Although there always was a chance he could run for re-election, Danny Burgess knew he had just a short time as mayor of Zephyrhills when he was elected unopposed earlier this year.
He will step down from that office in April with an eye on a much bigger prize: replacing Will Weatherford as the area’s state representative in Tallahassee.
Burgess has all the qualities of a strong candidate — a solid government service background, the ability to connect with just about anyone, and a winning smile that will look good on campaign posters — as well as the same youthful vigor Weatherford had when he was first elected to the House.
But the badge of the Republican Party, typically so strong that anyone who wore it could practically start picking office furniture at The Capitol soon after they win their primary, may not be what it once was.
And it might mean an uphill battle for Burgess, a registered Republican who has practically lived in the local public spotlight his entire adult life.
“I don’t concern myself with polls and how the federal government is doing,” Burgess said. “I’m going to focus on the election, getting to meet people, and to hear what those people are concerned about.”
Yet, what the federal government is doing could come back to haunt candidates, even ones at the state level.
“This is going to be a very nationalized election from the top of the ballot all the way down,” said Susan MacManus, a political science professor at the University of South Florida, who grew up in Land O’ Lakes. “People’s images of politicians at this moment are based on what’s happening in Washington, specifically the President and Congress, but most basically Congress.”
Weatherford originally won his House seat by more than 20 points in 2006, and despite raising more than $1.7 million through all of his elections, didn’t have to put up too much of a fight.
But next November is an election where many will use the ballot box to share their opinions of Washington, D.C. Although a lot can change in 11 months, current polls have rated the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives at some of its lowest levels in history. And there could be a real blowback on state-level races, including ones like Weatherford’s legislative seat.
“Americans right now don’t like either party,” MacManus said, meaning two things could happen at local races. “Some of the independent candidates, like a Libertarian candidate, could get a lot of protest votes, which can drain from both parties.
“The second is more frightful — turnout drops,” she said.
In Pasco County, independents have a real shot of tipping the political scale one way or the other. They make up more than 27 percent of the electorate, leaving just 39 percent for Republicans, and 34 percent for Democrats.
Two other candidates have already filed to seek Weatherford’s seat, including Republican Minerva Diaz and Democrat Beverly Anne Ledbetter. Diaz made news earlier this year when she told Pasco County Commissioners she wanted to see more stringent background checks on firearm buyers. Ledbetter is a former public school teacher who currently works at Saint Leo University, according to published reports.
Diaz has raised $1,960 in cash so far in the young election, with Ledbetter scheduled to file her first campaign finance report this week. New candidates have until July 28, just before the Aug. 26 primary, to file their paperwork if they want to run.
But judging by past elections in this district, the successful candidate is going to have to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars — far more than Burgess has ever needed running for city council or mayor in Zephyrhills. Yet, he feels that city-level experience gives him a significant leg up over anyone who might run against him.
“Having the opportunity to serve at a local level as a councilman has given me a keen understanding of municipalities and local government,” Burgess said. “And local governments are exactly what encompasses your district as a state representative. I am currently the mayor of the largest city in the district, and I feel like I have the opportunity and the understanding of what the district means to help make it better.”
While he wouldn’t get into specifics, Burgess said he is ready to serve, even if the governor after the next election isn’t Republican.
“I’m a team player, and I look forward to working with people on both sides of the aisle,” Burgess said. “I do what I am elected to do, but I also understand that there’s much stuff that gets done up there for whatever reason, so I hope to be a good positive change in Tallahassee, and hopefully, to get some good things accomplished.”
Timeline of Danny Burgess
2004 — Graduates from Zephyrhills High School.
2005 — Becomes youngest member of the Zephyrhills City Council in history at 18.
2006 — Faces scrutiny when it’s believed he spends more time living on campus at the University of South Florida. However, city attorney confirms his permanent residence remains in Zephyrhills, which is needed to remain on the council.
2007 — Re-elected to city council.
2008 — Graduates from USF and is elected council president; later resigns to attend law school in Orlando.
2011 — Graduates from Barry University School of Law, and later passes the Florida Bar examination to become a lawyer.
2013 — Elected unopposed as youngest mayor of Zephyrhills; joins Johnson Auvil Pratico & Chane P.A. of Dade City, practicing in commercial litigation; Announces run to replace Will Weatherford for the state House seat in District 38.