Truthfully, I am a reluctant candidate.
While my doggedness as a North Florida print journalist is known, especially for my exclusive interview with the Beatles as a cub reporter, admittedly I am not a great public speaker.
But my newfound courage to run despite my public speaking phobia is rooted in the deep disgust I share with millions in our state about the pitiful response of the Tallahassee lapdogs for guns interests to the Parkland high school gun massacre.
Two decades of government rule by these servants of special interests, which include my opponent who has been a lawmaker for nearly two decades and a recipient of NRA money, resulted in erosion of hard-fought environmental and worker protections, our voting rights, civil rights, and women's rights and scarred our state with the dismal bottom-of-the-barrel national rankings on health care, elder care, crime, education, and mental health.
Our state capitol needs a clean sweep of the lapdogs who willingly protect the gun interests at the expense of the very life of schoolchildren and thousands of citizens dealing with the epidemic of gun violence and murder that plagues our state.
My demonstrated skills as a watchdog for the people are much needed in state government for much-needed change.
- Billee Bussard
Backgrounder: Billee A. Bussard
Born: Billee Alberta Neumann
Where: New York City -
Jacksonville resident since 1959
- A journalist for twenty-five years, including eight years with the Florida Times-Union as an editorial writer and real estate editor.
- Jacksonville Business Journal reporter two years covering health care and education issues.
- Jacksonville Journal (now defunct) reporter and features editor 11 years.
- Freelance writer with cover stories on political issues and figures appearing in Folio Weekly, as well as commentary on school issues. Op-ed pieces I have written on various subjects have appeared in many publications, including USA Today, The Baltimore Sun, The Florida Times-Union.
- Owner of several small businesses, including two gift shops that operated 11 years before being sold and a restaurant that was among the many businesses that failed during the 1970s era of world recession and oil crises.
- Manufacturer's representative for more than a decade for a high-end home decor before returning to work as a journalist.
- A former administrator for a non-profit focused on school calendar issues.
Education Research & Activist
- School advisory committee for Fletcher Middle School.
- Participant in Jacksonville Community Council Inc. education study committees.
- Editor of Summer Matters.com, a website established in 2002 as a public service to disseminate research on the detriments of a school calendar change. The comprehensive research has been used by school districts and academics across the country. Appeared on national news and radio programs as an expert on the year-round school movement.
- One of four organizers of the 2017 Women's March In Jacksonville, which drew some 4,000 participants to events at the Jacksonville Landing and the Evergreen Cemetery grave of Jacksonville suffragist Mary Nolan.
- Former president of the Beaches Democratic Club; member since 2003;
- Member of the Duval County Democratic Executive Committee since 2006, having served as Director of Communications under Chair Travis Bridges and Campaign Committee Chair under DCDEC Chairs Audrey Gibson and Lisa King.
- The campaign manager for congressional candidate Bob Harms
- Campaign advisor to congressional candidate Dave Bruderly.
- Volunteer editor of The Inside Report, a newsletter of the Duval County Democratic Party under chair Travis Bridges.
- Volunteer editor of Making Waves, a newsletter for the Beaches Democratic Club under the leadership of Peyton Hopkins.
Widowed in 2008. Married 42 years to Richard E. Bussard who passed Dec. 22, 2008. He retired as director of corporate communication for CSX Railroad. Before joining CSX, he had a long and distinguished career as a journalist, having been managing editor, city editor and award-winning columnist for the Jacksonville Journal, an afternoon paper that has since folded. His decision to stop the presses for a breaking news photo was instrumental in the newspaper winning the Pulitzer Prize for the renowned "The Kiss of Life" photo that captured mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to an electrocuted worker dangling from a utility pole.
Two daughters, a stepdaughter, and stepson. Daughters attended Stanton College Preparatory High School and Douglas Anderson School of the Arts. One attended New College in Sarasota, the other Jacksonville University, then graduated from the University of Florida, with masters earned at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
N.Y. Elementary School; Oceanway Middle School; Andrew Jackson High School, Jacksonville University and the University of North Florida political science studies.
Here are some examples of my experiences both as a journalist and private citizen that prepared me to be The Watchdog Tallahassee government needs.
