April 19, 2024

C.C. “Doc” Dockery was a successful businessman who wielded considerable political influence, particularly in the Republican Party. He was a staunch advocate for high-speed rail and co-founded the powerhouse Summit Consulting.

He walked comfortably with powerful people, and they sought his wisdom.

At his heart, though, Doc was a Polk County country boy who loved everyday people and listened to their stories. He liked to hunt, fish, travel and enjoy the peace of a day by the lake. Doc never sought the spotlight but never ran from it, either.

He died last week at the age of 89, and the ripples of his well-lived life will continue for countless years.

But this is also a love story, seen through the lens of his wife of 33 years, former GOP state Sen. Paula Dockery.

“He was the last of a kind, I think,” she told me. “He was my role model, my mentor, and my friend. Men loved him because he was a manly man, and women loved him because he was kind and gentle. Women told me he was the best hugger, and, yes, he was.

“He was a very private person, a very humble person, and he had an ethical core about him that you should be in public service to serve the public. He became disillusioned with politics because it had become such a cesspool that ignores the will of the voters.”

Their story began when Paula approached Charles E. Canady about getting into politics. Canady, at the time, was the Chief of Staff for then-U.S. Sen. Lawton Chiles.

“He said, ‘I can get you on Bob Graham’s staff,’” Dockery said. “I said, well, I never told you this, but I’m a Republican. He said, oh, in that case, you need to see Doc Dockery.”

She was going through a divorce at the time, and when she mentioned that to Doc, he replied with his trademark sage wisdom.

“He looked at me and said, ‘As someone who has been through a divorce, I can offer you neither congratulations nor condolences.’ I thought, wow, this guy understands it,” Paula said.

After they were married for about seven years, Paula said she wanted to run for public office. Doc had other plans at the time — travel, mostly. She tried to tell him that being a state lawmaker was just a part-time job and there would be plenty of time for travel.

“He told me that I didn’t understand,” she said. “He told me, ‘I’ve been there. I know what it takes.’ People assume he pushed me to run, but that wasn’t it. But when I decided to, he was behind me 100%.”

He was also a key figure in the decision of Tampa’s Bob Martinez to run for Governor in 1986. They maintained a lifelong friendship.

“One thing about Doc is he knew where he stood, and he put his time and money where he stood,” Martinez told the Ledger newspaper in Lakeland. “I think that is one of the things I remember most about Doc.

“He didn’t just talk the game, he played the game.”

We’ll leave you with the story of the buddy bench.

Doc loved to stop at a bench by Lake Hollingsworth in Lakeland and see who dropped by. It could be anyone — young, old, Black, White, it didn’t matter.

“He just listened to their stories,” Paula said. “Most of them didn’t know who he was, but he just listened to them. He said it was his buddy bench and the people who stopped by were his bench buddies. When we’d go to our summer home in North Carolina, he started a buddy bench there, too. That was just his way.

“I can’t even begin to think of life without Doc. He was my everything — my cheerleader, my strength, and my friend.”

A celebration of his remarkable life begins at 11 a.m. Thursday at First Lakeland United Methodist Church.

And after that, maybe sit down on a park bench and see who stops by. Say hello, and just listen to them. Be a buddy.


Honorable mention: Charlie Crist. The news keeps getting better for Crist in his quest to win the Democratic nomination for Governor.

St. Pete Polls released a survey showing Crist’s overwhelming support over Nikki Fried among registered Democratic voters.

Crist received 64.2% of those who said they had already voted compared to 24.8% for Fried. Only 19.9% were undecided or wouldn’t say. Overall, Crist had nearly 56% compared to 24.3% for Fried.

The poll had only a 2.7 percentage point margin of error.

Almost (but not quite) biggest winner: Laurel Lee. The former Florida Secretary of State entered the Republican CD 15 Primary late, but that doesn’t appear to matter.

St. Pete Polls gave Lee an overwhelming lead in the race for her party’s nomination.

Lee has almost 44% of likely Republican voters in the race, compared to 16% for state Sen. Kelli Stargel, who sits at 16% support, and 11% for Rep. Jackie Toledo.

There’s also this: Nearly a quarter of likely voters already sent in their ballots. Of those, 58% voted for Lee.

Lee didn’t enter the race until mid-May, but her presence appears to have turned an expected close race into a runaway. That’s barring something unforeseen, of course.

The biggest winner: Marco Rubio. Bipartisanship in Washington these days is about as rare as a Bigfoot sighting. But Rubio worked through some frustrating twists and turns and finally helped bring home the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxins Act — aka the PACT Act.

And he worked with Democrats to accomplish that.

“We are finally doing what we should have done two decades ago,” Rubio said. “Once President (Joe) Biden signs this bill into law, our veterans will finally be able to access the care they desperately need and selflessly earned.”

The bill specifically addresses victims of toxins from burn pits used to destroy medical waste in combat areas. Thousands of soldiers who breathed in the pits’ fumes later developed various severe diseases.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs rejects about 70% of disability claims stemming from burn pit exposure for lack of evidence and data from the Defense Department.

