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Monday, Dec 22, 2014
Tom Jackson Columns

Jackson: Stars align for Mayor Burgess, future legislator

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A shiver of intrigue rippling across east Pasco County settled over the weekend, and from that post-speculative calm emerged a decision as anticipated as it was eagerly met.

Danny Burgess will run for the Florida House of Representatives, local GOP heavyweights say. And, though Burgess was unavailable to confirm the report, he intends to cut against the contemporary grain by seeking to represent the district he lives in. Come the campaign, when Burgess says he knows his way around the 38th, it won’t be because he relies on Google Maps.

So, even as other carpetbaggers scurry across area codes in pursuit of ripe opportunities, add this to a résumé that already includes political club founder, city councilman, Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps and, just now, mayor of Zephyrhills (all before his 27th birthday): Danny Burgess, nonconformist.

Come to think of it, deciding to run in the district where he grew up, lives now, works and intends to rear children (he and wife, Courtney, are expecting their first in January) may be Burgess’ first rebellious act.

But we get ahead of ourselves.

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The Republican candidate pool (Democrats are, so far, silent) had been muddled for weeks by a stone tossed by an unlikely source. Bob White — yes, that Bob White, Pasco’s sheriff-turned-Trinity-civilian — was looking for a new place to homestead somewhere on the far side of Collier Parkway, which could have meant just one thing:

White was planning to make a run for a seat in the Legislature, and not just any seat, but the one lifted to prominence by its current occupant, term-limited Speaker Will Weatherford. Lingering scuttlebutt is this wasn’t entirely White’s idea, but he thought enough of it to give it the full gumshoe treatment.

Ultimately, say those familiar with the dénouement, White detected domestic resistance that sounded a lot like the speech he gave 2½ years ago to explain why he was retiring near the middle of his historic third term. He could keep to his pledge about shunning the limelight, or he could move to Tallahassee via Wesley Chapel, but he’d be moving alone.

That would never work, jokes a rueful White: “I never learned how to run the washing machine.”

On such peculiarities does history pivot. I mean, would there be an Affordable Care Act today if former Chicago Bears Coach Mike Ditka hadn’t chosen TV football analyst over the GOP’s nomination in the 2004 Illinois’ U.S. Senate race?

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By last weekend, word got around that White was informally withdrawing his informal candidacy. Not long before, Randy Maggard, longtime chairman of the Pasco Republican Party who slid over to the No. 2 chair in the spring, also decided against getting in, citing the demands of commerce; he and his brother maintain a delicate balance of responsibilities running Sonny’s Appliances in Dade City.

“You’re termed out after eight years, and you need to have something to come back to,” Maggard says. “We’re a family business; we are the business. If I take all that time away, I’m not sure there is something to come back to.”

All of which left effervescent Republican Minerva “Minnie” Diaz, 50, still the only candidate, official or otherwise. Diaz — Army veteran, pastoral counselor (her clients include Pasco sheriff’s deputies), motivational speaker and, carpetbagging being what’s hot now, Longleaf resident — declared her intentions months ago and has been sprinting like Usain Bolt ever since.

Nonetheless, local handicappers figure the moment Burgess makes it official, he won’t just be in the lead, it’ll be his race to lose. “He hasn’t filed yet,” Weatherford says, “but if Mayor Burgess gets in the race, he’ll be a major force.”

More succinct, Maggard says, “Danny runs; Danny wins. It’s a short story.”

All we lack is The Announcement.

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