult to get appropriations for local projects to pass in the budget DeSantis ultimately signs – an illustration of Priestly Jackson’s point: If bringing home the bacon is important to you, Nixon’s not the one.

But if principled opposition to some of the most anti-localist and regressive forces in Tallahassee — a town that makes a habit of subverting home rule on a number of issues year after year — matters, then Nixon is probably the best choice Duval voters have even a remote chance of electing anytime soon.

Nixon paints her opponent as an establishment politician, and for better or worse, that’s the case.

Many Republicans tell me, for example, that if Mayor Donna Deegan had advanced Priestly Jackson’s name instead of that of Randy DeFoor as general counsel, she would be the city’s lead lawyer today. 

That didn’t come to pass, obviously. But it indicates the true bipartisan collaboration that has characterized Priestly Jackson’s time in public service, a practice that became most prominent as she defended the doomed City Council redistricting map before a federal judge recently threw it out. In fact, she was so wedded to that map that she wouldn’t run in the new District 10, which would have seen her face JuCoby Pittman.

So how will this race ultimately go? 

There are recent historical analogues that can offer insight, specifically the 2022 Democratic primary between Sen. Tracie Davis and then-City Councilman Reggie Gaffney, Sr.

Gaffney enjoyed support from Republicans, but Davis drew statewide Democratic support and was able to reach the entire district, getting nearly 70% of the vote. She won every precinct and especially dominated in the Riverside and Avondale areas in the former City Council District 14, getting nearly 90% in her best-performing precinct there.

And consider this: In fending off her own primary challenge against Democrat Delaine Smith, Nixon got more than 90% in a number of her precincts.

This race has a long way to go, but one thing is certain: It will be brutal until the end. 

Lead photos: (left) Brenda Priestly Jackson and (right) Rep. Angie Nixon | Will Brown, Jacksonville Today


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.