JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA — Ongoing conflict between current and former leaders of the Republican Executive Committee in Duval County reached the boiling point last month just days before Rep. Dean Black, the incumbent Duval GOP chair, secured another two years at the helm by winning reelection on December 5.
“SCORCHED EARTH” PRIMARY
The in-house tension began percolating last summer when Black’s political action committee True Conservatives ran negative campaign ads against his primary opponent for District 15, Emily Nunez. Black served as Chairman of True Conservatives until a few months prior to the ads. He went on to beat Nunez in the August primary and ran unopposed in November.
Former Duval GOP Chair Robin Lumb, who served as policy director for the City of Jacksonville from 2015 until this summer and city councilman from 2011–2015, said the “scorched earth campaign” was “nothing short of character assassination” and “predicated on series of lies, distortions and half-truths.” According to Lumb, local Republicans Kiyan Michael, Lake Ray and Christina Meredith were also subjected to similar “win-at-all-costs” campaigns during the leadup to the August primaries.
After looking into the negative ads attacking Nunez, Lumb emailed the entire 267-member REC roster an eight-page analysis summarizing his grievances with the campaign tactics. This spawned the formation of Jax Integrity 2022, a group of current, former and prospective REC members concerned with the direction of the Duval GOP.
KING EYES RUN FOR CHAIR
Local conservative activists, including some within the REC, had been encouraging Quisha King for months to join the REC and run against Black for chair. King, a converted Democrat and political outsider who served as the First Coast’s regional coordinator for “Black Voices for Trump” in 2020, initially had reservations. She has been an outspoken critic of progressive LGBTQ policies in Duval County Public Schools and played an important role in helping DeSantis-endorsed April Carney win her school board race in August.
Lumb, who helped King submit the necessary paperwork, said her entry ought to have been a simple, straightforward process given that there was a longstanding vacancy in her precinct for the position of committeewoman. He sent the necessary documentation to the party secretary on October 12. Once the paperwork was submitted, King began sharing her intentions to unseat Black as committee chair.
“I didn’t want to join the REC because I wasn’t sure how I could help an organization that was so rigidly controlled from the top down,” King wrote in a letter to members. “But you can’t work to help an organization you care about if you aren’t a part of it.… I’m not looking to enhance my career, or springboard myself to another position. I just want to help the local party shake loose of the consultants, influence peddlers and political insiders that are dragging it down.”
CANCELING THE MEETING
Less than a week after King announced her intention to run against Black, the November 21 meeting was canceled. The cancellation prevented King from joining the REC prior to the organizational meeting in December, during which officers were voted on by the committee members in attendance. The organizational meeting is held once every two years.
“Dean knew that canceling the November meeting would prevent Quisha King from joining the REC and running against him for REC Chair,” Lumb told The Florida Standard in an email. “As a compromise, I repeatedly asked Dean and the Executive Board to move the REC meeting up one week to November 14th. This could have easily been done… This request was completely ignored and never even acknowledged.”
Black told Florida Politics the meeting was canceled due to the Thanksgiving holiday. He suggested Lumb was “a new ally” for the Duval Democrats and “hellbent on dividing the GOP.” The article did not include comments from Black on why the meeting couldn’t be rescheduled.
“If Dean’s only reason for canceling the November REC meeting was to avoid meeting during Thanksgiving week, then there was no reason why he couldn’t move the November meeting up one week to November 14th,” Lumb said. “The precedent had already been set: In August, Dean moved the REC meeting up one week to August 15th to avoid a pre-election conflict with the August 23rd Republican primary.”
Rep. Black did not respond to The Florida Standard’s request for an interview or answer questions pertaining to Lumb’s assertions.
ORGANIZING A SPECIAL MEETING
King’s supporters in Jax Integrity couldn’t prevent the meeting from being canceled, so they worked to schedule a “special meeting.” In order to do so, they had to accumulate petitions from at least 20 percent of the REC members. Lumb said he delivered the necessary petitions to the REC’s General Counsel Andrew Moss on November 1.
Moss then sent a seemingly misleading communication to all REC members that stated: “No special meeting is scheduled. […] The DCREC Board voted unanimously to cancel the regular November 21st DCREC meeting to allow people to have Thanksgiving week off. No other meeting is scheduled until the Organizational Meeting on December 5th.”
Lumb responded to Moss’ letter in a communication sent to REC members, arguing that Moss deliberately chose the word “scheduled” because the special meeting was “noticed.” The subtle distinction was technically true but likely gave the impression to most members that no meeting at all would be held on November 21.
An attendance of at least 150 members was necessary for a quorum to legitimize any actions at the meeting. If members thought there was no meeting, attendance would be lower and thus decrease the likelihood that King could be installed as a committeewoman and put her name on the ballot against Black at the organizational meeting in December.
