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If you’re an independent voter or still undecided on the local races, this might help you decide. Reader beware: We always favor candidates who back the freedom agenda.

  • Longboat Key
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Oh, there are other elections? Who knew?

It would be easy to forget. 

But be assured, the other elections can be — and, in some cases, will be — equally as consequential as whom we elect to occupy the White House.

The point here is to emphasize that, even if you’re not going to vote Nov. 8 for any of the presidential candidates (understandable), at least cast your votes on the “down ballot” — for all of those races and questions on both sides of your ballot sheet. The outcomes will make a difference.

To help those who are neither Republicans nor Democrats and who still may be undecided on the non-presidential races, we offer the following recommendations on the candidates. Mind you, regular readers of this page already know our political philosophy — unwavering support for candidates who subscribe to or come closest to subscribing to:

  • Pro-laissez-faire capitalism;
  • Fewer, lower and flat taxes; 
  • Dismantling and destroying the regulatory Leviathan that adversely affects and controls every level of our lives.
  • Following the U.S. Constitution, as written by the Founding Fathers.

None of the major party candidates on the Sarasota and Manatee ballots lines up perfectly with our freedom agenda, but there are those who lean that way. 



U.S. Congress-District 16

You have to love Democrat congressional candidate Jan Schneider. She never gives up, and she is steadfast in her principles. This is her fifth attempt to win a congressional seat.

And we’ll give her this: She is a moderate Democrat — at least compared to her party’s standard bearer. Nonetheless, she is on the Democrat Party team: higher taxes on the top 1%; gun control; modifying Obamacare, not junking it.

Contrast that with incumbent Vern Buchanan, going for his sixth term.

While Buchanan hasn’t become a camera-loving media star and household political name, he has remained true to his entrepreneurial roots in his 10 years in office. The Buchanan platform:

  • Flatter tax system
  • Abolish onerous regulations on employers.
  • Eliminate Obamacare’s mandate requiring all businesses to buy health insurance for their workers.
  • Support free and fair trade to open global markets.
  • Tort reform that stops frivolous lawsuits.
  • “Expanded drilling in places like Alaska and other areas” — for affordable energy and more jobs.
  • States’ right-to-work laws
  • Reduce the government workforce by 10% via attrition and align their wages and benefits with private sector.

Now there’s a freedom agenda.

We recommend: Vern Buchanan



State Senate-District 23

New College political science professor and Democrat Senate candidate Frank Alcock favors Florida expanding federal Medicaid under  Obamacare; is anti-school vouchers; “advocate(s) for a living wage” (code for government-driven  higher minimum wages); says he wants “clean-energy investments” (“investments” in government speak typically mean taxes and subsidies); and has written this about guns: “… we need to reconsider what rights make sense for a citizen’s ability to defend themselves …”

Now, we know that Alcock’s  Republican opponent, Rep. Greg Steube, has been widely criticized for his efforts to expand concealed-carry gun permits to college campuses. And we all know — and he should know it, too — that issue will go nowhere in Tallahassee.

But we also know Steube stands on the other side of the philosophical fence than Alcock. Steube is a constitutionalist, anti-corporate welfare, low-tax, low-regulation, free-market, pro-competitive education system legislator.

We recommend: Greg Steube 


House-District 72

It should give us hope when we see a young, successful, female CEO wanting to take her common-sense, market-oriented and fiscal business skills to Tallahassee. 

We’re referring to Republican Alexandra “Alex” Miller, 42, who for the past 15 years has been the CEO of $33 million (revenue), Sarasota-based Mercedes Medical. 

Add to that mother of two middle-school-age sons; an elected member of the Sarasota Memorial Hospital District Board; and board member on not-for-profits. Altogether: well-rounded, conservative pragmatism.

But the best for taxpayers: She knows what goes into meeting a weekly payroll.

We recommend: Alex Miller


House-District 73

Talk about two widely different choices — and two deeply rooted, patriotic Americans: Democrat James Golden and Republican Joe Gruters. Both are Florida natives.

Golden is from the Vietnam War generation (he’s a veteran), while Gruters is part of Gen X. Both have been in politics for two decades. Golden served twice on the Bradenton City Council. Gruters has been entrenched in the leadership of the Republican Party of Sarasota County and serves as vice chair of the Republican Party of Florida.

Golden, a pastor, is soft-spoken; Gruters, an accountant, is outspoken.

Philosophically, they stand where you would expect on most issues. But here’s a big difference: In Tallahassee, the success of a lawmaker hinges to a significant degree on his ability to connect and influence the leaders of the party in power. Republicans are in power; Gruters knows just about every Republican.

Two more advantages: 1) It takes moxie and hard work to become the vice chairman of Florida’s GOP; 2) Gruters is not a status-quo Republican: He took the job of heading up Donald Trump’s Florida campaign. Talk about anti-establishment.

We recommend: Joe Gruters


Supreme Court and District Court of Appeal 

Florida’s constitution and judicial system allow voters to decide whether Supreme Court justices and Appeal Court judges have performed ethically, impartially and are qualified. To retain is not whether they are liberal, conservative or legislating from the bench.

In this year’s retention elections, two of the Supreme Court justices — Charles Canady and Ricky L. Polston — are considered the most conservative on the bench. Chief Justice Jorge Labarga, meanwhile, has sided with the liberal wing of the court on several cases.  

None of them has behaved or judged so badly as to be disqualified.

We recommend: Yes to retain all Supreme Court and District Court of Appeal judges.



Clerk of Court

Typically, 30 years in the same elected public office is too long. For that matter, 30 years in any job is sure to result in diminished performance (although wisdom would likely make up for what might be lost in energy).

