Political operative Wes Hodge was elected Saturday as the new chair of the Orange County Democrats after laying out a detailed platform for.

Hodge was elected by acclimation after his opponent, longtime Orange County Democratic activist Lonnie Thompson withdrew and threw his support behind Hodge while paper ballots from their contest were being counted.

Hodge takes over from outgoing Orange County Democratic Executive Committee Chair Juan Lopez and will have an entirely new team of leadership with him. Also elected Friday were new vice chairman Nuren Haider, Lorraine Touliano as state committeewoman, and Doug Head as state committeeman, Deborah Ryan as secretary, Dawn Curtis as treasurer, Tiffany Namey as female at large member and Tim Ayers as male at large member..

“I listened to you guys. This room is the room that asked me to run for chair. I didn’t do it because you know I have a personal ambition or I wanted it to be a stepping stone for something else. I did it because the members of this organization came to me,” Hodge said. “It’s a very humbling experience.”

Behind-the-scenes issues loomed. Democratic voter growth has exploded in Orange County over the past decade yet the Orange Democrats have had only limited success in county and state elections. Democrats hold a 3-2 advantage in voter registrations. There also is the matter of potential backing of one of their own, Susannah Randolph, to become chair of the state party. She’s campaigning but isn’t yet qualified to run; she’ll need to hold one of the elected positions from Saturday’s county elections, meaning someone would have to resign to open a job for her.

Hodge indirectly addressed the less-than-overwhelming election success Orange Democrats have enjoyed, and the limited participation seen in county meetings, Saturday’s notwithstanding. The 125 or so committee members who attended Saturday may have been the largest gathering in 20 years, Thompson said.

“We’re Democrats. We’re the largest party in this county, and it’s about time we acted like it,” Hodge said.

Hodge, 38, was born in California to an Air Force family, but moved to Florida at age 8 and spent most of his childhood and adult life in Orange County, including a college career at the University of Central Florida. He is a three-time cancer survivor who said public funding helped him afford treatment, and so he committed himself to finding ways to pay back the public after his second battle.

About The Author

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

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