Throughout my lifetime, I have been willing to spend considerable money out of my pocket in seeking the truth on issues. For example, in my early research on year-round schools in the 1990s, I paid my expenses to Washington, D.C. to meet with government officials who were responsible for writing either distortion of fact or outright lies in government reports pushing calendar change. Later I paid for research trips to Bluffton, Ind., Chicago, and British Columbia.
My research on education issues stretches some 40 feet in floor-to-ceiling shelves in my home and garage. It reflects an exchange of information with hundreds of educators, researchers, and parents across the nation. It awaits the day I make time to finish a book about three-quarters complete.
Strong Work Ethic
I began supporting myself at age 17, right out of high school. On my $50-a-week salary as a city desk clerk for the Jacksonville Journal, I also managed to pay for classes at Jacksonville University and share rent for an efficiency apartment.
Throughout my life, I have at times worked two and three jobs in addition to the most critical job of raising two children. Companies I worked for rewarded my efforts with promotions and pay raises.
Voting Rights Watchdog
The right to vote and protect the vote has been on my radar since I first registered to vote. When information came to light about the hacking vulnerability of electronic voting machines Duval County would be using, I organized two meetings that drew concerned citizens from around North Florida. I wrote a comprehensive report on the problems for a Democratic Party newsletter that included an interview with the Duval County Supervisor of Elections who later abandoned the use of those machines.
I strongly support the restoration of voting rights for those who have served time for their non-violent offenses.
Education and Health Care
These are two of the most important issues of our times, and I am well versed on the complexities as a result of years of researching and reporting for a business newspaper and as an editorial page writer.
I have not shied from speaking truth to power on these issues, even bucking members of my political party at times. Some examples follow.
Challenged the 15-member Jacksonville Charter Revision Commission in its attempts to turn public schools over to Jacksonville’s Mayor. It was an attempt widely viewed as an effort to do away with citizen input on education by doing away with an elected school board and a step toward school privatization to profit an investor class that sees profit potential in taking over schools. After checking backgrounds of the commission members, I found almost all had ties to concerns that would profit by privatizing public schools or that worked or had ties to powerful people in Jacksonville who would also profit. My Folio Weekly article revealed the ties. The Jacksonville City Council subsequently rejected Commission recommendation to turn public schools over to the mayor. The Times-Union also ran my commentary questioning the commission's diligence in researching the pros and cons of mayoral control of public education and charter school performance. Unfortunately, education watchers predict the fight for mayoral control of schools will continue. Names of those who lust after the public education dollar are among the biggest contributors to both Republican and Democratic Party candidates.
Bucked President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan in their support for high stakes testing by joining teachers and public education supporters from around the nation a march on the White House July 30, 2011. Me and author Susan Ohanian at the protest march around the White House.
Exposed conflicts of interest on the Duval County School Board. My research found School Board member Jason Fischer had a huge conflict of interest as he pressured other board members to bow out of a lawsuit challenging state funding of public education. Until I presented my research to the school board, the media had not written about Fischer's recent employment with a group tied to the state manager of school voucher funds.
Exposed the conflicts of interest of a former school board member and state house member in his attempts to politically maneuver Duval County and the state on to a year-round school calendar. Editorials I wrote for The Florida Times-Union helped thwart that effort. A whistleblower used research I had done to file a complaint against school board member Stan Jordan, which led to a legislative committee finding him guilty of ethics violations. Jordan was making as much as $2,000 a day as a year-round school consultant at the same time he served on the school board and also failed to report this income.
Exposed the long failed history of the year-round school movement (being pushed both Republicans and Democrats) with the launch in 2001 of SummerMatters.com a website where I posted my research. It included a 52-page paper I wrote for an independent study at the University of North Florida. The website, which I funded for 17 years, currently is not available except through Google archives due to the server going out of business in early 2018. My website has been cited by school districts and academics across the nation.
Challenged President Bush 1 and Bush 2 and President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan in their support for the year-round school calendar. Besides writing letters, I handed a package of my research to Vice President Joe Biden when he was in Jacksonville with Sect. Arne Duncan I had also given the research to the Obama administration's White House Southern Strategist when he met with Duval County Democratic Party activists and alerted him to the political damage support for a year-round calendar has resulted in all over the nation in all kinds of political races.