That’s the charge against Sarasota County Clerk of Court Karen Rushing from her opponent. The Republican incumbent was first elected in 1987.

That length of time has spurred Todd Barton to challenge Rushing for the Democrats. Barton is a 30-year court administrator who touts a record of innovation and is critical of Rushing’s speed of implementing technology. 

But voters, beware. Barton may be innovative with court management, but he comes nowhere close to having the experience of Rushing in other crucial responsibilities: treasury management of a $1 billion enterprise; finance, bonding and auditing.  

What’s more, there’s a message when voters return you to office over 30 years, and when your 66 state peers rely on you to represent them before the Legislature (seven consecutive years) and name you clerk of the year three times. 

As we often say, elections are referenda on incumbents’ performance. It’s pretty obvious Sarasota County voters have been quite satisfied.

We recommend: Karen Rushing


Tax Collector

The race for tax collector mirrors that of the Clerk of Courts. 

Incumbent Democrat Barbara Ford-Coates has been elected and held that office since 1984.

Her challenger is a 30-year retired Army lieutenant colonel, Republican James Bender.

Just as Karen Rushing has distinguished herself among clerk peers, so has Ford-Coates for operational leadership — not only among Florida tax collectors but among national tax collectors as well. 

Her resume shows decades of leadership in her field statewide and nationally, and she has been equally involved as a leader in Sarasota County not-for-profits.

Rarely do we recommend Democrats for elected office. But in this case, the tax collector’s position is not about political philosophy; it’s about customer service. Ford-Coates continues to deliver.

We recommend: Barbara Ford-Coates


County Commission

The generational transition is underway, and this race typifies it: The Old Guard local Democratic pol, former Sarasota Mayor Fredd “Glossie” Atkins versus a rising Republican businessman Mike Moran. Ages: 64 and 47, respectively.

Moran may not have the name recognition that Atkins does, but he has proven to be a pragmatic thinker in his roles as a governor-appointed member of the Southwest Florida Water Management District and as a member of the Sarasota County Planning Commission.

Better still, he brings the experience that comes from starting, growing and selling a successful professional employee organization. Involved with Rotary and Guardian Ad Litem in the Venice area for more than a decade, Moran represents smart, new blood to face Sarasota County’s challenges.

We recommend: Mike Moran 


Hospital Board

The defeat of two incumbent Republican hospital board members — Marguerite Malone and John de Jongh — in the August primary shook what heretofore had been a well-functioning board. That created two open seats and three incumbents up for election. 

The incumbents are proven, accomplished board members; no change is required. The open seats — At Large Seat 1 and At Large Seat 3 — feature three nurses and a businessman. There are plenty of businessmen already on the board. Seat 1 candidate Sharon Wetzler DePeters, a Republican, and Seat 3 Democrat Cheryl Brandi have stellar nursing and clinical credentials that would enhance the board.

We recommend: Sharon Wetzler DePeters, Tramm Hudson, Cheryl Brandi, William Noonan and Jim Meister.



County Commission


When incumbent Republican Commissioner Betsy Benac won election four years ago, she brought valuable insights to the board. She worked for three decades in the private sector as a land planner, giving her first-hand experience with growth issues from both perspectives — private and public sectors. 

This experience manifested itself well in her performance as an even-handed commissioner. Manatee voters should keep her expertise, commitment and thoughtfulness on the board.

We recommend: Betsy Benac



Too bad for Manatee County taxpayers that incumbent Commissioner John Chappie is retiring. His departure is creating a gaping vacuum that likely won’t be filled at the same standard.

In that vein, try as he might, and honorable, honest and qualified as he may be, Steve Jonsson has two stigmas — that he was CEO of a failed bank, Flagship Bank, and has the backing of developers. These are especially inhibitive when he wants to represent the district that encompasses the most anti-growth sentiment in the county — Manatee’s barrier islands.

That leaves two independents — both financial advisers, Matt Bower, a member of the Manatee County Planning Commission, and David Zaccagnino, a Holmes Beach commissioner for nine years.

Zaccagnino is respected for consistently demonstrating fiscal responsibility and trying to balance property rights and anti-growth influences. Bower, however,  led efforts to stop the Long Bar Pointe development and sides with strong anti-growther Joe McClash. 

Two caveats to Zaccagnino: He can’t make up his mind — he was a Republican, then a Democrat, now an independent. More concerning: He has pledged support for “Manasota Move to Amend” — an effort to amend the U.S. Constitution “to state that corporations do not have the same rights as people; that money is not a form of protected free speech; and making this happen in Sarasota and Manatee counties.” That’s a disqualifier. 

We recommend: Steve Jonsson


School Board


Edward Viltz, far and away, has the experience, intelligence and wisdom that would enhance the long-struggling Manatee County School Board: former  COO of an IT company that grew from $26 million to $68 million during his watch; the first CEO of the Public Interest Registry, a not-for-profit that grew and managed five million .ORG domain names on the internet. Since coming to Manatee County in 2009, Viltz has served as a faculty member and consultant at the Dream Success Charter School, helping develop and implement a strategic plan that brought the school’s performance from an “F” in 2010 to an “A” in 2012.

We recommend: Edward Viltz



Manatee voters elected Dave “Watchdog” Miner to the school board at the right time — when voters were desperate for transparency and reform. He made his contribution.

That time has passed. The makeup of the board is moving toward building and rebuilding relationships in the community. As Miner was suited for his role four years ago, Misty Servia is perfectly suited for this next phase for the school board.

We recommend: Misty Servia


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