“Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried.” — Winston Churchill
About this time every two years that famous Churchill quote comes to mind.
The TV and radio ads, the direct-mail campaigns, the tilted news reporting, the petty nanny-nanny-boo-boo that goes on among the candidates. It’s enough to make you want to shut it all off — the TV, newspapers, social media. The works.
But then you realize the alternatives certainly are much worse. We all could be living under such benevolent dictators as Russia’s Vladimir Putin or mass murderer President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.
We’ll take what we have. In that vein, if you haven’t already made your selections for the Aug. 14 primary elections in Manatee County, we’ll offer a few thoughts that might help you decide which bubble to color in at the ballot box or on your absentee, mail-in ballot.
As always, it’s worth giving our readers fair warning: Our recommendations almost always tilt toward the candidates who ascribe to the Founding Fathers’ principles of more freedom for the individual and strict limits on government intervention.
Those criteria pretty much exclude most candidates these days. So you have to do what life so often requires — settle for less and compromise. In that vein:
U.S. Senate — It’s remarkable how many times Florida’s senior U.S. senator, Democrat Bill Nelson, has been able to avoid running against a powerhouse Republican candidate.
In Nelson’s last race in 2006, he whipped, unfortunately, Katherine Harris, winning 60% of the vote. And that for a candidate whom Florida Trend magazine aptly dubbed “the empty suit” when Nelson ran for governor many moons ago, only to drop out of the race when the late Gov. Lawton Chiles decided the Democrats needed a stronger candidate.
So here the Republicans are again, this time with Connie Mack IV, son of one of Florida’s all-time great conservatives, his father, Sen. Connie Mack III.
Mack IV isn’t his father to be sure. One day he may grow into that stature. But as the saying goes, that apple hasn’t fallen too far from the philosophical tree. We expecially like his proposal to reduce the national debt. And for his eight years in Congress, the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste in Washington, D.C., have given Mack a Lifetime Rating of “Hero” for fiscal conservatism.
If Republicans hope to have any chance at all of defeating Nelson, who, by the way, has earned a Lifetime Rating from the Citizens Against Waste of “Hostile” for his spending habits, Mack IV has the best chance.
Recommendation: Connie Mack IV
12th Circuit State Attorney — We know there is a brotherhood of sorts when it comes to prosecutors and law-enforcement officers. They’re loyal to each other. And for good reason. They both want to lock up the bad guys.
The public defenders, on the other hand, typically aren’t the state attorney’s best friends. This tension is good and part of the system. But in the end, when you talk to many of the players involved in the 12th Judicial Circuit’s court system, they especially want what we all want — an ethical, fair and tough state attorney, in that order.
To that end, based on our discussions with those closely involved in the court system, candidate Ed Brodsky, currently chief assistant state attorney and a state prosecutor for 20 years, is the best candidate to replace retiring State Attorney Earl Moreland.
While neither Brodsky nor his Republican opponent Peter Lombardo distinguished himself in a Tiger Bay debate in Sarasota last month, the event was enough to expose key characteristics of the candidates. There’s a reason Brodsky has the support of the region’s top law-enforcement officers.
Recommendation: Ed Brodsky
Sheriff — This race doesn’t need discussion. While incumbent Brad Steube isn’t perfect (who is?), his job performance is such that Manatee County residents have a lot of confidence that he is still the right heir to former Sheriff Charlie Wells and has earned another term.
Recommendation: W. Brad Steube
Supervisor of Elections — There really isn’t anything to debate in this race, either, when you compare qualifications and achievements.
We know there is a lot of sentimental support for retired Marine Ed Bailey, and former Manatee County Commissioner Jane von Hahmann has her fan club.
But c’mon. They’re Class A baseball rookies compared to Florida Senate President Pro Tempore Mike Bennett.
Our brethren in the daily press like to beat up on Sen. Bennett to make him look like a real-estate scofflaw and beholden to special interests. But what they fail to point out is throughout his two terms in the Florida Senate, few senators stood up for the little guy, for veterans and for reducing senseless, job-killing state regulations as did Sen. Bennett. And let’s not forget, before he shifted to public service, Sen. Bennett was a successful businessman, operating one of the largest electrical contracting firms in this region. He knows what it takes to meet a payroll and run a business.
Manatee County would be lucky to have him as supervisor of elections.
Recommendation: Mike Bennett
County Commission, District 5 — This is a tough one. Vanessa Baugh, owner of Vanessa Fine Jewelry in Lakewood Ranch for more than a decade, also knows what it means to make payroll and have the responsibility of a business on her shoulders. But she’s new to the Manatee political scene.
Rex Jensen, CEO of Schroeder-Manatee Ranch and her landlord, likes how she has survived through this awful recession and what she stands for.
John Colon, a senior vice president of investments at Wells Fargo, has been an active Republican in Manatee for many years, including his current position as an executive committee member. He’s a party man. Sen. Mike Bennett likes his party loyalty and community and GOP involvement.
Political outsider versus political insider; newcomer versus connected.
This is a cop-out, but flip a coin: You’ll win either way.
County Commission, District 7, at large — This race is an easy one when measured on the scale of who stands for freedom and free enterprise and who stands for government intervention and control.
Betsy Benac stands for the former, incumbent Joe McClash the latter.
Don’t listen to the anti-growth screeching that Benac is simply a tool for unbridled growth by virtue of her being employed at Benderson Development. Ask former Manatee Commissioner Pat Glass about Benac. She’ll tell you that in Benac’s 12 years in the county’s planning department, Benac was smart, rational, meticulous and competent.
It’s time for Joe to go.
Recommendation: Betsy Benac
School Board, District 2 — Robert Moates, a Manatee native, raised and schooled here, is the front-runner and favorite in this race.
A history and economics teacher at Lakewood Ranch High School, he has governmental and political experience as a former congressional aide to popular retired Congressman Dan Miller.
Moates would make a good school board member, replacing retiring longtime board member Harry Kinnan.
But here’s a curveball: The Manatee County School District needs a few more board members like Julie Aranibar to throw out what’s there and start over. Doing the same thing over and over isn’t going to fix Manatee’s low-performing schools.
In that vein, no one is more intimate with the inner workings of the school district than long-time school board watchdog, Dave “Watchdog” Miner. Miner tries every election to be given the opportunity to make a difference. If Manatee parents are exasperated with the direction of Manatee’s schools, here’s your chance. Go for it.
Recommendation: Dave “Watchdog” Miner
School Board District 4 — Everything said above applies to this race, too. Challenger Linda Schaich is a relative newcomer to Manatee politics and the workings of the school district. But she has many of the same characteristics of Miner when it comes to seeking accountability for taxpayers.
While incumbent Bob Gause is a safe bet, he seemed to have missed the opportunity in his first term to perform radical surgery on a patient that needs it badly.
Recommendation: Linda Schaich
U.S. Senate — For Democrats, this isn’t a race. Incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson is their guy.
County Commission, District 5 — James Golden is well-known in Manatee County political circles, thanks to his service as a two-term Bradenton City Council member and involvement in Manatee public life. He has name recognition and a track record.
Then there is his opponent, Frank Archino, a 21-year Navy veteran with tours in Desert Storm and Desert Shield.
On our scale of which of these two leans toward more or less government intervention, we recommend: Frank Archino.