“If the Executive Board was acting in good faith, they would have explained to REC members that there was a Special Meeting of the REC on the 21st in place of what would have been its regular meeting,” Lumb said.
Moss also said the petitions were “unverified, on perilous legal grounds, and any action conducted at this proposed special meeting would likely be struck down by the Republican Party of Florida.” He added that it “seems to violate numerous sections in our County Model Constitution … as well as containing other legal shortcomings.” Neither of these statements were expounded on with detail in the email. Despite receiving the 83 petitions on November 1, Moss had apparently still not verified the signatures on November 19.
The Florida Standard asked Moss why he did not verify the petitions during the nearly three-week window and requested clarity on the statements he made in the various communications. He did not respond.
More than 80 REC members showed up the night of November 21, well short of the number necessary for conducting any official business, such as installing King as a Committeewoman. The turnout prompted another questionable communication from Moss. On November 23, he wrote that “the meeting’s attendance fell far below the needed number, 69 members short of an REC quorum.” If the meeting was invalid to begin with, why would it matter how many people showed up?
“SMOKE AND MIRRORS”
For King, the experience only reaffirmed what she already believed to be true.
“My takeaway from this is that our local Republican leadership will do anything and everything to pedal their influence and get power, regardless of what the people want,” she told The Florida Standard. “What caught me off guard was the people who know that they’re corrupt and are willing to stand silently and watch it happen.”
As an example of corruption, King pointed to the Republican support behind the expansion in 2017 of the city's Human Rights Ordinance (HRO) to include sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. King and others refer to it colloquially as the city’s “bathroom bill.” Councilman Aaron Bowman introduced the legislation and Mayor Lenny Curry signed it. Both men are Republicans, and Curry had previously promised several Jacksonville pastors in person that he would veto the bill, according to the Florida Family Policy Council.
“How do we have a Republican city – meaning the mayor and the city council [majority] – and vote in something like the HRO,” King asked rhetorically. “It’s smoke and mirrors. So people need to get involved and know what’s going on in their city. I don’t even think most people know that we have this HRO that Republicans voted for.”
WHO IS TIM BAKER?
Lumb pointed to a behind-the-scenes figure as a key power player in the Duval GOP.
“I would estimate that at least one-third of the current members (those who have been REC members the longest) are deeply concerned with what’s happening to the Duval County Republican Party and the influence that the ‘Tim Baker/Chamber of Commerce Political Machine’ has on Jacksonville’s elections,” Lumb said.
Baker is a political consultant who helped drive Curry’s mayoral election victories. During the botched sale of the city’s utility provider Jacksonville Electrical Authority (JEA) – a move pushed by Mayor Curry – Baker worked as both a political analyst for the mayor and consultant for Florida Power & Light (FPL), a leading candidate to acquire JEA. One local commentator called the scandal “the greatest scheme to defraud the taxpayers in the history of Jacksonville.”
The City Council commissioned an investigation led by local attorney Steve Busey that produced a 138-page report in January 2021. The report, which included interviews with 47 people and gathered more than 600,000 documents, found “evidence of coordination” between the Curry administration and FPL during the failed acquisition.
Folio Weekly published a feature story in November 2021 that suggested Curry, Baker and Brian Hughes, the mayor’s chief administrative officer, concocted the plan years earlier with the hopes that the move would help catapult the mayor into the governor’s mansion. Curry has denied such allegations.
In March 2022, a federal grand jury indicted former JEA CEO Aaron Zahn, whom Curry originally appointed to the JEA board. The ongoing investigation has been in the hands of federal officials since January 2020.
Baker also works with Jax Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Daniel Davis, a Republican mayoral candidate with the largest war chest of anyone currently in the race. Folio’s reporting indicates that Davis also played a part in advancing the JEA sale.
Baker’s wife Jessica defeated Christina Meredith in the Republican primary race for House District 17 – one of the aforementioned campaigns Lumb took issue with. In April, two of Dean Black’s companies donated $1,000 to Jessica Baker’s campaign. Baker, who served as Curry’s deputy director of intergovernmental affairs, went on to beat Democrat Michael Anderson in November.
BLACK SECURES TWO MORE YEARS
At the organizational meeting on December 5, Black won re-election as Chair by a vote of 196 to 84. Lumb acknowledged Black may have beaten King even if she had been on the ballot, but no one will ever know for certain.
Black defeated Marty Barker, a local businessman who Lumb says came forward at the eleventh hour to give members an alternative to the status quo. The day before the election, Barker issued a statement explaining what motivated him to run.
“I became concerned with the division in our party that’s been created by the lack of integrity in our leadership,” Barker said. “The attitude of our leadership seems to be that ‘the ends justify the means.’”