Danny Burgess was nervous as he straightened his tie and tried to review in his head everything he was going to say.
It was his first debate in his race for a seat on the Zephyrhills City Council, and he had an uphill battle to convince older voters that electing an 18-year-old to represent them was the right way to go.
“I realized that you just got to be an open book,” Burgess said. “I remember looking at my mom and telling her that I am just going to get up there and tell the truth. And as long as I’m telling the truth, nothing else matters.”
Telling the truth worked, as did Burgess’ highly precocious approach to life of being mature far beyond his years. He won that council seat, went to law school, threw in a quick year as mayor, and now a decade later he has a new prize in sight: state House District 38.
The current representative, Will Weatherford, would have to step down because of term limits, and Republicans needed a refreshing — and young — candidate to help energize its voting base in the district. Burgess, who had just stepped in to help calm a scandal in the mayor’s office in Zephyrhills, was the most logical choice for them.
But Burgess himself wasn’t quite yet convinced.
“I wanted to be in public service in some way shape or form when I was 18, and being on the council allowed me to provide a voice in the community because I knew I had something to offer,” he said. “I had to really think about (the District 38 race) because this is one of those decisions that should not be easily made. It’s something that can really take you away from your family, and I had a new wife, and I had a baby on the way.”
But Burgess made that decision, and on Dec. 3, he filed his paperwork to succeed Weatherford in Tallahassee.
The race has not been without its own excitement, however. Burgess geared up early for a primary run against Minnie Diaz, a strong up-and-comer herself who had become very active in both the community and politics. And the winner of that race would have to face longtime Pasco County teacher and education advocate Beverly Ledbetter on the Democratic side of the ticket.
But on qualifying day, Diaz was missing some paperwork, ultimately disqualifying her from the race. That allowed Burgess to focus instead on Ledbetter, who he has out-spent 6-to-1.
Remembering his political roots in Zephyrhills city government, Burgess is a champion of giving local governments as much power as possible. He has spoken out against unfunded mandates issued by Tallahassee, forcing smaller governments with much smaller budgets to scramble to stay in compliance with ever-changing laws.
“You really have to be careful,” he said. “Otherwise, a lot of the decisions you make on the state level can really tie the hands of our local government, which is our most precious form of government. It’s as democratic and as accountable as it’s ever going to get.”
Local governments know what they need and want, Burgess said, and far too often, lawmakers from hundreds of miles away think they know better.
Burgess also wants to make sure the fast development in Pasco County — the area he primarily represents — is done right, especially in places like Wesley Chapel.
“It’s one of the fastest-growing areas, and a lot of opportunities are starting to pop up,” Burgess said. “We have to continue to push these efforts and promote this area, and we have to support the local efforts and our local delegation to continue their work, like the State Road 56 expansion.”
He also is focusing on developing a better work force in the area, to help attract new businesses and keep high-paying jobs local. That includes his continued exploration of vocational opportunities that he started to do as Zephyrhills mayor, and making sure schools have the resources they need to make it happen.
“We have to remember that not everybody who goes to school is college-bound, and we need to have options for them,” Burgess said. “They need to work, too, and we need to make sure we’re providing those opportunities for them to succeed.”
Burgess, an attorney with Johnson Auvil Pratico & Chane P.A. in Dade City, hopes he has all the pieces in place to win Weatherford’s seat. But no matter what happens on Nov. 4, this is an experience he says he’ll never forget.
“This has been far more wonderful than I ever imagined it would be,” Burgess said. “It’s been fun along the way. And win, lose or draw, I’m very glad I did this.”
Republican for House District 38
Associate attorney, Johnson Auvil Pratico & Chane P.A.
Zephyrhills City Council, 2005-08
Zephyrhills mayor, 2013-14
Courtney Burgess, wife
Lifelong of Pasco County, most recently in San Antonio
Fundraising, through Oct. 10
The other side
The Laker/Lutz News profiled Danny Burgess’ Democratic opponent, Beverly Ledbetter, in the July 31 editions of our paper. To read more about her, visit our website at LakerLutzNews.com, or go directly to tinyurl.com/BeverlyLedbetter.
Published October 22, 2014
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