The State House race in District 87 symbolizes a silent but deadly (to Democracy anyway) trend that has been flying under the radar of media coverage obsessed with higher profile combat zones. It pits a candidate who represents what's so wrong with American Politics against a candidate who can help make things right.
It's a story that sums up a whole lot of what's happening all across the country, for better and for worse.
The Florida HD 87 battle is being waged in one of the most shamelessly gerrymandered districts you'd ever want to see, zigging one way before zagging another in order to make it a "Republican-leaning" district. Looks like a jagged old saw-toothed comb from Hell. Still, it's not hardcore conservative territory, not by any means. And the threat to Democracy here isn't coming from one of those Tea Party extremists.
No, this race features a far more common, quiet and dangerous threat: The Old Boys Network. As in, white men of privilege who make a ton of money and Special Interest connections in the business world before translating that into political and legislative power they use to protect and promote...well, you know how that equation adds up.
In this HD 87 contest, the Good Old Boy is a 63-year-old insurance industry millionaire named Bill Hager. Go figure, he's the Republican. Made millions helping companies keep an upper hand in the world of workers' compensation insurance by simultaneously driving up rates for small businesses and fighting compensation claims of workers injured on the job. Over the last decade, he built a base in local Florida politics by serving on the Boca Raton City Council and guiding the city's land use policies as rampant over-development helped lead to the housing market bubble, and real estate crash.
After serving Special Interests for years, Hager cashed his Favor Bank check last year in the form of the "safe", gerrymandered HD 87 seat that was handed off to him like a family heirloom by term-limited out GOP House Majority Leader Adam Hasner. For about a year-and-a-half, Hager smiled, said little and raked in contributions and endorsements from most of the local stakeholders politicians & government officials, community organizations, fire & police unions, local newspapers, and an assortment of business interests who feared finding themselves on the outside looking in after Election Day.
And then came Hava.
Hava Holzhauer is a genuine political outsider, a Democratic newcomer who didn't enter the race until late last Spring, after some unfortunate confusion over who would run in the district. She's a Palm Beach County Assistant State Attorney who prosecutes people charged with crimes like selling drugs to our kids, burglarizing our homes and swindling us in mortgage fraud and other "white collar" schemes & scams. She's married and the mother of four young children, yet still makes time for constructive community work and volunteerism.
This 37-year-old woman of substance is seeking elected office for the first time because she's tired of seeing the FL legislature put Special Interests above the Public Interest. She's tired of the "revolving door" politics that keeps the Old Boys Network cashing in and cashing out as Florida sinks to the bottom of national rankings in Education, Unemployment & Housing.
Hava believes that her combination of intelligence, independence and integrity can make a real difference in Tallahassee. She is the very embodiment of the kind of great new candidate that so many voters of all party affiliations are longing for.
Yet because of her independence and late entry into the race, she hasn't gotten much help from a Democratic party establishment so accustomed to losing in this district (for 30 years!) that they failed to recognize a potential winner when she stepped up to the plate. And so Hava's race has been an underdog, underfunded uphill battle from Day One.
And yet here in the home stretch, even with the scantest of resources, it is the underdog that has the momentum.
Hava's putting the heat on Bill Hager, Big Time, with a new TV Ad campaign that broke this week, a steady stream of new online videos, a new YouTube channel, fresh media buzz, and a big new campaign office in a high visibility location.
Meanwhile Hager has been making major mistakes down the stretch, publicly flip-flopping on issues like offshore oil drilling, laying so low he's scraping bottom, sending out mailers with mistakes and outright lies. He's feeling the heat and melting down.
The thing is, this is all happening in the final week before Election Day. The last poll, in early October, showed Hager with a lead of over 15 percentage points. But about one in four voters were still undecided in the race. And no question that Holzhauer has been gaining on him ever since. So there is a chance that the underdog can pull off the huge upset.