Volusia Teenage Republican debate excludes lone Black, female candidate, sparking dispute

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The Volusia Teenage Republicans posted this photo on Facebook showing members and the three candidates for Volusia County Council at-large who participated in their forum Sunday at DeLand City Hall. The candidates, seated, are from left: Jake Johansson, Andy Kelly and Doug Pettit. A fourth candidate, Sherrise Boyd, was not invited.
The Volusia Teenage Republicans posted this photo on Facebook showing members and the three candidates for Volusia County Council at-large who participated in their forum Sunday at DeLand City Hall. The candidates, seated, are from left: Jake Johansson, Andy Kelly and Doug Pettit. A fourth candidate, Sherrise Boyd, was not invited.

Debate about a forum involving Volusia County Council at-large candidates is roiling, as questions are being raised about the exclusion of one of the candidates who happens to be a Black woman.

The Volusia County Teenage Republicans Club on Sunday hosted a debate at DeLand City Hall. Three candidates were invited: Jake Johansson, Andy Kelly and Doug Pettit. The fourth candidate, Sherrise Boyd, was not.

The club, also known by the acronym TARS, is sponsored by Terri Brower, wife of County Chair Jeff Brower, who's endorsed Pettit. Both Pettit and Johansson are Republicans running in a non-partisan race. Yet Kelly, a Democrat, was invited and Boyd, also a Democrat, was not.

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On Monday night, Johansson posted on Facebook a criticism of the decision to exclude Boyd. He said Terri Brower invited him, and that the club's president is one of the Browers' children.

"I found it a little odd that there were only three of us and was going to ask if the fourth candidate was invited, but the debate began before I could inquire," Johansson wrote. "About halfway through the debate, a citizen asked if the candidates at the event were the only candidates running for County Council at large. After an uncomfortable pause, the president looked for direction from his advisor and then said that the club determined 'it wasn’t advantageous' to invite the fourth candidate."

Jeff Brower responded both on Facebook and in a call to The News-Journal on Tuesday. Terri Brower did not respond to a message, while Jeff Brower said the teens in the GOP club were working on a written explanation of their rationale.

"When you attack my wife and son I will not let it stand," Jeff Brower wrote on Facebook.

Brower said Johansson is lying about being surprised that the debate involved three of the four candidates, as Terri Brower had sent him a text confirming those details. Johansson replied to that text, Jeff Brower said.

"TARS is about the teenagers learning about civics and government. Sadly they are learning about the corruption in government at all levels. Thank you for your instruction," Brower wrote in a reply to Johansson's post.

In the interview, Brower said he has not been at any of the TARS meetings, but said they had already heard from Boyd at previous debates. Kelly had only recently entered the field, so they decided they wanted to hear from him, even though he is a Democrat, Brower said.

"I don't feel like I can say the kids made a mistake," he said. "(Boyd) always plays the race card, and they don't like that."

However, Brower acknowledged the TARS would have been better off by either inviting no Democrats or all Democrats. "They weren't considering all the political ramifications."

Johansson said the lack of a clear rationale for excluding Boyd only raises more questions.

"We talk about transparency in government, trust in government and voting for people who will do the right thing. I choose to do the right thing and call it like I see it," Johansson said. "This was either a gross misjudgment or a blatant omission and a poor example of leadership for our youth.

"I don’t blame the kids," he continued. "It became obvious after the event this was not the doing of the young adults but a call by the advisors. I leave it to the voters to judge who and what motivated the exclusion of Ms. Boyd."

Sherrise Boyd
Sherrise Boyd

Contacted Tuesday morning, Boyd said she woke up Tuesday morning to a slew of voicemails and text messages about the debate snub.

"What I will say is this is a nonpartisan race," Boyd said. "Jeff and Doug have not operated like it's a nonpartisan race. I have heard things out of Doug's and Jeff's mouths suggesting (Pettit) is only running to push Jeff's agenda. That's why I'm not surprised."

Boyd said she believes she was excluded because she is "a stronger candidate," she said.

Brower is doing "exactly what is wrong," Boyd said.

"By abusing authority and not being transparent, you rob the public of what everyone has to say," she said.

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This article originally appeared on The Daytona Beach News-Journal: Volusia Teenage Republican debate excludes lone Black, female candidate