House challenger blasts party leaders for rallying support of incumbent

Johnny Gaffney is running against Rep. Reggie Fullwood in special primary election

By Tarik Minor - Anchor, I-TEAM reporter

JACkSONVILLE, Fla. - A man challenging an incumbent state representative in a special election next month spoke out Wednesday against his party using campaign funds to help his opponent.

Johnny Gaffney, currently a Jacksonville city councilman, is running for the House District 13 seat against Rep. Reggie Fullwood. Both are Democrats running in a special primary election on Dec. 16. The winner will face Republican Lawrence Jefferson in the Feb. 17 special general election. 

The special election was ordered because of clerical errors in Fullwood's qualifying papers, and with no other candidate qualified for the seat in the November election.

Gaffney is criticizing a request by Mark Pafford, the minority leader of the Florida House, for fellow members of the party to financially support Fullwood in hopes of getting him reelected.

"My focus has turned to reelecting Reggie Fullwood," Pafford wrote in an email.

Gaffney was looking forward to working with the Democratic Party as a state representative, but caucus leaders have already expressed a different sentiment.

"It's very detrimental to the future," Gaffney said. "How can we win? How can we work together if there is no trust and continuity?"

"This type of leadership and behavior only encourages acrimony, division and polarization of the party, and only continues the status quo," Gaffney said. "It should be a fair, level playing field for everyone." 

In the email, Pafford goes on to encourage Democratic caucus members to contribute their remaining campaign funds to help Fullwood take office. Neither Pafford nor Fullwood responded to calls for comment. 

Gaffney said the diversion of funds goes against Democratic Party rules, but state Sen. Audrey Gibson sees things differently. She says the Democrats are protecting the incumbent at a time when Republicans are gaining political control. 

"It's important to do this, especially during situations like we have this year," Gibson said. "The incumbent minority leader lost six seats. We need experienced legislators in those seats who had an opportunity for seniority on those committees."

Gibson says some Democrats don't want to lose the ground they've gained with Fullwood, who Gibson says already has established working relationships. 

"Leaders understand that they need seniority members on that committee to make sure that the voice of the caucus that represents millions of constituents get heard," Gibson said.

The last day to register to vote in the special election or make any changes to your political affiliation is on Nov. 17.

In campaign finance reports, Fullwood reported raising $23,000 in October. Paperwork errors prevented Fullwood from qualifying for the November election in District 13 and led to the need for a special election.

Fullwood received contributions in October from companies and groups such as AT&T, the HCA hospital chain, a Florida Realtors political committee and the Florida Home Builders Association. The October contributions brought Fullwood's overall total to $26,900 and had spent $10,204 as of Oct. 1.

Gaffney raised $250 in October, but had an overall total of $30,915. He had spent $4,072 as of Oct. 31.

Jefferson had raised a total of $2,150 and loaned his campaign $200.

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