CORRECTION: On page 8 of the Oct. 18 Sarasota Observer, Longboat Observer, East County Observer and Pelican Press, an incorrect recommendation was listed for state constitutional amendment 8, freedom of religion. The Observer's and Pelican Press' correct recommendation for amendment 8 is vote yes. A recommendation for Amendment 6 was inadvertently omitted. The Observer/Pelican Press recommendation for Amendment 6 is vote no.
The political buzz today, of course, is all about the presidential debate. Rightfully so. The course of America, if not the world, is at stake.
And so is your individual liberty.
When you think through the existing conditions in America today and the consequences of this election, at the national level, it may indeed determine the outcome of what has been a long-running — but more intense over these past four years — War on Individual Liberty.
It’s simple: When the rulers burden you and your future generations with $16 trillion in national debt (and growing), this is a tightening noose around the neck of freedom. It cuts off the oxygen to your abilities to pursue your happiness. You (we) become slaves to the burdens sanctioned by government.
This War on Individual Liberty is not just at the national level. The roots of it begin here at home, in our neighborhoods, our schools, city and county commissions and at the state Capitol. We set and establish our values here at the local level.
And that’s why our votes in local elections are no less important than the ones we cast for president and vice president.
Over the past few weeks, we have interviewed and questioned local candidates, especially those we didn’t know, to learn more about their thinking, beliefs and goals for public office. Some we have watched and tracked over the years; we know their predilections. But just as you want to know what you’re buying at the supermarket, you also want to know what you’re choosing in the voting booth.
With virtually no exception, the candidates running for office in Manatee and Sarasota counties are good, earnest, civic-minded people. Almost to a person, they are running for office, not for a job, but because they are compelled by an inner drive to want to make a difference, to influence the direction of public policy to fit their vision of what would be better than exists today. Consider a few examples:
• Some say Keith Fitzgerald, who is opposing Congressman Vern Buchanan, and Dr. Robert McCann, who is seeking to unseat Rep. Greg Steube, are running out of frustration with the way things are. To paraphrase Fitzgerald, everyone has a choice: He either can sit on the sidelines and bellyache about conditions, or he can try to do something about them. Fitzgerald chooses the latter.
• You have to admire R.B. “Chips” Shore. He has served as Manatee County Clerk of the Courts since his first election in 1976 — 36 years. And in that time, he has made the Manatee clerk’s office one of the most — if not the most — technologically advanced and therefore one of the most cost-efficient clerk’s office in the nation. His office’s practices are models for the nation’s clerks.
After all this time, and at age 71, you’d think he might be getting tired and bored. Asked what his vision for the clerk’s office would be if he were re-elected again, Shore says: “To be the best clerk’s office in the state, and to lead the nation in court innovation, which we are doing now and will continue to do.” He loves what he does.
• When we asked the Rev. Charles Williams, first-time Democratic Party candidate for Manatee Supervisor of Elections, why he’s running for that particular office, he told us he felt a passion and an inner voice that kept pushing him to do it. “I tried to ignore it, but it kept coming back,” Williams told us. It’s a calling.
• When you meet Larry Bustle, running for re-election to the Manatee County Commission District 1 seat, talk about humble. This 77-year-old native of Samoset is a classic American hero.
Asked to share a “fun fact” about himself, Bustle told us: “In my career objectives, I never included politics.” But public service has been his life. You have to pry out of Bustle the fact he graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy; earned a master’s degree in astronautical engineering; and flew 138 combat missions in Vietnam for the Air Force, the last 68 of them over North Vietnam. On his last flight, the enemy shot his jet down. He ejected into the sea, breaking both shoulders and knees on impact. Forty years later, Bustle still feels the calling for public service.
We’re lucky here, to have candidates who appear to be motivated for the right reasons. What we all hope is that, like Shore, Bustle and others, they remember this fundamental fact: They work for you.
To help you think about your choices in the upcoming election, we urge everyone to check out our Voter Guide in this week’s edition of the East County Observer. Or you can find the same content at YourObserver.com/voterguide2012.
If you’re undecided about some of the candidates, perhaps their answers to the questions we posed will help. Or consider our observations and recommendations on a selection of races we perceive to be among the more competitive affecting Manatee and Sarasota counties:
County Commission, District 5
Vanessa Baugh-James Golden
These two candidates — Democrat James Golden and Republican Vanessa Baugh — have notably different philosophical perspectives on the role of government and on experience in the political arena.
