A group of progressive activists – led by current Tallahassee City Commissioners Jeremy Matlow and Jack Porter- are working to take control of the city commission and to expand their influence over local government with significant financial help from a progressive group located in Palo Alto, California.
Commissioner Matlow said he did not agree entirely with the progressive movement narrative, but said that “I do think you are seeing more younger progressive candidates step and run ….there is an emergence of people who are kind of fed up with the status quo.”
When asked about the financial influence of the California group – the Green Advocacy Project – Matlow said, “in an ideal world Citizens United would be overturned, we would have very strict limits on contributions.”
Matlow went on to indicate the California group – which donated $50,000 to a local campaign consultant via the Florida Young Democrat PAC as of August 14 – was not seeking special favors from elected officials like businesses located in Tallahassee that make donations.
The Green Advocacy Project lists a leadership team with significant political experience with the national progressive movement. Michael Kieschnick, President and Board member “helped to found Real Justice PAC, which works to elect progressive district attorneys around the country.”
Also, two of the three board members worked with the Bernie Sanders 2016 presidential campaign.
Challenging Establishment Democrats
With few Republicans to attack during this election cycle, the progressive activists have targeted fellow Democrats.
These Democrats include Leon County Commissioners Bill Proctor, Nick Maddox and Rick Minor and City Commissioner Dianne Williams-Cox.
And the old rules do not apply.
In a break from tradition, Adner Marcelin – who is running against Dianne Williams-Cox , is being aided by two of Williams-Cox’s colleagues – City Commissioners Jeremy Matlow and Jack Porter.
Seldom have elected officials from the same political party, serving on the same political body, openly teamed up to target a colleague.
But it is happening now.
A campaign volunteer shared on social media a picture of Matlow and Porter making calls to unseat Williams-Cox.
The caption on the social media post by the volunteer reads, “Today is a great day to make phone calls for Jeremy Matlow and Adner Marcelin for Tallahassee City Commission !! Join Jack, me, and other Dems from 3-7 pm at Dreamland BBQ!! Let us know if you can join us please.”
Matlow and Porter have also used their visibility as elected officials to promote other progressive candidates.
Matlow has held policy discussions that featured Adner Marcelin and Josh Johnson, who is running to replace Leon County Commissioner Nick Maddox.
Matlow promotes these “grassroots candidates” as not being backed by developers and big money special interests.
When asked about the challenge to a colleague, Matlow said, “I didn’t run for office to make everyone happy….I ran for office to change the way we do things in the city of Tallahassee…..I am supporting candidates that recognize we still need change…none of this is personal, it is political.”
Leon County Commissioner Nick Maddox has a different view.
Maddox says, “the bigger picture is becoming harder and more potentially dangerous for our community to ignore. It’s a shift from a responsible and collegial North Florida brand of democratic politics to a more extreme liberal progressive agenda ushered in by mostly younger (millennial), white elected officials, and their supporters.”
Our Tallahassee: “Change our City Forever”
Beyond Matlow and Porter, the progressive movement has the support of an online blog called Our Tallahassee. The blog is financed by former local candidate Bob Lotane and writer and political activist Jeff VanderMeer. (Note: Mr. VanderMeer -who was an original founder and has been and a content contributor – has informed TR that he is no longer involved with Our Tallahassee.)
The publishers of Our Tallahassee acknowledge the site promotes “a progressive perspective to Tallahassee news” and that their goal is “to change our city forever.”
VanderMeer recently released his candidate recommendations. His recommendations include Adner Marcelin over City Commissioner Dianne Williams-Cox, City Commissioner Matlow over David Bellamy, and Kristin Dozier over Mayor John Dailey.
Among the Leon County Commission races, Vandermeer supports Josh Johnson over Leon County Commissioner Nick Maddox, Donna Cotterell over Leon County Commissioner Bill Proctor and Damon Victor over Leon County Commissioner Rick Minor.
A number of the candidates recommended by VanderMeer have received favorable treatment in Our Tallahassee, the online publication he helped start.
In addition, Our Tallahassee operations are heavily influenced by former local lobbyist and campaign consultant Max Herrle, who has close ties to Jeremy Matlow and Jack Porter.
Earlier this year, Herrle was embroiled in a texting controversy related to Leon County Commissioner Nick Maddox. The Tallahassee Democrat reported that Herrle, during a Blueprint meeting, texted to some elected officials that Maddox was a “dumb little bastard.”
After the revelation, Maddox published a response in the Tallahassee Democrat calling the text “racist on its face” and raising concerns about the progressive movement.
The progressive movement is using the controversial and unpopular vote to award $20 million to FSU for stadium upgrades as the way to mobilize voters in an effort to punish the “establishment” and install their preferred candidates.
However, while the progressive candidates highlight outrage over the FSU vote, less attention is given to their extreme positions on other issues.
The movement has promoted a narrative that casts the “establishment” as controlled by “developers” that are corrupt and unethical. They have characterized economic growth projects that create jobs as only benefiting the well-connected.
For example, the Northeast Gateway project has been described by progressives as an $80 million give away to developers and special interests.
However, the project was supported by elected officials not traditionally categorized as allies of “developers.” These officials include Leon County Commissioners Rick Minor, Kristin Dozier and Brian Welch.
The progressives argue that local government should focus more on urban infill and address problems in established neighborhoods. The establishment” argues that you can do both, promote responsible growth and improve current infrastructure.
The August 23rd primary will be the first indication of what the community thinks of the progressive movement.
Without a clear mandate by either coalition, the acrimony exhibited in meetings over the last two years could become the rule rather than the exception.