Deegan v. Rutherford


The crowd at Deegan’s Town Hall Meeting.


The reception area of a Florida District 4 congressional office is filled with awards, flags, maps, and in this case an elephant. In a conference room filled with less than ten chairs and couple flags framing a wall meant for photoshoots, sits a conference call phone system. On the line is Representative John H. Rutherford, hoping to once again secure his seat this November in the Florida District 4 race. He is articulate on his beliefs, principles, and ideas. Now, he needs voters to choose him over rising competition.


Prior to becoming representative, Rutherford was best known in Jacksonville as our long serving sheriff. When it came to the Florida Sheriff Association Legislative Committee in Tallahassee, Rutherford eagerly threw his hat into the ring. This process taught him how to develop credibility and eventually pass his bill into law.

Rutherford’s desk

It wasn’t long before he became Legislative Chairman of the Florida Sheriff Association and served for nine years.


Rutherford takes pride in his bi-partisan approach, saying that he learned this through his time as Legislative Chairman. “That is what informed my performance when I came up here. I understood already through that state process for nine years that building relationships is critical to being effective as a legislator. And that’s why every bill I file, I reach across the aisle to a Democrat and get them to be a primary co-sponsor.”


In fact, being willing to share ownership of his bills has paid off. Without compromising his values, Rutherford has always pursued a bipartisan approach. “I have had three pieces of legislation signed into law, and I can tell you there’s members that have been up here twenty years and don’t have two, one.”


In terms of community interaction, Rutherford’s representative style has left out perhaps a key component for many local representatives: town halls. However, he has not in fact avoided the community by establishing his Rutherford ride-alongs.

Shelves of Rutherford’s memorabilia.


From riding in on a cargo ship to “the little Amelia Island coffee shop”, Rutherford has apparently grasped a good understanding of different industries in the community. “Ride-alongs are much more productive, I think. People get to ask their questions in a very safe environment.”


With Deegan as a frontrunner built on reforming healthcare, Rutherford sees the Affordable Care Act as both hits and misses. However, ultimately, he finds it too expensive. “There are parts of it that I’ve always supported. For example, covering preexisting conditions, keeping young people on their parents’ coverage until they’re 26 are all things that I’ve supported within ACA. But overall, ACA is not working. It’s too expensive. The costs are just not acceptable.”


On gun reform, Rutherford is open to Universal Background Checks, however his concern lies in creating a registration database. While Deegan also supports UBCs, a call for tighter restrictions, like limits on high capacity magazines, conflicts with his looser stance. On the environment, “I’ve worked hard to oppose offshore drilling and seismic testing to support our right whales right off our coast.”


On campaign finance, Rutherford believes that, regardless of size of donation, donors’ names should be published.

The purpose of life is not to be is to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”

Supporting his district as a whole, Rutherford has looked to aid the community in building Jacksonville to become a sophisticated medical destination, passing the STOP School Violence Act, and supporting veterans through oversight in the VA.


His voice carrying clearly through the speaker phone, in his district office, Rutherford delved into what motivates him as a Congressman. Rutherford spoke to his religious faith, making the country a better place for his grandchildren, and serving the American public.


Then, quoting off the top of his head, as only a person about to recite a favorite quote can do, Rutherford explained his philosophy through the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson.


“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”



Havana Jax is filled with a sizable crowd, but a number of empty seats remain.Among the crowd are a couple of youth volunteers, some police officers patrolling, but primarily adults in their 40s-60s.

The crowd at Deegan’s Town Hall Meeting.


The crowd seems impressive for a late Monday night, but maybe skimpy for an energized group ready to take on an incumbent.


This is Donna Deegan’s Duval Town Hall Meeting, yet it’s far from her first. After talking to some audience members, Deegan makes her way up to the mic. Following a brief introduction, she begins, “When I told my friends I’m going to run for Congress, they looked at me the same way when I told them I had cancer.”


Growing up in Jacksonville, graduating from Bishop Kenny and then FSU, Deegan always wanted to be a journalist. After anchoring the news in Jacksonville for enough time, she achieved what many refer to as “local celebrity.” Now, Deegan can be found in full campaign swing for the Florida District 4 House of Representatives seat against Rep. John Rutherford.


Deegan speaking at her Town Hall Meeting.

Scott Arceneaux, a political analyst based in Jacksonville and Senior Advisor to Deegan’s campaign, is not surprised by incoming support despite an American tradition of voter apathy. “In the age of Trump, we’re finding voter excitement is the highest I’ve seen in 20 years.”


In 1999, she was diagnosed with breast cancer for the first out of three times. Through her own experiences with breast cancer and hearing the stories of other women, Deegan founded the Donna Foundation to aid those currently battling the disease.  Thus, after personally facing the struggle herself, Deegan developed a passion to resolve the healthcare crisis.


Through the Foundation and even prior, Deegan heard many health care horror stories. She references them, often highlighting the lack of government resources leading to the heartbreaking financial decision of choosing between food and medicine.


One story described a husband who had to quit his job so his wife could qualify for Medicaid and receive breast cancer treatment. These first-hand accounts sparked Deegan’s biggest priority, the largest factor in her decision to register as a democrat and run for office: healthcare. “[There’s] no reason we can’t insure every man, woman, and child.”

We’re the Sunshine State for heaven’s sake, we better start acting like it”


After healthcare, Deegan continued to address her town hall audience, outlining some other priorities in her campaign.


She believes in protecting Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Deegan said, “[we] can’t be cutting the number one thing keeping seniors out of poverty.”


She believes in immediately finding solutions to climate change. “We’re the sunshine state for heaven’s sake, we better start acting like it.”


And, she believes in gun control. On this Monday night at Havana Jax, the call for common sense in gun reform was met with loud applause. The clapping continued as she listed suggestions including getting rid of high capacity magazines and denying guns to the no-fly list. The clapping came to a hard stop as Deegan clarified, classifying herself as a believer in the second amendment. Yet, after claiming that responsible citizens deserve guns, she continued, placing responsibility on the NRA among other issues in our current gun control policy, thus resuming the thunderous applause.


Meanwhile, Deegan’s status as a candidate extends well beyond the neon light covered walls of Havana Jax. The campaign kicked off with a large push to earn signed petitions from constituents in order to qualify for the ballot. Accomplishing this goal and boasting a large number of individual donors, Deegan appears to have earned a large turnout.


In fact, Mr. Arceneaux views Deegan’s campaign as refreshing for Jacksonville. “I think it is bold. It’s not easy to take on an incumbent. I don’t think we’ve had enough competitive races up here. She’s really taking on the establishment here.”


Meanwhile, praise for Deegan even trickles down to the student level. Elizabeth Arceneaux, member of Students for Donna and Founder/President of the Douglas Anderson Young Democrats Club, has experienced this first hand. In helping start Students for Donna, a youth group seeking to aid in electing Deegan, Ms. Arceneaux believes that her candidate particularly looks to the youth community. “She’s really excited about the youth in Jacksonville, and she’s really looking to them to launch her campaign.”


In fact, Deegan came to speak with DA students, hosted by the Young Democrats Club. “You could really see the enthusiasm of the students when they were asking their questions. Each question was very informed,” said Ms. Arceneaux. “They were asking details about healthcare, gun reform, and how she’d do that. She had good answers to every single question. It was both casual and very professional.”


Ultimately, Deegan presents herself as a candidate with first-hand experience of problems in the current system, a desire to help those around her, and an alternative to a candidate who refuses to even hold town halls.