While the presidential race saps everyone’s attention, the local races certainly have as great an effect, sometimes greater, on your everyday life than the national elections.
It’s probably no surprise that the local primary election race that has garnered the most press and chatter is the one in which the most dung has been slung.
That, of course, would be the Republican race for state Senate District 23, the seat Nancy Detert gave up to come back and become a county commissioner.
And with the avalanche of junk mail that has come from the political action committees of two of the candidates in this race — that of state Rep. Greg Steube and former Rep. Doug Holder — their tit-for-tat slams have overshadowed many of the other local races.
But none of those races should be overlooked. School board, county commission and charter review board seats often have as great an effect, sometimes greater, on your everyday life than do the national and state offices.
So this week, the Longboat Observer presents its recommendations for the local and state offices. And as regular readers of this page already expect, our recommendations typically favor candidates who best embrace what we call the freedom philosophy — individual liberty, low taxes, less government intrusion into our lives and laissez-faire capitalism.
To that end, you’ll see in the accompanying box we recommend no Democratic Party candidates. When you read or hear their positions on issues, their political philosophies are predictably similar: more gun control; more taxes, especially in support of redistribution and confiscation of wealth and property in the name of “fairness”; and more, bigger, intrusive government into every facet of your life. Rarely, if ever, do you hear a Democratic candidate state the words “freedom” and “liberty” as his or her guiding principles and philosophy.
Republican candidates, for the most part, are not much better. Too many of these alleged “conservatives” embrace an activist government that picks winners and losers; that dictates from the state capital what must be taught in local classrooms; that subsidizes businesses; or that strips property rights with special-interest zoning ordinances.
So our choices for elective offices, often come down to whoever would do the least harm to liberty.
Nevertheless, hope springs eternal. Below are our recommendations in key and contentious races. In those that are only listed in the box, our recommendations are the clear standouts.
State Senate-District 23
The constant attacks and truth-stretched ads between Rep. Greg Steube and former Rep. Doug Holder are such a turn-off — enough to make you not want to vote for either candidate.
And then there is this: Except for Rick Levine, a Charlotte County financial and tax planner who owns his business, the other four candidates vying for this seat either are or are on track to be career politicians, with each seeking to rise to the next level of office.
Among them, who best embraces the freedom agenda, and which is best for District 23 and Florida?
To the first: Levine has the most private-sector, business experience and would view many of the state issues from the perspective of having lived with the freedom-killing effects of taxation and regulation. But Levine what is probably an insurmountable challenge: He’s an unknown in county political circles and among voters.
To the second: Patterson likely has the widest following among the county’s establishment Republicans and has a well-known record of working to solve problems, rather than grandstanding.
But over her 25 years in public office, Patterson, for our taste, too often has sided with government regulation over capitalism. Among the Tallahassee lobbyists, Holder is favored over Steube; while Pilon, a moderate-to-right conservative, has the courage to buck House leaders to do what he believed is right.
To be sure, none of these candidates would be a bad choice. All would serve the district acceptably. We recommend: Ray Pilon
Manatee School Board
When you consider the turmoil that has dogged the Manatee County School Board and District over the past four years and the efforts the past two years to recover, this year’s election of two new board members makes it one of the most important elections in the Sarasota-Manatee region.
Fortunately for Manatee voters, there are solid choices to replace the retiring District 1 school board member, Robert Gause. And incumbent District 3 board member Dave “Watchdog” Miner has two formidable and qualified challengers in longtime Manatee banker Charles Conoley and business woman-civic leader Misty Servia.
Manatee voters can — and should — be strategic about their choices.
In District 1, first-time candidate Xtavia Bailey, a well-regarded businesswoman and long-time civic volunteer, has widespread community support. She would bring a valuable perspective and strong community passion to the board.
But Edward Viltz has the widest breadth of business and education experience and accomplishments. Among them: serving as COO of a D.C.-based IT company that grew from $26 million to $68 million during his watch and for four years the first CEO of the Public Interest Registry, a nonprofit that grew and managed 5 million .ORG domain names on the internet.
The former general counsel at PIR told us: “Based on my personal experience … [Ed] is of sound character and eminently qualified for the post of school board member. He has considerable experience in the field of education, and I urge you to endorse him.” What’s more, since coming to Manatee County in 2009, Viltz has served as a faculty member and consultant at the Dream Success Charter School. He helped develop and implement a strategic plan that brought the school’s performance from an “F” in 2010 to an “A” in 2012.
In District 3, incumbent Miner has drawn similar candidates, both of whom would fit the needs of the board to continue the turnaround without strife. Conoley would add to the board’s financial expertise; Servia would add a civic leader who understands the importance of the board communicating effectively with all of the district’s constituents.
Strategically, voters, the board and district would do well choosing a combination of candidates who would bring a balance of strengths to the board. We recommend: Xtavia Bailey and Charles Conoley; or Edward Viltz and Misty Servia.
District 72 — The Republican contest for Ray Pilon’s seat features an experienced CEO, Alex Miller, and an experienced broadcast journalist, John Hill. Miller also has experience in public office, having been elected to the Sarasota County Public Hospital Board.
While the two candidates have similar conservative convictions, Miller’s nearly 15 years of experience as CEO of Mercedes Medical ($33 million revenues) and involvement as a director of nonprofits gives her firsthand knowledge of the cause-and-effect of legislation. Miller is an astute businesswoman who would raise the level of analytical intelligence in the statehouse. We recommend: Alex Miller
District 73 — This is a tough one. Joe Gruters is a long-time leader of the Republican Party of Florida (now vice chair) and Sarasota (chair) and the co-chair of Donald Trump’s Florida campaign. It’s somewhat of an odd position — the No. 2 man, a true insider, of a party ruled by the establishment and yet the co-leader of the anti-establishment candidate’s presidential campaign and a leading fundraiser/campaigner for outsider Gov. Rick Scott.
Running against Gruters is a first-time candidate who is the epitome of a principled, small-government, Tea Party conservative — Steve Vernon. Vernon has his bona fides as well: president of the Lakewood Ranch Republican Club; previously president of the Tea Party of Manatee; member of the Manatee Republicans’ executive committee.
Of the two, Vernon is a purer advocate of the freedom philosophy than is Gruters. We love this: “[The Republican Party] “is too much about money and power and privilege and less about individual freedoms,” says Vernon.
At the same time, years of loyalty, effort and commitment to a cause matter. We recommend: Joe Gruters.
Sarasota School Board
Incumbent Caroline Zucker has served on the Sarasota County School Board for 18 years — from 1992-2000 and from 2006 to present. Unquestionably, she has been devoted to doing what she believed was best for the students, parents and taxpayers of Sarasota County.
But her opponent, Teresa Mast, 50, president of the Sarasota general contracting firm of Davin Group Inc., represents another step in the transition of the school board to a new generation of leaders who are committed to greater board transparency and community engagement. (Board member Bridget Ziegler was the first in 2014.)
We recommend: Teresa Mast