Florida political legend, kingmaker dies at age of 89

C.C. “Doc” Dockery, a Florida political kingmaker and advocate for high-speed rail, died Monday at the age of 89, according to local Lakeland news outlet LkldNow.

His wife, former state Sen. Paula Bono Dockery, announced on her Facebook page that her “darling husband Doc died peacefully this afternoon at Good Shepherd Hospice House. Keep our family in your prayers as we grieve this wonderful man.”

The 89-year-old political adviser had been in failing health for numerous years. His wife said he was admitted to the hospital last week after returning from North Carolina.

An Air Force vet, Dockery became the head of a construction trade group, the Florida Roofing, Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors Association, in 1961.

He left to found a real estate holding and consulting firm, Summit Consulting, in 1976.

He’s best remembered, however, for his role in Florida political life — particularly as an advocate of high-speed rail.

In 1986, following the election of Republican Gov. Bob Martinez, Dockery was appointed head of the Florida High Speed Rail Commission. That initial effort was abandoned, however.

Long the face of the effort to bring the service to the state, Dockery’s fortunes suffered a tremendous fall after the rise of the Tea Party in 2010, which ended with the on-again, off-again project being cancelled.

Dockery had even gone as far as to author a constitutional amendment requiring the construction of a high-speed rail network, which was to start with a route between Tampa and Orlando.

That amendment was approved in 2000 — but, in 2004, the voters overturned the amendment due to cost concerns, spurred on by a repeal push by then-Gov. Jeb Bush, a Republican who oft fought tooth-and-nail with Dockery.

“At one time, it got pretty rough but it wasn’t a lasting thing. I said some things I shouldn’t have said, and he said some things he shouldn’t have said, but it was never like I was never going to speak to him anymore,” Dockery said of Jeb Bush.

“One of the things that really bothered me about the Republican Party and Jeb was that I’d been pretty generous to Republican politicians and the party. And when I found out the party had transferred I think it was like $200,000 or $300,000 to Jeb’s committee to reverse the high-speed-rail amendment, that really, really hurt. I felt like Jeb was utilizing money that I had given to defeat something that was very personal to me.”

When Barack Obama was elected in 2008, he pledged $2 billion to the project, again putting Dockery front-and-center. However, when GOP Gov. Rick Scott was elected during the Tea Party wave election in 2010, he killed it off permanently.

Nevertheless, he was remembered as a Florida original.

“We had so many great discussions about his life and his long and colorful career in Florida politics,” said South Florida Sun Sentinel opinion editor Steve Bousquet.

“Doc was very proud of his rural, small-town North Carolina roots, and for the past few years, we would have long talks about Florida politics. His career began as a young lobbyist for sheet metal contractors, as I recall. He was of a time when friendship and camaraderie mattered a lot more than party affiliation.”