Republican pioneer Doc Dockery on why the party lost its way
Times political editor Adam C. Smith sat down this week with Doc Dockery, the Republican Party pioneer who now is registered independent.
More than four decades ago, a friend pressed C.C. "Doc" Dockery to run for the Polk County School Board, brushing off Dockery's insistence that he didn't particularly want the job.
"Don't worry, you won't win. No chance," the fellow assured him.
That's because Dockery was a Republican, and Republicans were irrelevant and all but nonexistent in Polk County — and most of Florida — at the time.
The goal was merely to start building an alternative to the Democrats, but Dockery's dad in North Carolina was horrified to learn that his son joined the GOP in the late 1960s.
"To him, Republicans were the devil incarnate. He was sure they would take away his V.A. pension,'' Dockery, 79, recounted at his Lakeland home.
Over the coming decades, starting at a Lakeland Holiday Inn where he handed gubernatorial candidate Claude Kirk a $50 campaign donation he had struggled to save up, Dockery emerged as one of the pioneers who helped build the Florida GOP into a dominant force.
"Doc was one of the seminal financial pillars of the party in the early going, when it was easier and cheaper to have that role than it is today," said veteran Republican strategist J.M. "Mac" Stipanovich. "He is also a man of wide experience and was a valuable adviser on business issues. And he is a fundamentally nice man."
But it says a lot about the evolution of the GOP that today Dockery is registered under "no party affiliation" and no longer feels comfortable or especially welcome in the party he helped build. He's hardly alone in thinking the party has lost its way.