Rubio has been a champion for expanding health care benefits for veterans by removing red tape. He and Democratic U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand introduced this bill in 2021 and enjoyed wide support from both major parties.

Despite a hiccup in late July that threatened its approval and led to a national crusade by comedian and veterans advocate Jon Stewart, the bill’s final version passed the Senate 86-11.

Rubio’s likely General Election Democratic opponent, Val Demings, has hammered him in TV ads for what she called “one of the worst voting records” in the Senate. This bill could help answer that charge.


Dishonorable mention: Lake County Republican Party. Ever since what’s-his-name from Mar-a-Lago began his baseless mantra about a rigged election (it wasn’t rigged), Republicans in many parts of the country see The Big Lie as a preemptive strike in their own races.

The more paranoia, the better.

That’s true in deep red Lake County, where Republicans are locked in mortal combat with County Elections Supervisor Alan Hays, who happens to be … A REPUBLICAN!

The Orlando Sentinel reported that an email showed up in thousands of inboxes with a Lake County GOP letterhead. It read, “Did you receive a vote by mail ballot? Whether you requested this ballot or not, this is one of the BIGGEST sources of election fraud.”

Hays was not amused, calling the email “outright lies.”

“It is completely absurd,” Hays told the newspaper.

He added, “I am not going to allow anybody — I don’t care Republican, Democrat, or anybody else — nobody is going to get away with telling lies about my office and the people who work there and administer elections.”

Hays is up for re-election in 2024 and knows what this could cost him.

He doesn’t care.

“I am not in this game to be elected,” he said. “I am in this game to administer elections the best way I can.”

Almost (but not quite) biggest loser: Andrew Warren. It became national news Thursday after Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended Warren from his job as Hillsborough County’s State Attorney.

That’s tantamount to firing him because Warren said in June that he wouldn’t prosecute women who received an abortion, nor would he prosecute doctors who provided that.

I hesitate to put him in this category because during his six years as Hillsborough’s twice-elected top prosecutor, Warren has been a champion for sense-based justice. He put away plenty of bad people, but he’s also not a lock ’em up and throw away the key person.

You can argue that the real losers are the Hillsborough voters who strongly approve of how Warren conducted his business.

But it’s an election year, and DeSantis wants the GOP base to see him as a head-crackin’, law-and-order leader. And Warren’s nuanced approach to prosecution made him a perfect target for a Governor who actively looks for those things.

Mind you, Warren hadn’t yet dealt with any of those cases, so one could argue that he was using his First Amendment right to free speech.

No matter.

It was chest-beating time for the Governor.

As usual, the decision delighted DeSantis’ supporters and infuriated opponents, which, I suppose, was the idea. That’s how he governs.

The state Senate, which sits up and barks at DeSantis’ command, will decide Warren’s fate. We all know how that will go.

However, there is a new face of opposition to governing by executive action. Warren’s time in the State Attorney’s office might be over, but his leadership role may be just beginning. In the meantime, though, the Governor may have actually elevated Warren’s stature.

The biggest loser: Florida Power & Light. It was bad last week when the word came out of FP&L officials bankrolling the “independent” website The Capitolist to function as an enforcer for things company officials wanted or wanted to stop.

But the drip, drip, drip of revelations paints an even darker picture.

POLITICO reported that FP&L has an exclusive, invitation-only lounge for lobbyists and lawmakers. It’s on the third floor of the company’s $2 million, 13,000 square foot downtown Tallahassee offices.

The utility is the nation’s largest power company, and the company admits it’s a place where lobbyists can make their cases to lawmakers.

“That’s its purpose; it’s the ‘friends of the FP&L program’ that are invited,” a person who has attended the bar multiple times told POLITICO. “If you’re there, you probably are already with them.”

FP&L maintains the arrangement is legal.

Democratic state Rep. Anna Eskamani isn’t so sure, saying she didn’t understand why the company needed something like this.

She told POLITICO, “Not only could this be a serious violation of Sunshine Laws and the legislature gift ban, but it all feeds into our collective concern that FP&L uses corrupt business practices to influence politicians, buy out media outlets, and undermine democracy.”

The Orlando Sentinel reported how the company kneecapped Democratic state Sen. José Javier Rodríguez for proposing a law in 2019 that would allow landlords to sell inexpensive rooftop solar power directly to their tenants.

Hey, wait a minute, that would have bypassed FP&L!

The Sentinel said company CEO Eric Silagy fired off a command two a couple of vice presidents.

He ordered, “I want you to make his life a living hell … seriously.”

Rodriguez lost his re-election bid.

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, a Tampa Democrat, has taken note.

And on Friday, the Miami Herald reported how FP&L manipulated a 2018 state Senate race in Gainesville to ensure a strong Democratic challenger wouldn’t beat a GOP incumbent.

She asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate allegations that the company uses dark money to conceal political funding and sway election outcomes in Florida.

You might want to stay tuned to this story. It sounds like it’s a long way from over.

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