Post-Brevard County Commission life has familiar ring


Published:

Sue Carlson, right, has spent her post-commission efforts helping establish the Promise in Brevard community for adults with disabilities, which just received $15.8 million from the Florida Housing Finance Board to cover 80 percent of project costs, in the hopes her daughter, Andrea, and others will thrive there for life.

Viera Voice Photo

Suntree/Viera area’s District 4 Brevard County Commissioner Mary Bolin Lewis started her life post-politics last month. Both former and new commissioners can benefit from the insights of those who have come before them to assist in what will be a huge change of life, first on entering office, later on leaving it, said one former politico.

“When you first get on the commission, it is like sucking on a fire hose for the first three months,” said Bolin Lewis’ District 4 predecessor, Sue Carlson, who like Bolin Lewis served the full two-term span limited to eight years. 

 “You are getting a Ph.D. in local politics.”

Expect to gain a limitless number of new friends overnight. Politics may be the closest thing to royalty that the American commoner can experience, apart from scoring a national touchdown or recording a No. 1 hit. Everyone, it seems, wants something, and you have to limit your time in order to absorb the greatest amount of information in the shortest possible time.Mary Bolin Lewis

“Everybody treated you like you were important, but it was because you had to make the decisions. It was a little strange, having everyone address me as Madame Commissioner and all this other stuff,” Carlson said. Unlike “mere” celebrities, however, politicians make decisions that directly affect the financial standing of others, and influencing those decisions becomes Job One for many.

The work is exciting, but can be thankless and exhausting, Carlson said.

“Whenever I tackle something, I can be a workaholic, like 60 to 70 hours a week. I got pretty burned out. You start working a year ahead before you even get into office, so that’s nine or 10 years of a lot of hours, a lot of work,” Carlson said. “Mudslinging during campaigns is very stressful, the worst. It took my brain a while to come down from having so many things to deal with at one time.” 

In years of late, the mudslinging has extended to within a politician’s own party, not just during campaigns but daily, with extremists viciously criticizing officeholders trying to hold a balanced position.

“Once you leave office, it is a big relief, because the stress is gone. I did not have any desire to seek higher office, although a lot of people wanted me to,” Carlson said. Like Carlson, Bolin Lewis disappointed many of her supporters by not seeking higher office at the end of her second term. Both were seen by their political party as holding great promise at securing key higher posts.

“When you get into Tallahassee and Washington, D.C. you get far removed from the community and I really wanted to be involved in the local community,” Carlson said.

Both former politicians wanted a break to focus on their personal lives. Carlson needed to focus her attention on the special needs of her daughter, who was 10 when she took office and is now 26 and looking to transition to as independent a lifestyle as possible. Bolin Lewis, who became a widow shortly into her first term, remarried and is looking to enjoy life with her new husband together as a couple.

As is common with former county commissioners, both Carlson and Bolin Lewis are now consultants, both for others who share their views and for causes about which they are passionate.

Carlson is a community leader for Promise in Brevard, a community under development for young adults with disabilities. Lending her political expertise to the cause helped Promise founder Betsy Farmer secure $15.8 million in Florida housing funds that will be used to build the community where Carlson’s daughter, Andrea, Farmer’s son Luke, and many others will be residents.

After many years, much debacle, false starts and disappointing stops, Bolin Lewis was the sitting commissioner when the Pineda Causeway Extension finally was approved and constructed. She will use her influence to continue the Pineda Extension past the west Viera community under development all the way into Orlando, the project committee awaiting a reply from Gov. Rick Scott on options submitted.

“If my past political experience can continue to do some good, that’s great,” Carlson said, but that’s where it ends. She described a recent reception for incoming Brevard county commissioners attended by a number of formers like herself.

“I looked around at all the current and incoming commissioners ‘glad handing’ with everyone in the room and thought, that was me. You have to do it. Campaigning takes a lot out of you, and as long as you are in office, you are never not campaigning. I shook my head and thought, ‘I don’t miss it a bit.’ ”