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Saturday, Apr 21, 2018
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Tom Jackson Columns

Jackson: Reluctantly, Burgess heeds call to run

DADE CITY — It’s not as though Danny Burgess doesn’t already have a plate piled higher than an NFL tackle at an all-you-can-eat barbecue buffet; nor is it as though he would have barked if a more-seasoned member of the Pasco Republican Party had stepped up.

And despite the looming end of Will Weatherford’s historic tenure as Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, no one should get the idea — because, after all, such notions are not unknown to the GOP — Burgess, the upwardly mobile mayor of Zephyrhills, considered himself next in line.

No, even if, now that others (former Sheriff Bob White, former Pasco GOP Chairman Randy Maggard) have demurred, he is widely regarded as Weatherford’s logical and inevitable successor, Little Danny Burgess — the diminutive still applied, in his 28th year, to distinguish him from Big Danny Burgess, his ironically less-tall father — is a bashful candidate.

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Rampant rumors notwithstanding, until recently running for the Legislature “was not on my radar,” Burgess says. “I was content, happy, really, with what I’m doing now.” The shortest possible list would include his mayoral responsibilities; work as an associate at a prominent Dade City law firm; activities as a reserve in the U.S. Army; and tending to Courtney Clem Burgess — his wife and district aide to U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney — as the couple anticipates the birth of their first just after New Year’s Day.

So far, in fact, he’s been too busy to file papers to make it official.

“But,” he adds, “when enough people come to you, you can’t brush it off. I was actually very reluctant to get in the race. In fact, I still am.” Paradoxically, he says, “I think that’s a good sign.”

Meaning? At the risk of committing hyperbole, this is as good a place as any to note Burgess’ affection for and studies on the Founding Fathers, in particular George Washington, the unsurpassed leader of a nation whose mastery of the tactical retreat in war and politics lights the path of the would-be representative from east Pasco.

“I’m not doing this because I’m being driven by ambition.” And here he quotes friend and mentor Weatherford paraphrasing Margaret Thatcher: “It’s not because I want to be someone; it’s because I want to do something.”

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Born in the second term of the Reagan administration and founder, in his teens, of a Zephyrhills Republican club bearing his birth-president’s name, Burgess embraces the Gipper’s preternaturally sunny conservatism, and longs for its effective communication.

“We can’t rely on the same old conservative rhetoric,” he says. “That doesn’t mean we should change our ideas. Less taxes and less government leads to more freedom. I still believe that; that doesn’t need change.

“But we have to be better about carrying that message to every constituent you will represent if you’re lucky enough to win. ... I want Democrats to say, ‘Even though we don’t agree, I respect him. He listens.’ I want them to be able to say, ‘We have a good guy in there.’ ”

Accordingly, Burgess peppers his conversation with nonpartisan words such as “statesman” and “leadership” and “trust” and “respect” and “honor.” He is, as mentioned above, a military man, attached to the National Guard post in Pinellas Park. And even though his assignment is to the Judge Advocate General’s Corps, Burgess is quick to point out that lawyers and Rangers take the same oath.

“Wearing the uniform,” he says, “reminds you that you’re part of something much bigger than yourself.”

As if he didn’t have sufficient reminders already.

Yes, Little Danny Burgess could be happy doing other stuff. Just now he and Courtney spend as much time debating which new digital SLR to buy to snap baby pictures as they used to spend comparing the leadership qualities of Washington and Abraham Lincoln. And perhaps his rivals for the seat (GOP candidate Minnie Diaz or Democrat Beverly Ledbetter) will find a way to head off his inevitability.

But just now he feels called, and for the man with a full plate, that’s a slab of ribs he just can’t refuse.

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