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Constant attacks on Manatee commissioner backfired during election

Intensified attacks on Vanessa Baugh could have hurt incumbents' run for reelection.

Commissioner Vanessa Baugh wasn't even up for election in the primaries but had a major impact on the winners. (File photo)
Commissioner Vanessa Baugh wasn't even up for election in the primaries but had a major impact on the winners. (File photo)
  • East County
  • Opinion
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Now that you have had a couple of weeks to digest the primaries, you might have concluded the end-all isn't always about money.

For I am sure you heard how big money buys politicians in these parts, and that pretty much is that.

Turns out the 2022 elections in Manatee County were about something other than money. They were about people.

And, really, isn't that what elections should be about?

If you noticed, both District 6 at-large candidate and incumbent Carol Whitmore and District 4 candidate and incumbent Misty Servia,were basically crushed in the voting. That might have been a surprise since Servia raised $147,212.45 to winner Mike Rahn's $103.759. Whitmore had $139,576.03 in the coffers to Jason Bearden's $108,303.09.

The people factor hit hard in these races.

By the people factor, I mean people talking to people, or campaigning in ways other than posting signs. Word of mouth — imagine that? The races were decided by hustle, and determination.

Whether or not that came down to bad-mouthing incumbents, well, you be the judge. Whether or not you believe that to be dirty politics, well, you be the judge. That's why we each have a vote. If we don't like the way a candidate is conducting business, we can check a different box.

Typically, we like incumbents, especially those who post an "R" in front of their name. Incumbents usually need to do some extreme things to get on our bad side.

When did sentiment turn against these incumbents? Well, it was long before campaigning began. You have to go back to February 2021 when District 5 Commissioner Vanessa Baugh was asked by Gov. Ron DeSantis to organize a COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Lakewood Ranch. DeSantis noticed the senior population in Lakewood Ranch was far behind the curve when it came to getting vaccinated. This was an opportunity to help the area catch up to the rest of the state. He asked Baugh to set it up.

At the time, Baugh had been engaging in a regular verbal battle with Whitmore and Servia during Manatee County Commission meetings, so when it came to the vaccination clinic, she bypassed them, and the rest of the commissioners, and put together the clinic on her own over the course of the weekend.

No one can argue that Baugh should have executed the clinic in a more appropriate manner. But you could also argue that the clinic wouldn't have been held at all if the process was bogged down because of infighting. It is likely Gov. DeSantis would have taken the vaccine elsewhere. That makes it logical, but not right.

Nonetheless, Baugh compounded the negativity launched against her by compiling a five-person list that she wanted added to the clinic, even thought they didn't meet the requirements. She was on the list.

The "Let's Hate Vanessa" club grew — except for areas in Manatee County where it didn't.

As voters, we often are a forgiving sort, especially if our politician can get things done. I don't need to go into all the evidence of that one. Then consider that Baugh has been a popular commissioner, and a more popular Republican.

Even so, all hell had broken loose in Manatee County, as Baugh was vilified for serving the elite and ignoring the rest of the county. Baugh's actions resulted in  an eventual review by the state ethics committee and a hearing that won't eventually be heard until November.

It all seemed like a major disaster for Baugh, who isn't up for reelection for two more years, except for one very important factor. Of all the commissioners in Manatee County, Baugh is the most Republican of the Republicans. 

Those who follow politics understand the governor is not going to show up at Baugh's ethics hearing to say nice things, especially when he is strong candidate for president. But make no mistake, in local Republican circles, Baugh is known as the Republican who would do anything she could to support the governor.

At the same time, Whitmore and Servia became the two quasi-Republicans who went on a rampage against the person who did the governor's bidding.

I do believe if the tension had eased in the months following the vaccine clinic fervor, it would have been more or less business as usual. Instead, it intensified. Sides were drawn.

The die-hard Republicans in the county had to decide whether they were pro Baugh, or pro those who hated Baugh.

In the end, Baugh wasn't even in the 2022 primaries, but she might as well have been. I'm not so sure voters were selecting Rahn or Bearden on their cards, as much as they were voting against the incumbents.

It goes back to people part, or should I say "Power to the people."

If I am being told by the Republican hierarchy in the county that the party wants these candidates in and these out, I might be supportive even if I am on the fence with my vote. That's how all this works.

Baugh, along those lines, was pushing for Rahn and Bearden. The amount of signs someone could stick in the ground was irrelevant. 

The incumbents had alienated members of their party by going overboard in attacking one of their own.

Now you might say, "That's not right." Perhaps it's not.

But it all comes down to people getting involved, and working hard to see an election go the way they desire.

If you read this column regularly, you know that I plead with residents to be involved when it comes to elections. I would imagine that a lot of Manatee County residents expected Whitmore, who has been a commissioner since 2006, to be a shoo-in. While Servia's loss wasn't as surprising considering her penchant for alienating those in her own party, Whitmore often was considered a voice of reason on the board, even if she did have her regular spats with Baugh.

But those who backed Rahn and Bearden worked their butts off, getting to the voters and convincing them it was time for a change. It's hard to dispute that Whitmore and Servia were outworked in this election.

Citizens using the system to get the results they want? You can hate the results, or you can join a campaign next time around. Get a candidate, organize campaign volunteers, hits the streets, raise money. Know the rules and use them to favor your candidate. It's out there for the taking.

As it stands, conservative Republicans rule the commission now. The infighting that haunted every meeting should now be alleviated. Poor Reggie Bellamy is likely to be on his own on most topics.

And those who supported the incumbents should have worked harder.



Jay Heater

Jay Heater is the managing editor of the East County Observer. Overall, he has been in the business more than 41 years, 26 spent at the Contra Costa Times in the San Francisco Bay area as a sportswriter covering college football and basketball, boxing and horse racing.

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