County Council Member Barb Girtman’s loss to Don Dempsey in the Nov. 8 election may have stunned many of her supporters, but Girtman saw it coming. Girtman is a Democrat, and Dempsey is a Republican.
Girtman could feel it in those who were willing to defy their party leaders to support her work, and she could see it in early voting and mailed-ballot returns, by who was showing up.
Girtman’s campaign was well-funded, her record on the County Council was blemish-free, and Dempsey didn’t campaign.
Girtman knew that might not be enough.
“I think a lot of people took it for granted, and I wasn’t one of them,” Girtman said. “I’ve been doing this long enough. I don’t play games in my own head. I’ve lived in Volusia County long enough to read the reality of who’s showing up.”
Even Dempsey, who ran his own campaign and accepted no donations, credits the win to a wave of Republican voters and voter guides.
“I just think it was a big Republican turnout. And I was endorsed by the Republican Party. And so, I think, you know, that’s what did it,” Dempsey said. “They wanted me there, and so that’s where I am.”
Dempsey’s campaign was self-funded. He spent $12,000 and accepted no donations from anyone. In total, Dempsey spent around $7,600 of his campaign fund on a campaign website, signs and the $1,911 qualifying fee.
Girtman raised $55,000 in donations and spent $54,000 of it.
Dempsey believes the Republican turnout of the local elections reflects a larger pattern. “I think it was statewide,” Dempsey said. “I think we have a lot more people leaving other states because of their politics and coming here, maybe because of Ron DeSantis.”
According to Dempsey, there were 3,500 more Republican voters this election than there were in the 2018 election.
“It seems our Republican base has grown tremendously since the last election. I mean, it wasn’t too long ago that this state turned predominantly Republican,” Dempsey said.
While he is a registered Republican and credits his success to the party, Dempsey says he is going to be nonpartisan in office.
“So I’m a registered Republican, but I’m surely not in bed with them,” Dempsey told The Beacon. “I got just as many beefs with Republican platforms as I do Democratic platforms, so I am not beholden to either party.”
Currently, Dempsey does not have an extensive agenda for his tenure in office, though he did express interest in cutting the budget, examining overdevelopment and reducing taxes.
“No goals in particular. Just to vote on issues as they come up and try to do the right thing and what’s fair,” Dempsey said.
As a member of the council, Dempsey promises he will continue to protect the community in the same ways he has for the past 32 years as a defense attorney.
“I’m hoping I can continue to fight for people’s rights and that’s about all I can do …” Dempsey said. “I’ll just do my best and try to make sure that everybody’s treated fairly.”
When the new members of the Volusia County Council are sworn in, the body representing the entire county will now be made up entirely of men who are registered Republicans.
According to data from the 2021 U.S. Census, 51 percent of Volusia County’s residents are women, nearly 12 percent are African American and 62 percent of all registered voters in the county are registered to vote with either the Democratic Party, no political party or a third party.
Some have voiced concerns about Dempsey sitting on an all-male, all-Republican County Council, and he agrees with their apprehension.
“You can complain about your government, or you can get involved and try to make a difference. So yeah, we do need more women; we need more races; we need it all. And I really hope more people, more women, more minorities run,” Dempsey said.
Girtman noted that when she was elected to the seven-member Volusia County Council in 2018, there were four women. Now there will be none.
Girtman was also the only Black member of the County Council. On the new County Council, there will be no members of color other than David Santiago in the District 5 seat, who is Hispanic.
“It’s what the people want,” Girtman said. “It’s what the people voted for. There were six people elected [to the County Council], and that’s who the people wanted. What does that say about Volusia County?”
Dempsey said there was no racial element in his decision to run against Girtman, the only Black member of the County Council.
“Absolutely no, no. Absolutely not. I like Barb,” Dempsey said. “I can’t help we both live in the same district. That’s just ridiculous.”
Girtman hasn’t made firm plans for her political future, but won’t stay sad.
“I’m looking for, at this time, the best path that I can take to continue to be effective, and to get results,” she said, adding, “I’m open to whatever’s next. I don’t let things keep me down for long. I don’t see much boredom in my future.”
She was philosophical about the voters’ choice.
“If I can work that hard, and it not be enough, it may not be where I am supposed to be,” she said.