State Rep. Reggie Fullwood and Jacksonville City Councilman Johnny Gaffney face off in a Democratic Primary Tuesday for House District seat 13. A special election scheduled for Feb. 17 is required because Fullwood didn’t properly file his paperwork for the fall election, providing an opening for school voucher proponents to recruit candidates and briefly divide the House Democratic Caucus when the party took sides in the primary.
Fullwood was first elected to the House in 2010 and had served on the Appropriations, Education and Select Committee on Gaming. When he failed to have his campaign paperwork properly notarized by the deadline no candidate qualified for the November ballot.
Gaffney entered the race and put distance between himself and Fullwood with his support of the state’s school voucher program. The Florida Federation for Children estimates more than 1,200 children in the district attend schools on a voucher program currently mired in a lawsuit. That’s an important number to keep in mind because special elections draw few voters.
By the close of early voting Sunday 3,300 votes had been cast with another 4,000 absentee ballots yet to be returned. Elections Supervisor Jerry Holland expects about another 3,100 voters on Tuesday, Holland predicts a 6 percent turnout of registered voters.
The dynamics of a special election featuring two Democratic candidates had state Rep. Dwayne Taylor questioning the wisdom of the Florida Democratic Party funneling more than $28,000 into the Fullwood campaign.
Taylor explained picking sides in primaries is a sure way to divide the caucus when he challenged state Rep. Mark Pafford to lead the caucus.
“Leave it to the people of Jacksonville. They are the ones who should determine who sits here,” Taylor said during the November organizational session. “I don’t know why you would want to choose one or the other when they are both Democrats and you may have to serve with one who may not necessarily be the one who you were pouring money into their campaign.”
Fullwood has raised $130,000 from 187 contributors.
Gaffney has served on the City Council since 2007. The Florida Times Union describes his tenure as “unremarkable.” In addition to the school voucher issue he also parts with Democrats on including sexual orientation and gender in anti-discrimination laws, he voted against a Human Rights Ordinance that failed in council.
Gaffney has raised $42,000 from 68 contributors since September. His contributors included the chairman of the pro-voucher group Florida Federation for Children.
House District 13 takes in downtown Jacksonville and 61 percent of voters are registered Democrats. President Barack Obama collected 66 percent of the vote in 2012 and Gov. Rick Scott picked up 23 percent in 2010.
Elections Supervisor Holland expects fewer than 9,000 voters to participate by mail, early voting or at the polls on Tuesday. The winner will face Republican Lawrence Jefferson in a special election Feb. 17.