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East County Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2018 2 years ago

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‘All politics is local,’ said late House Speaker Tip O’Neill. These are the candidates whose races can change the quality of life in your community.
by: Matt Walsh Editor & CEO

This installment of our election recommendations focuses on the region’s local races — from 17th Congressional District down to the Manatee and Sarasota counties’ school board races.

And as we noted last week: caveat emptor. 

Longtime Observer readers know that, on this opinion page, we are unapologetically one-sided. Our politico-economic philosophy favors a libertarian, laissez-faire approach to government. The less government the better; the more liberty for the individual the better (see the Friedrich Hayek quote in the upper-right corner of this page). 

Given that view, longtime Observer readers also know not to expect recommendations for Democratic Party candidates. Rare is the Democratic candidate we have recommended over the years — Sarasota County Tax Collector Barbara Ford Coates being among the few. 

To be sure, it would be disingenuous and dishonest for us to recommend any candidate whose politico-economic philosophies and beliefs are the antithesis of ours.

But that’s not to say Republican candidates line up with our liberty-loving philosophy. As Republican and Democratic Party members of Congress have demonstrated, there often is no difference between the two. Indeed, too many Republicans — including some running for local offices — have become advocates of the “State” more than advocates of liberty.

Nevertheless, here are our recommendations for the local races in the Aug. 28 primary:

U.S. Congress District 17: For hardcore conservative Republicans, it’s too bad state Sen. Greg Steube and state Rep. Julio Gonzalez are running against each other. It will be a loss for conservatives to have only one of them serving in public office.

Greg Steube

Of the two, Steube probably has more critics. It’s not unusual to hear Republicans call him  “a loose cannon” or an “extremist” for some of the legislation he proposed while in the Legislature. He became best known — or infamously known, depending on your perspective — for his advocacy of allowing concealed weapons to be carried on college campuses. And he irritated many with his stance for giving the state the authority over municipalities in the regulation of vacation rentals.

But we’ll say this: If you want a strict constitutionalist and a true fiscal hawk who has shown he is unafraid to challenge his party’s leadership in defense of individual liberty and limited government, Republicans should nominate Steube. We need more of that kind of courage in D.C. (And for you who think Steube is, as one Republican told us, “off his rocker,” here’s your chance to get him out of Florida.)

Worth noting: Take a look at Steube and Gonzalez’s campaign contributions. The names of the contributors, along with their monetary contributions tell you a lot. As they say, follow the money. On that score, the money favors the alleged “loose cannon.”

We recommend: Greg Steube

Tommy Gregory

Florida House District 73: What an unfortunate, sad and painful turn of events. That, of course, would be Melissa Howard’s candidacy for the Republican Party nomination for Florida House District 73.

Her candidacy had the makings of one of those great American stories: a woman who grew up in an Ohio mason’s family with barely modest means. She becomes a successful entrepreneur with her husband. At the same time, she immerses herself in her community as a passionate contributor, board member and philanthropist, volunteering in multiple nonprofit organizations that help the needy. 

Melissa Howard: a model of a bold, can-do woman. 

But as we all know now, her errant judgment derailed the story.

We hope only temporarily.

Howard did the right thing: apologizing, owning up to her mistake of presenting false college credentials and dropping out of the race. 

Darn, what a shame. 

As we assessed Howard and her opponent, trial lawyer Tommy Gregory, the two of them have numerous favorable attributes, which would have made their race a difficult choice for voters. 

We have concerns about Gregory’s trial lawyer credentials and hope he won’t succumb to the trial bar’s intense protectionist pressures in Tallahassee if ultimately elected. Except for that, Gregory so far has a career record of integrity.

To be sure, everyone involved in politics has learned or re-learned an important lesson: Integrity matters — a lot. 

We recommend: Tommy Gregory

Brian Iten

12th Judicial Circuit Court Judge (nonpartisan): You have to love the story of candidate Maria Ruhl, 40: the youngest of seven sisters who immigrated to the United States from Venezuela when she was 3, the family carrying one suitcase. And then she goes on to earn her law degree and now run for a judgeship.

Unfortunately, she is running against a sitting judge, Brian Iten, who has far greater legal experience than Ruhl. Criminal defense lawyers have been critical of Iten, a longtime former prosecutor in the 12th Circuit, for touting so many endorsements from sheriffs, police chiefs and the state attorney. How can he preside fairly with that bias? 

