Pensacola, Florida
Monday August 20th 2018

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Outtakes 11.11

TRANSITION IS HARD The transition of leadership for any community is difficult, but it seems to be particularly difficult in Northwest Florida. Up until recently, elected officials were rarely successfully challenged in elections. Incumbents seldom lost.

In fact, the easiest path to political office was to be appointed. Mike Wiggins, Ronald Townsend and John Jerralds were appointed to the Pensacola City Council before they had to run for the office. Gov. Jeb Bush appointed Marie Young to replace the indicted Escambia County Commissioner Willie Junior. He also appointed Lois Benson to the Emerald Coast Utility Board.

Before 2008, the only successful challenges against incumbents were in 2000 when Ron McNesby defeated Sheriff Jim Lowman and Jim Paul defeated School Superintendent Jim May—and those defeats may have had more to do with political affiliations than the incumbents. Both McNesby and Paul ran as Republicans. The same year, Mike Whitehead was soundly defeated when he went after Clerk of Court Ernie Lee Magaha, and a year later Lois Benson failed to beat Mayor John Fogg.

However, the reluctance to pass the baton to younger generations is more than a political issue. During the past decade, the “go to” spokesmen for the most progressive causes were three leaders well past age 65. Retired Vice Admiral Jack Fetterman fought for Oriskany, Maritime Museum and Community Maritime Park. Vince Whibbs, Sr. also was the major advocate for the maritime park, right up until his sudden death. M. J. Menge led the last charge for charter government in Escambia County. When these three giants passed away, they left a huge void.

The Pensacola Young Professionals was formed in 2006 to help provide a voice for the next generation of community leaders. Since their successful effort to pass the referendum for the maritime park, PYP has struggled to find their voice and have it consistently heard. None of their members were on the city’s Charter Review Commission.

PYP has failed to show it consistently can get its age group out to vote. Clay Ingram was elected on Nov. 2 to the Florida House, but member Courtney Peterson lost his bid for the Pensacola City Council and Lumon May lost in 2008 to incumbent State Rep. Clay Ford.

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