Paula Dockery, the charismatic state senator from Lakeland, Florida, has just announced that she will be entering the Gubernatorial race here in Florida. Dockery is raising a lot of eyebrows amongst grassroots activists around the state because of her no-nonsense approach to governance and firm stance against the some of the more dubious activities of the State Republican Party. Dockery describes herself as being “more like Jeb Bush in being a policy wonk.” There is chatter in Republican circles that Dockery has entered the race too late, but this criticism does not seem to faze her, and she feels confident that the people of Florida are longing for a different kind of leader. Her primary opponent is Attorney General Bill McCollum. AG McCollum has already been endorsed by a slew of party officials, as well as the Republican Party of Florida (RPOF) itself. A persistent criticism of McCollum has been that he is too ‘laid back’ to attract voters. Dockery seems to agree- “he has no energy.”
As you can see, Dockery is not one to mince words or opinions. I sat down with the newest gubernatorial candidate on my recent trip to Tallahassee.
Q: So, your running for Governor-just announced?
Dockery: I am
Q: Why are you running for Governor?
Dockery: Why am I running? Not because I want a title; not because I want a full-time job; not because I want to move to Tallahassee, but because I want to restore faith in Government and that is what the people of Florida are hungry for. I’ would have served 16 years, if I stayed until 2012. I have accomplished a lot in both the House and Senate. I am not a career politician and I had no desire to seek a higher office-that is where I was 4 months ago. I had no intention to run for a higher office. I am term limited out in 2012-I ran last time with no opposition. I was looking forward to finishing out my term and going back to being a citizen.
When session ended in May 2009, I started getting phone calls ,emails, even sending me flowers with little notes saying, ‘Run for Governor, Run for Governor’.
What was amazing to me is that when I took on the battle on this commuter rail issue, I was not opposed to commuter rail, I’m opposed to the state of Florida and the FDOT in particular, wasting taxpayers’ money by giving a for-profit corporation $641 million to purchase 61 miles of track, that’s $10.5 million a mile, other rails systems around the country are averaging $666,000, there is something very wrong with that.
Why isn’t the FDOT working on behalf of the taxpayers and why this sweetheart deal? And I can point to another deal, which is this US Sugar deal that has nothing to do with restoring the Everglades. I’ve been Environmental Protection Chairman most of the time that I have been in the Legislature. I sponsored Everglades restoration-you can’t get somebody with better credentials on the environment than me. We have heard loud and clear from our constituents-people around the state, and they are sick of what happened at the Federal level with bailouts. Why wasn’t anyone watching the banks? Why wasn’t anyone watching AIG? Well, I’m watching!
This is what happens when you watch and tell people what’s happening- you go against the establishment. I never anticipated that I’d be standing up and fighting this kind of battle, but I am a fiscal conservative. I’m a fiscal conservative that is looking out for the taxpayer’s dollar. And I thought that’s what the GOP stood for, so I find myself an outsider and I don’t know why, because this is what the party should be fighting for? And yet, it is our party that is pushing this.
Q: You are getting a lot of buzz as of late. The establishment anointed AG McCollum, a lot of people are concerned that if elected Governor, McCollum would do the bidding of Governor Crist and RPOF chairman Jim Greer. You are going up against the whole party apparatus; do you see yourself fit for the task of going up against the Party?
Dockery: Absolutely! And it’s a shame that’s the case. Because I’ve been a Republican and a Conservative Republican my entire adult life, and I’ve been a Conservative Republican the 13 years that I served in the Legislature. My credentials with the GOP are phenomenal! So, to be branded an outsider and I think Marco Rubio finds himself in the same position. Why is he an outsider when he was the Speaker of the House?! I’m not taking sides in another race; I have my own battle here. I maybe an outsider in the party, but there are a lot of people that feel the same way I do.
I think that the RPOF is pushing them away. (Tea Party activists) The RPOF is becoming a very ‘exclusive’, top down party. I thought Republicans stood for freedoms, I thought we talked about going over and liberating countries, and then we are saying that you (the people) don’t even have a choice to who your nominee is?
I have heard from so many people that they want to have a choice, we don’t like the leadership telling us whom we need to vote for. We want someone energized, not the same old faces, we want someone that has a vision, someone to stand up for the taxpayer and not just follow along blindly. The People are hungry for something completely different, not the same old middle-aged white guy who is going to tote the party line- the party isn’t even standing up for our core principles.
Q: In regards to the Party picking sides in the US senate race, it’s seems to have backfired on the RPOF, and now siding with General McCollum in your race, how do you feel about that?
Dockery: It will backfire in this race as well! I am the person that the current leadership of the RPOF doesn’t want. And it’s not personally against me, as much as it was them wanted to just clear the field. What I am is the kind of person the grassroots does want. And the grassroots of the party is feeling very splintered and alienated by the leadership of the RPOF.
I am fighting for two things. To restore integrity and trust in government as an elected official. But also to restore unity to the RPOF because over the past couple of years under the current leadership, that unity that uses to exist when we were building the party, has been terribly fractured. And there are people within the party who are staying but are very unhappy with what’s going on-It’s time we reunite as a party.
Q: If elected Governor, and you chose a rouge chairman that sheds a bad light on the RPOF like the current Chairman Jim Greer has, friend or not, what would you do?
Dockery: They are outta there! They are outta there! I would ask for their resignation. Power needs to be restored back to the 67 counties, the state party needs to be above reproach.
I think that they should release the American Express Card records – Let’s come clean with it. I have already asked for the records on the day of my announcing for Governor- I will continue to pressure them to do so.
Q: How do you feel about Former Governor Jeb Bush endorsing General McCollum?
Dockery: That shows me that they are a little bit more concerned about me simply because Bush endorsed on the same day that I filed. I think that in an Alex Sink-Democrat woman versus a Paula Dockery, Republican woman on a general election ballot, it will be very energizing for voters on both sides.
I don’t think that McCollum could get any crossover (General); McCollum would be a tough opponent in a primary because he is the establishment candidate. But he will never win a general election.
Dockery has definitely drawn a line in the sand, and AG McCollum has his work cut out for him this primary. It will be interesting to see if McCollum demands the AMEX records as well, and distances himself from Jim Greer and the murkiness that shadows the RPOF.