Leon County ended up bluer than usual after Election Day. A longtime local politician was ousted on the county commission, and a fresh face arrived on the judicial circuit. Local voters are not sticking with incumbents like years past.
Local Elections in Leon County this year have bucked expectations. Media Consultant Kevin Cate believes there’s a new trend in the way city and county residents are voting.
"I think there’s just a pretty clear trend in Tallahassee and Leon County as a whole that this community is progressive," said Cate. "It will hold leaders and anyone no matter how long they’ve been in office accountable for the policy positions and the decisions that they make."
In the August primary, two incumbents were unseated in convincing fashion, Public Defender Andy Thomas and City Commissioner Elaine Bryant. Voters chose Jessica Yeary and Jack Porter respectively. Both races were seen as upsets, and Porter agrees with that.
"I was an absolute distant underdog running against a well-funded incumbent," said Porter. "Basically, I had no shot but the organizing works."
Porter, like many of the others who unseated their opponents, ran a grassroots campaign.
“There were people who I called who I texted numerous times and I was so worried I was annoying them and that it wasn’t making a difference," said Porter. "There were many of them who came back to me later, people I never met who said all those five texts reminding me to get out and vote it made a difference."
Newly elected Circuit Court Judge Tiffany Baker also believes her campaign-style attributed to her victory over Amanda Wall. Wall's resume included a stint as an assistant state attorney and more than 20 years of legal experience. Baker was endorsed by Tallahassee progressives.
"The benefit of getting started very early on really worked to my advantage," said Baker. "I filed last March 2019 and I’ve been campaigning hard ever since"
Baker believes getting her name out early ahead of the pandemic, also helped.
"COVID did not stop our grassroots campaign in that we still made a very strong effort in connecting with people, and that’s what it’s about," said Baker.
Also scoring an upset: Brian Welch, a social studies teacher at Chiles High School. He managed to oust County Commission Chairman Bryan Desloge in a race largely seen as a referendum over the Welaunee development project.
Florida State University Political Scientist Carol Weissert says Leon County isn’t the only place that’s turning to Progressive Democrats for leadership.
"I do think it’s interesting that we have had an age shift in local government and again I don’t know if that’s unique to Tallahassee, I think you’re seeing that in other parts of the state and other parts of the country as well," said Weissert.
In South Florida, 27-year-old Alexandria Ayala of Palm Beach and 30-year-old Sarah Leonardi of Broward won a seat on their respective school boards. In New Hampshire, an 18-year-old won a seat in the state legislature. And media Consultant Kevin Cate believes the shift is being caused in part by the Republican party’s alignment with President Donald Trump.
"The Republican Party and conservative people, in general, have sold out to Donald Trump, which is so far removed from the values of this community that it’s going to be tough for any conservative any republican even any moderate republican," said Cate.
Still, Republicans dominated state races in Florida. And Florida Democrats lost members in the state legislature. And while he lost the Presidential race, Donald Trump still won Florida by a wide margin. Many anticipated Democrat wins in Congress failed to appear. And two critical Senate races in Georgia are heading for a runoff and will decide which party has control of that chamber.