Byron Donalds’ appointment to college board: Victim of politics or criminal history?

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Byron Donalds, an African-American Tea Party leader from the Naples area, is a rising star in Southwest Florida. On election night in the CD-19 special election, he introduced and shared a stage with Curt Clawson. Weeks earlier he was one of the first to endorse Clawson.

That connection led some to question why a gubernatorial appointment of Donalds was delayed in the Senate. Payback for helping the opponent of one of their own?

No, it turns out. Ethics and Elections Committee Chairman Jack Latvala explained last night to a Fort Myers reporter that the delay was unintentional and Donalds’ appointment is proceeding. In fact, Clawson’s opponent Senator Lizbeth Benacquisto has consistently said she intends to vote in support of Donald’s confirmation.

Donalds appointment is to the Edison State College District Board of Trustees. Gov. Rick Scott first made the appointment back in January of this year.

During the 2010 elections, Donalds – like many tea party leaders – supported Scott, a fellow Neapolitan.. Then, in 2012, with the backing of retired Westinghouse CEO Jack Tymann, Donalds mounted a run for Congress. Although Donalds placed fifth in the race won by Trey Radel, Donalds emerged as someone to watch. Since then his wife, Erika Brynne Donalds, has filed as a candidate for Collier County School Board.

But as news of the Donalds appointment being delayed moved around the Capitol this week, another theory has emerged.

Rick Scott’s January appointment is part of an outreach to Tea Party leaders to shore up support, and it was apparently made with little vetting of Donalds. When the appointment moved to the Senate, it seems Donalds’ past brushes with the law were discovered.

According to sources familiar with the Donalds’ appointment, in 1997 Donalds was busted for distribution of marijuana before the case was put into pre-trial diversion, a program for young first-time drug offenders. Then in 2000, Donalds pled no contest to bribery, a felony charge that led to two years of state probation.

People inside the Capitol are wondering if the delay of the Senate appointment was actually initiated by the Scott Administration to prevent drawing attention to the fact that the anti-pot Governor, who has also faced many questions about ethics in his administration, had appointed someone with a criminal history.

Whatever the reason, now, thanks to pressure from Southwest Florida Tea Party supporters of Gov. Scott, the Donalds appointment will be moving forward for a vote by the 40-member State Senate.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including,,, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.