Let’s take them in reverse. Golden, 64, is a veteran of Manatee/Bradenton politics, having been elected to two four-year terms on the Bradenton City Council. Baugh, 54, is hoping to be elected for the first time to public office.
Baugh has owned and operated an East Manatee retail jewelry business for the past 13 years; she’s wired to make decisions on financial and economic facts. Golden is a longtime Manatee lawyer and ordained Methodist minister. He’s smart; he started college at age 14. He credits much of his education to having access to government subsidies.
Put the two of them side by side, and here’s what you would see: experience and wisdom (Golden) versus (political) inexperience and business instincts (Baugh). Here’s something else: With Golden, the Manatee County Commission would have one Democrat among the seven commissioners. With Baugh, seven Republicans.
Golden says his different point of view would be valuable to Manatee taxpayers. One size does not fit all, he notes.
Baugh says she may be Republican, but she doesn’t always agree with Republicans. “The County Commission should be non-partisan,” she says. “Get the politics out of it.”
Truth is, Manatee taxpayers will not lose with either of these candidates. But at the core of our values is an unbending preference for candidates whose foundations are cemented in strictly limited government. On that score, Baugh has the edge.
Manatee School Board
Dave “Watchdog” Miner-Robert Moates
For those who know these two candidates, this race is the most difficult choice on the ballot.
Each is competent and qualified to serve Manatee taxpayers well on the troubled Manatee County School Board.
If it were only possible, they both should be elected. Whoever loses should run again. The Manatee School Board needs Minor and Moates.
Of course, saying all that doesn’t help voters decide which candidate is better.
Let’s start with Moates. He’s “the local boy makes good.” A native of Manatee, Moates relates this “fun fact” about himself: He has spent about 15 of his 40 years of life in a portable classroom — at Oneco Elementary School in the fifth grade; at Manatee High School as a student; and for the past 10 years as an economics and advanced-placement American government teacher at Lakewood Ranch High School.
That, of course, is not what qualifies him for the school board. He has other impressive credentials for that.
He has policy and political experience. Prior to becoming a teacher, Moates worked as an analyst on the Rules, Ethics and Elections Committee and chief aide to House members in the Legislature in Tallahassee. He also worked as an aide to former Congressman Dan Miller. Moates was on Miller’s staff at the time of 9/11, when Congressman Miller accompanied George W. Bush on his trip to Sarasota.
With this experience — politics, policy and as a teacher — Moates would bring a relevant perspective. He says the board needs to set the vision for the school system, but that “we must free our schools and teachers to do what is best for our students and stop the administration and departments from trying to micromanage every class.”
Moates gets it.
But it’s not his time — yet.
In this election, at this crucial time, when the Manatee School Board needs triage and leadership, now is the time for longtime candidate Dave “Watchdog” Miner. This is his time.
It’s probably pretty safe to say there is not one non-elected public figure in Manatee County civics with more name recognition than “Watchdog” Miner, 66.
For more two decades, that’s what he has done — served as a volunteer, unelected, interested citizen in “watchdogging” the Manatee School Board, in addition to practicing law and volunteering the community.
Over the years, some of his critics have characterized him as something of a gadfly, but over time, more and more Manatee residents have recognized that Miner knows of what he speaks. It would be difficult to find anyone in the county who knows more about Manatee public school system financing, budgeting and operations than does Miner.
And while some residents may think Miner is a “one-trick” zealot, please take a look at our Voter Guide and read the entry on Miner. Asked what attributes he would bring to the school board, Miner listed 15. Here are nine. As he wrote: “I am the only candidate who:
“1) Has experience in hiring a chief operating officer of an organization;
“2) Has experience hiring legal counsel;
“3) Is a long-time (more than 12 years) challenger of the school board on FCAT, transparency, wasteful spending, fairness to employees and other issues;
“4) For decades has successfully worked on community boards, making organizations better;
“5) Is a leader in establishing Manatee County’s first child-abuse prevention program and creating METV;
“6) Possesses many years of services as a Big Brother in the Big Brothers program;
“7) Is a proud veteran (Marine Vietnam veteran);
“8) Has been a successful business owner for more than 34 years;
“9) Has authored assessment reform legislation and served as a witness for the Senate Education Committee.”
