Politicians take note: The results in Sarasota’s school and hospital board elections and Manatee’s commission elections sent a clear message.
The simplest assessment of the Aug. 23 primary election results in Sarasota and Manatee counties is Republican voters are ticked off. They don’t want any more of what they have been getting, and they have spoken.
Post-election attention has focused primarily on the sweep of the three Gov. DeSantis-supported school board candidates. It was a long-sought victory for conservative Republicans. They at last ended 14 years of an increasingly left-leaning majority, culminating with its embrace of mask requirements in spite of strong opposition from parents and Florida’s governor.
The voters’ message was clear: Sarasota County Republicans and independent voters rejected, in particular, the way the board majority treated parents during and after the pandemic. The majority ruled as if it was in charge and parents were the servants.
The new board members campaigned on flipping the dynamics — putting parents and taxpayers back in charge, with board members where they should be — public servants.
The new board members’ first order of business will be reverting the board’s public comment policy. From there, voters can expect the whole tenor of the board to change from one of constant strife and obvious disdain toward each other to constructive consensus. Every board member — new and old — knows maintaining the district’s A-rating is a priority, as well as assuring parents the district is indeed free of divisive CRT and LGBTQ-gender influences.
Meantime, while the school board’s new conservative majority captured most of the media attention, the most surprising and stunning results occurred in the races for the Sarasota County Hospital Board. Unheard of in hospital board history, four of five incumbent board members lost.
Three of the victorious candidates were part of the four-candidate slate that campaigned on their objections to the way Sarasota Memorial Hospital treated patients and families during the pandemic. Apparently, that resonated.
You can also conclude voters were dissatisfied with the incumbent board members’ awarding a 10-year employment contract to SMH’s CEO David Verinder — also unheard of in the hospital system’s history and the industry at large.
To make the hospital board election results even more startling is that three of the four new board members — Bridgette Fiorucci, Patricia Maraia and Victor Rohe — were all first-time candidates for public office and essentially unknowns to most Sarasota County residents. The fourth, Brad Baker, has been a well-known and successful entrepreneur in Sarasota for the past 30 years, including extensive experience serving on corporate boards.
Fiorucci and Maraia have been registered nurses for 30 years and regard themselves as patient advocates. Rohe is a former New York City police lieutenant and Realtor. Their commonality is their dissatisfaction with SMH during the pandemic.
For the hospital system’s sake and the sake of Sarasota County taxpayers, surely these three recognize their responsibilities will be much greater and broader than advocating for changes in patient care.
Sarasota Memorial Healthcare is a complex $1 billion enterprise. It also is a top-flight health care system — financially and in the services it provides. During the tenure of CEO David Verinder, the hospital system has doubled its annual revenues; built the Jellison Cancer Center and a Venice hospital; become a graduate teaching hospital; is a short time away from breaking ground on a North Port hospital; and is recognized as a top hospital nationally in a multitude of rankings.
Serving on its elected board will require new members to take a year-long crash course in all the hospital system does and the issues management constantly confronts. While they may have a high interest in what motivated them to run for their seats, their job is not to create chaos and disruption to achieve a narrow agenda. It is to help and challenge management to do what it has been doing — striving to deliver the best health care possible for the citizens and taxpayers of Sarasota County.
Manatee Republicans continued the sweeping out of the County Commission that voters decisively began in 2020. They routed, trounced and gave a resounding boot to moderate Republican incumbent Misty Servia and liberal Republican and longtime Commissioner Carol Whitmore.
First-time candidate Michael Rahn, a longtime leader in the region’s real estate industry, won 62% of the vote to Servia’s 37%. For Whitmore, it was worse. First-time candidate Jason Bearden won 61% of the vote to Whitmore’s 25%. Carol Ann Felts won the other 13%.
Rahn and Bearden will join the conservative coalition of Vanessa Baugh, Kevin van Ostenbridge, George Kruse and James Satcher, forming the most fiscally conservative, limited-government, low-taxes-oriented commission in the 2000s. The only philosophical foil and lone voice to these six commissioners will be Democrat Reggie Bellamy.
Now that this coalition has such dominance, plus the conservative county administrator, Scott Hopes, voters will be watching closely. What will they produce:
- A regulatory environment that will bring a greater supply of housing for the working class?
- A funding strategy for future road infrastructure without raising taxes?
- Lower property tax rates and smaller county government?
And can they do all that in the face of a growing population and outspoken residents who don’t want growth?
One clear message that came through in the primary: Republican voters want less government spending.
For Manatee’s school board, voters simply replaced the veteran Democrat politician James Golden with a conservative retired Air Force colonel, Richard Tatem — tried and true, old ideas versus new ideas. The Manatee school board could use the new energy — as long as it used to improve the schools, not for political causes.
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