Challenged former Education Sect. Bill Bennett at an Orlando meeting about his support of year-round education, which he tried to deny because of a backlash by conservative voters on this school schedule. Was part of a bi-partisan group of parents who grilled Bennett at this meeting on his education policies, which included high stakes testing.
Followed the Money and the changes in healthcare as a reporter for The Jacksonville Business Journal. Worked closely with the North Florida Health Planning Council in reporting on health care issues.
Business Insights and Experience
In addition to a career as a journalist, including a business writer, I have owned several small businesses. So I am well aware of the challenges faced by the business community and the burden of government regulations and red tape. I also worked for seven months as a legal assistant for a law firm that specializes in workplace issues. That experience provided invaluable insights into workplace problems and employment issues.
Courage to Speak Truth to Power
Exposed the Failure of The Florida Times-Union to address ethics problems on the Editorial Page. My story published in Folio Weekly Oct. 12, 2004, told of the newspaper's failure to address ethics issues of its editorial page editor who continued plagiarizing right-wing think tanks and Internet sites in the three years since I had left the newspaper and having reported the problem to management before I departed. The same editor also had an internet pornography problem at work and had been cited for racist remarks in editorials.
Challenged Republican Gov. Jeb Bush after he hired the former Times-Union editorial page editor and said my Folio story was full of lies. I contacted the late Republican Senator Jim King, a personal friend, who passed along a personal note from me to Gov. Bush inviting him or any of his representatives to see the documentation for my Folio story. Shortly after that, the former TU editor left the governor's office. Bush received criticism for poor judgment in hiring the former TU editor within days of firing another member of his staff for inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace.
Raised awareness about ties of Florida State University President John Thrasher to a group that formed following recommendations in the Powell Memorandum, which called for purging liberal influences from higher education and secondary school campuses. Thrasher was named ALEC legislator of the year in 1999 and was a mentor to Aaron Bean, the incumbent Florida Senator for Dist. 4. My letter to the editor, noting his long ties to ALEC, a Koch Brother funded group appeared in the Times-Union October 2, 2014.
Revealed The Koch Brothers ties to Jacksonville Politicians. I was the first journalists in the area to point out the Koch Brothers business and political presence in North Florida in a Folio Weekly article.
Revealed Ties of Ander Crenshaw to Big Oil interests and the Koch Brothers, both as a campaign manager for Democratic Candidate Bob Harms and with articles I wrote for Folio Weekly.
The Jacksonville Consumer Affairs office was formed in response to a series of articles published while I was the editor for the features pages of the now-defunct Jacksonville Journal.
I led my staff in developing a series of articles on how unscrupulous businesses took advantage of the elderly and widows. It resulted in Jacksonville City Council member Joe Carlucci, a beloved political figure at the time, introducing a bill to form the city’s first Consumer Affairs Office. That agency was dismantled under Republican-dominated City Hall administrations. Agencies for consumers to register complaints have mostly been erased from the government, those dismantling them claiming consumer problems are best left to "free market" consumer options.
Affordable and Taxpayer Subsidized Housing.
Began in-depth research on affordable housing issues as a result of "following the money" tied to owners of Eureka Gardens, taxpayer subsidized apartments in the news in 2016 for deplorable living conditions endured by the low-income residents. The apartments were owned and operated for three decades by the developer, but it was only after the complex was sold to a Tennessee firm that the terrible conditions got the attention of Republican lawmakers, even though conditions had been terrible for years before the sale. My research revealed family members of the longtime Jacksonville owner gave hundreds of thousands to the Republican Party for its national, state and local operations and to Republican candidates. Those candidates included two Republicans who received a lot of press for their sudden attention to Eureka--Sen. Marco Rubio, whose campaign and PAC got more than $25,000 and Mayor Lenny Curry, who got $1,000. My detailed and documented research was offered to local media, but no mention was ever made about the money. Interestingly, developers of Eureka and their family members are also developers of apartment and housing subdivisions that do a lot of print and TV advertising. Hmm.