Sunday, April 22, 2018
Politics

NAACP branch president gathers signatures for Hernando County Commission run

BROOKSVILLE — Paul Douglas doesn't plan to resign as president of the local NAACP branch anytime soon.

He doesn't have to, and he doesn't want to.

The 67-year-old Brooksville resident was waiting for NAACP officials to clarify a rule that forbids branch officers from campaigning for political office. Last week, Florida area director Pat Spencer told Douglas that he does not have to step down until he qualifies as a candidate for the Hernando County Commission District 5 seat.

Douglas, a Republican, filed papers with the elections office in November to challenge Republican incumbent Commissioner Jim Adkins. Douglas said he wants to stay in the post as long as possible.

"I like the way it's going," he said. "This has become a passionate avocation."

There is a catch of sorts, though. Douglas cannot actively campaign for the County Commission seat while serving as president, but can continue to collect signatures to secure a spot on the ballot. He says he has collected about half of the more than 1,200 signatures required and isn't concerned about giving up several months of campaign time.

"I will be attending a lot of functions, trying to get those signature cards (signed)," he said. "Even though it's not considered campaigning, it also serves that purpose."

"He's just going to have to work his buns off once he qualifies," Spencer said.

Douglas initially had assumed he would have to resign after prefiling, and weeks ago had announced his intention to step down.

There was a problem, though. The group's constitution states that the first vice president steps up when the president resigns. First vice president Ron Swanson was reluctant to take the job, and the second and third vice president posts were vacant.

Now the plan is for Douglas to suggest names for the branch's executive board to nominate and elect to those seats, perhaps as early as Monday's meeting. Douglas said Swanson has indicated a willingness to serve as president for a couple of months after Douglas resigns. Also willing to step up is Andy Williams, who served as branch president for about a dozen years starting in the late 1990s.

The branch will hold a regular election in November, and by then Douglas may be free to run for his old seat because the primary for the County Commission race is Aug. 14.

Douglas, an environmental consultant who experienced racism firsthand after marrying a white woman in the 1960s, has invigorated a local NAACP branch that had languished in recent years, Spencer said.

"Mr. Douglas has really proved himself to be a true civil rights person in that community," said Spencer, whose area includes four other branches in Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties.

As president, Douglas lobbied the Hernando County Commission to adopt the NAACP's recommended political district maps. Instead, the commissioners and the School Board approved an altered version of a map the two boards had already agreed on during a November workshop.

Douglas called that map illegal gerrymandering and vowed to fight the map in federal court. Last week, the group reversed course, saying its resources had to be spent on other voter rights causes.

He has rejected claims that serving as NAACP president and arguing for a map that would affect his race posed a conflict.

"There's no such thing as me acting unilaterally, and the NAACP doesn't play those games," Douglas said.

Douglas has done well since his election in November 2010, said Williams, who is the husband of Hernando Supervisor of Elections Annie Williams.

"He's taking us in a good direction," Andy Williams said.

But not every member supports Douglas, said Brooksville community activist and branch member Paul Boston.

"A lot of people I have talked to the last couple of weeks say they don't participate in the NAACP because of Paul Douglas," Boston said. "They think he's out of touch with the community."

Boston says his initial assessment — one Douglas has rejected — has proved to be accurate: "He was just using the NAACP as a platform to run for county commissioner."

Boston said he will ask to be designated as a candidate for one of the NAACP vice president posts.

"I'm trying to have the organization put it to a vote so Paul Douglas doesn't just anoint the person who will succeed him," Boston said.

Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or [email protected]

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