Orange County Democratic Chairman Juan Lopez is not seeking re-election, and two candidates are emerging for the Democrats’ leadership post, which has turned over numerous times in the past decade.

Wes Hodge publicly announced his candidacy for the Orange County Democratic Executive Committee chairmanship Thursday on Facebook.

Lonnie Thompson has made no such public announcements yet, but confirmed to Thursday that he, too, intends to run.

“Politics is a business. Businesses are built on relationships,” said Hodge, a Realtor. “I feel right now we have some really good relationships but we don’t have all the relationships we could. I think we could have a lot better relationships with some of our core networks and groups, environmental groups, unions, minority caucuses, the disability caucus. I feel like we could really strengthen those relationships, and by building on those we can increase our influence and effectiveness, and as a large group we can get a lot more done.”

Lopez became chairman just last year. Before him several chairs have come and gone in fairly short order, including Carlos Guillermo Smith, who was just elected to the Florida House of Representatives in District 49; Amy Mercado, who was just elected to the Florida House in District 48; and Scott Randolph, who is now Orange County tax collector.

Meanwhile Lew Oliver has chaired the Orange County Republican Executive Committee for well over a decade.

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 two-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. And that starts, he said, with finding ways to support and protect the Affordable Care Act, saying that without it he couldn’t have health insurance.

Orange County’s voter dominance has been steadily growing in the past decade, but the Democrats still have seen mixed results in elections. The Orange County Supervisor of Elections reports 334,000 registered Democrats and 214,000 registered Republicans.

On Tuesday the county helped elect three new members of Congress, all Democrats; three Democrats to the state Senate, including two who were in contested elections; yet a mix of Democrats and Republicans to the state House of Representatives. The Orange County Board of Commissioners is officially non-partisan, but the parties tussle for power there, and Republicans control the commission and the mayor’s seat that runs it. In two races Tuesday, one saw a Democrat, Emily Bonilla, beat a Republican incumbent, while the other saw two Republicans face off, with no Democrats running.

“I think we played a major role in making sure that Emily beat Ted Edwards,” Hodge said of the county party. “I think it was proof that when we decide to get behind someone we can move mountains. That’s something we can build off of.”


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