Manatee residents, parents with children in Manatee public schools and taxpayers are well aware of the crisis in (lack of) confidence in the county’s public school system. It faces a huge challenge in finding the right superintendent to lead it and turn it around, and it needs, more than ever, smart, tough board members who are willing to make the tough decisions to restore the public confidence.
Dave “Watchdog” Miner is proof of the power of perseverance. This is his time. He’s the right candidate for school board.
County Commission, District 1
Larry Bustle-Corie Holmes
Incumbent Republican Larry Bustle is the epitome of steadiness and reason.
While he never expected as a young cadet to be a longtime public servant (seven years as mayor of Palmetto, four on the County Commission), he has become as competent as politician as he was as an Air Force combat pilot.
His opponent, 35-year-old Corie Holmes of Palmetto, deserves kudos for stepping up and getting involved in the political process. He should stay involved.
Unfortunately, at this time, he cannot measure up to the wisdom of Bustle.
Supervisor of Elections
Mike Bennett-Charles Williams
This race is another mismatch of experience — retiring state Sen. Mike Bennett versus the Rev. Williams.
Williams, 49, a Bradenton native, is a former manager at the boat makers, Wellcraft, Donzi and Chris Craft. But deciding to use his bachelor’s degree in theology from Emmaus Baptist College, the Rev. Williams founded the King of Kings Baptist Church.
We couldn’t help but appreciate his earnestness when he told us he felt a calling to run for public office. As a minister, he obviously has the urge to serve. And kudos to him as well for getting involved.
But longtime Manatee residents also know they have a solid, trustworthy candidate for this office in Bennett.
To be sure, it caught many people by surprise when he decided to run for this position. It’s not exactly in the thick of political action and policy making, as he was when he was Senate President Pro-tem in Tallahassee.
Bennett easily could have bowed out of public, political life and gone back to being a businessman after reaching his term limit in the Florida Senate. Or he could have reached for the next step on the political ladder. What he found, after eight years in Tallahassee, was he missed the local level.
Manatee voters should be confident that Bennett will be as competent as supervisor of election as his predecessor, Bob Sweat.
OBSERVER RECOMMENDATIONS AT A GLANCE
The following recommendations are for offices affecting Manatee and Sarasota counties. Judicial recommendations will appear next week.
FEDERAL / STATE
• U.S. SENATE: Connie Mack
• U.S. HOUSE, District 16: Vern Buchanan
• STATE ATTORNEY: Ed Brodsky
• FLORIDA SENATE, District 26: Bill Galvano
• FLORIDA HOUSE, District 71: Jim Boyd
• FLORIDA HOUSE, District 72: Ray Pilon
• FLORIDA HOUSE, District 73: Greg Steube
• CLERK OF THE COURT: R.B. “Chips” Shore
• COUNTY COMMISSION, District 1: Larry Bustle
• COUNTY COMMISSION, District 5: Vanessa Baugh
• COUNTY COMMISSION, District 7: Betsy Benac
• SUPERVISOR OF ELECTIONS: Mike Bennett
• SCHOOL BOARD, District 2: Dave “Watchdog” Miner
• E. MANATEE FIRE COMMISSIONER: James D. BonAmi
• CLERK OF THE COURT: Karen Rushing
• COUNTY COMMISSION, District 3: Christine Robinson
• COUNTY COMMISSION, District 5: Charles Hines
• COUNTY CHARTER REVIEW BOARD, District 2: Donna Barcomb
• COUNTY CHARTER REVIEW BOARD, District 5: John Fellin
• SARASOTA HOSPITAL BOARD, Central Seat 1: Alex Miller
CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS (Correct version as of 10.18)
• Amendment 1: Health Care Services. Yes.
• Amendment 2: Veterans disabled due to combat injury; homestead property-tax discount. Yes
• Amendment 3: State government revenue limitation. Yes
• Amendment 4: Property-tax limitations; property value decline; reduction for non-homestead assessment increases; delay of scheduled repeal. Yes
• Amendment 5: State courts. Yes
• Amendment 6: Prohibition of public funding of abortions; construction of abortion rights. No
• Amendment 8: Religious freedom. Yes
• Amendment 9: Homestead property-tax exemption for suriviving spouse of military veteran or first responder. Yes
• Amendment 10: Tangible personal property-tax exemption. Yes
• Amendment 11: Additional homestead exemption; low-income seniors who maintain long-term residency on property; equal to assessed value. Yes
• Amendment 12: Appoint of student body president to board of governors of the state university system. Yes