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Side of Ranch

Local political races would pump up the ratings

George Kruse
George Kruse
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  • East County
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So push aside the telecast of the two Donald Trump-Joe Biden presidential debates.

I've got something even juicer for the airwaves.

I'll start with the matchup for the Manatee County supervisor of elections post between James Satcher and Scott Farrington.

Yes, you've got that right. Stop laughing. Calculators at 10 paces.

Then I'll come right back with the main event, this year's version of Ali-Frazier — Kevin Van Ostenbridge and George Kruse for the District 7 title of the Manatee County Commission.

As one former elected Manatee County official told me, "I would pay money to see that one."

Heady stuff.

Unfortunately, I doubt it ever will happen, even though it should. You see, debates are important at the local level, even more so than those involving national races. At the higher levels of government, you have plenty of chances to research what a candidate is all about. At the local level, not so much.

District 3 Commissioner Kevin Van Ostenbridge is now running for the District 7, at-large seat.
Photo by Lesley Dwyer

Unless you follow your local government meetings, you might be relying on those little cards you get in the mail, featuring all of one candidate's misdeeds, and a photo supplied by a pro with a telephoto lens of the candidate with his finger in his nose. Time to vote.

Certainly, the more responsible method would be to find out where the candidates are speaking (they all have websites with schedules or contact information listed) and to meet them face-to-face. Better yet, attend a debate.

Unfortunately, debates held in paradise often are not attended very well. Nobody worries too much about paradise until it is paved over.

Poor attendance can discourage some groups from doing all the necessary work that goes into preparing an impartial event. Fortunately, we have groups such as the Manatee Tiger Bay Club and the League of Women Voters that continue to present debates no matter the turnout or the difficulties. But if voters don't punish those who fail to participate, the future of local debates would seem to be in jeopardy.

The Van Ostenbridge/Kruse race even gets more complicated because any debate would bump up against possible Sunshine Law violations since both are sitting Manatee County Commissioners. It would need to be held in an official setting with a clerk to take notes and with the blessing of county attorneys.

In our quest to make sure underhanded deals aren't being agreed upon in backrooms, out of the public eye, we have handcuffed ourselves in terms of evaluating candidates. Perhaps if we did a better job choosing candidates, we wouldn't have to worry so much about what is said over a sandwich in a courthouse restaurant.

Debates are critical in the election process, so I hope Manatee County can work out all the technicalities so the winner of Van Ostenbridge/Kruse doesn't end up in court if they do debate before the Aug. 20 primary.

Perhaps that is something that a good supervisor of elections could help with?

It is interesting, at least for me, we are even talking about a supervisor of elections race. Honestly, I didn't even know it was an elected position when I arrived on the scene almost 10 years ago. Why isn't the post just appointed by county commissioners? Makes you scratch your head. It's kind of like needing to elect the heads of the mosquito control district.

Certainly, the voters can't sort out the best candidates in either of those races by their ability to handle the necessary machinery involved, or by the best spraying techniques.

And that's why the race for supervisor of elections can be both boring and fascinating at the same time. 

Consider the rumblings. Farrington has been accused of quitting the day of Satcher's appointment by the governor, and taking all his office's passcodes with him. Satcher has painted a picture of needing to rebuild an ineffective department that needed an $841,340 budget increase in order to bring it up to today's security standards. It was an increase that was approved May 28 by Manatee County Commissioners ... all except for Kruse, who dared to question the reasons for such an increase.

Kruse noted during a commission meeting that the Florida Department of State’s Office of Election Crimes and Security Report to the Legislature dated Jan. 15, 2024, showed Manatee County had just 12 complaints over seven elections during the major 2020 election year.

Kruse said Satcher presented a "made-up narrative to justify a made-up budget."

Satcher said he is just trying to present Manatee County voters with an efficient, fair voting system.

Come on, now. This is all fun stuff, unless you are a taxpayer who is picking up the tab.

I would love to hear Satcher and Farrington debate these issues, as well as tell us what a supervisor of elections actually does and why the position is worth $170,000 a year.

And who doesn't want to hear Kruse, who said Van Ostenbridge changed races because everyone in his former District 3 "hates him," go toe-to-toe with Van Ostenbridge, who said he only changed races in order to get rid of the "liberal" Kruse.

Yes, I would pay to see this show.



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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