Business-Related Political Training Included 6 Candidates

Four declared candidates for Lakeland City Commission — three of them running for the same seat — and two candidates for Polk County Commission are among a dozen people who recently completed a course designed to develop business-minded elected officials.

The training program for potential political candidates is called the Public Leadership Institute, and it’s overseen by BusinessVoice, the political arm of the Lakeland Area Chamber of Commerce.

The three candidates for the southwest seat on the City Commission who graduated from the course Friday include:

  • Michael Dunn, owner of Vet’s Surplus Inc.
  • Larry Durrence, a retired professor and former president of Polk State College
  • Jorge Fonseca, administrator at Romero Medical Plaza

Other declared candidates for office include:

  • Scott Franklin, president of Lanier Upshaw Inc., who is running for the southeast district on the Lakeand commission.
  • Jim Guth of Poinciana, a former Polk County GOP chair and candidate in the 2018 race for the District 4 seat on the County Commission.
  • Kathryn Gates-Skipper of Lake Wales, who was chairwoman for Veterans for Donald Trump and is running for the District 2 seat on the Polk County Commission.

The others who completed the Public Leadership Institute coursework are:

  • Aaron Allison of By Design Real Estate Services
  • Darlene Bradley of Terracon Inc., the mayor of Davenport
  • Sayra Daniela Garcia Lozano, a student at Southeastern University
  • Jim Guth of Guth Consulting
  • Jayne Hall of Interior Expressions Design Group
  • Ricky Shirah of Ricky Shirah Towing and Recovery
  • Dr. Ed Shoemaker of Shoemaker Consulting & Treatment Group

Three classes were held over the last two months at Southeastern University and were free to participants due to financial backing from Publix, Mosaic, Wards Air Conditioning, Bank of Central Florida, and The Mahoney Group.

Speakers included:

  • Lakeland Mayor Howard Wiggs and City Commissioner Don Selvage, who shared their experiences of transitioning from private to public life.
  • Marian Johnson, senior vice president of political strategy at the Florida Chamber, who discussed running for elective office.
  • Polk School Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd and Deputy Superintendent John Small, who shared insights about the state of education
  • Shane Kunze of Publix and Matt Mucci of AT&T, who discussed the process of endorsements and obtaining campaign contributions.

Selection for the program does not guarantee endorsement by BusinessVoice or program sponsors, Lakeland Chamber officials said.