BROOKSVILLE — Ready to campaign in earnest, Hernando County Commission candidate Paul Douglas has resigned as president of the local branch of the NAACP.
He has also switched political parties.
Douglas, who filed five months ago to run as a Republican for the District 5 seat currently held by James Adkins, resigned effective April 1 because NAACP rules forbid executive officers from campaigning for political office.
The 67-year-old Brooksville resident changed his party affiliation to Democrat on Wednesday, but he will appear on the ballot as a no-party candidate. State law requires candidates who want to run with party affiliation to be a member of that party for at least a year prior to the qualifying period for the election.
That means Douglas will bypass the August primary election and head straight to the November general election ballot. As of Friday, Adkins and another Republican, local businessman Michael Barsanti, were the only other candidates in the race.
That strategic benefit was a factor in the decision to switch parties, Douglas said, but so was ideology. He said the GOP's recent efforts to rewrite election laws and its views on women's reproductive rights have dismayed him.
"I cannot cotton to the fact they are trying to control contraception for a woman and suppress the vote," Douglas said. "I can't defend the things they're doing."
On the local level, Douglas said he hopes to appeal to a wider range of voters who can look beyond party affiliation and focus on the need for new perspective on the county board.
"The one-party Board of County Commissioners is not getting the job done," he said. "It's time for us to get some other thoughts in there so at least we can get a debate going."
Douglas said he will emphasize his status as a registered Democrat. He can note on his campaign materials that he is registered with the party, but the political disclaimer required by law must state that he is a no-party candidate, said Liz Townsend, director of operations for the Hernando County Supervisor of Elections Office.
So far, no candidate who would appear as a Democrat on the ballot has expressed an interest in the race, said Steve Zeledon, chairman of the Hernando Democratic Executive Committee. The party must support the Democrat in the general election, but if no Democrat files and the race comes down to the Republican and Douglas in the general election, Douglas can count on the party's help, Zeledon said.
"We're free to support anyone who supports the ideals and the philosophies of the Democratic Party," Zeledon said. "I haven't always agreed with Paul, but he has always demonstrated an interest in working to better the community."
Said Adkins: "I'm glad he changed to Democrat. That's what I thought he was. I don't have a problem running against a liberal."
Douglas laughed at that. He called himself a fiscal moderate leaning conservative, and a social liberal.
"I don't even like to classify myself as a liberal or conservative," he said. "I'm issue oriented. I don't blindly follow ideology."
Douglas said he first registered as a Republican, switched to Democrat in the 1970s to vote in a presidential primary, then switched back to the GOP when he moved to Hernando in 2003.
Elected as NAACP branch president in 2010, Douglas said in January that he hoped to stay on for as long as possible before the qualifying period in June. Officials with the organization said he could remain in the post until that point, as long as he didn't actively campaign.
But it didn't make sense to wait that long to start attending candidate forums and collecting money, Douglas said.
"I'm already behind," he said.
Anticipating his eventual resignation, the branch's executive committee recently voted to fill some vacant positions. First Vice President Wayman Boggs, who served as branch president previously, agreed to take the helm for now, but told the Times this week that he doesn't plan to run during the branch's regular elections in November. He said Douglas did a good job leading the organization.
"I'm happy to see that he's running, and I hope that he's successful," Boggs said. "He's a good man."
Douglas said he would run for branch president if his bid for the commission fails and hasn't ruled out running even if he wins the County Commission seat.
Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.