Conversations we’ve had with lawyers say Iten shouldn’t have been so overt with the endorsements. But at the same time, they say Judge Iten has always practiced law as a prosecutor and judge with integrity.

We recommend: Brian Iten

Carol Whitmore

County Commission, District 6: Incumbent Carol Whitmore is reaching the status of career politician. She is vying for her fourth term as a county commissioner (12 years in office so far).

Normally, we’d say: Enough.

But there is a reason voters continue to re-elect her. She does a good job, understanding she serves taxpayers, not the other way around.

Charlie Kennedy

We recommend: Carol Whitmore

School Board, District 2: On a board often most characterized by its dysfunction, incumbent Charlie Kennedy, a teacher by profession, has served as a ballast of reason and maturity.

While everyone knows the Manatee School Board desperately needs experienced business acumen, which neither Kennedy nor his opponent bring to the board, of all board members up for election, Kennedy has performed admirably.

We recommend: Charlie Kennedy

School Board, District 4: If elections are referendums on an incumbent’s performance, incumbent board Chair Scott Hopes is, in our view, in a tenuous position.

Joseph Stokes

But here’s the condundrum: Because of his confrontations with fellow board member David Miner, Hopes embarrassed the board. At the same time, he was instrumental in bringing better fiscal accountability to the district because of his business owner acumen.

Hopes landed his spot on the board as an appointee of Gov. Rick Scott. This is his first time running as a candidate.

If you contrast his performance with the experience of, say, candidate Joe Stokes — a successful school administrator and teacher for 45 years in the Manatee district, it becomes more difficult to make the case for Hopes.

And there is this: Stokes has raised $20,680 for his campaign, $5,700 of that his own money. Hopes has raised $14,700, none of that his own. 

There is a danger overloading a board with teachers. Nevertheless … 

We recommend: Joseph Stokes

John Colon

School Board, District 5: God bless James Golden, longtime Manatee County civic activist and former city council member. He’s opposing incumbent John Colon. 

The board needs business acumen. Colon has that. 

We recommend: John Colon


County Commission District 2: Sorry, but as soon as we see or hear a candidate say the top challenge facing Sarasota County is “overdevelopment,” we’ll hit the “delete” key. 

Christian Ziegler

Indeed, Alexandra Coe responded to our questionnaire by saying “what is happening right now is mindless and profiting special interests.” Standard anti-growth tropes. And she sees “environmental destruction” as the county’s third biggest challenge (traffic is second). Now you know her agenda as a county commissioner.

In contrast, her opponent Christian Ziegler, a widely known party activist, will bring the right philosophy to the board: that there is a link between the health of a local economy and its taxes and regulation. You get more of the former when there is less of the latter.

We recommend: Christian Ziegler

Al Maio

County Commission District 4: Every election is a referendum on the incumbent’s performance vis-à-vis what the challenger might bring to the office. In that vein, incumbent Alan Maio is less of a growth restrictionist than is challenger Lourdes Ramirez. She, too, calls Sarasota’s growth “mindless.” Yet Ramirez talks a tougher platform toward county spending. She pledges not to raise property taxes.

Maio’s record is one of a conservative pragmatist who, as a longtime engineer in Sarasota County, understands the importance of finding a balance between economic growth and the environment.

We recommend: Alan Maio

Bridget Ziegler

School Board, District 1: Readers of this page know we have been a supporter of incumbent board

Chair Bridget Ziegler. She was right to oppose the district creating its own police force; and she is a strong supporter of creating more choice for parents and students. 

We recommend: Bridget Ziegler

School Board, District 4: Give incumbent Shirley Brown major kudos and credit for having the passion, heart and head directed toward the betterment of Sarasota County schools. She has served on the board since 2006.

Karen Rose

But 12 years is long enough for anyone in elected office. 

Meanwhile, Brown’s opponent, Karen Rose, has enormous backing from the Sarasota County teachers union — normally a red flag for us. But because of Rose’s nearly three decades of distinguished accomplishments as head of the district’s middle schools, a principal and innovator, she would bring a needed fresh perspective to the board.

We recommend: Karen Rose

Pamela Gavette

School Board, District 5: This is a tough one, largely because we’re not in agreement with many of the positions of incumbent Jane Goodwin, who is seeking her third term (e.g. school choice, police force); and because her three GOP challengers are new to the arena and don’t have the experience as, say, Karen Rose, in District 4.

Nevertheless, we believe it’s time for the board to have new perspectives.

We recommend: Pamela Gavette

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