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Bizarre supervisor of elections saga continues in Manatee County

Commissioner James Satcher faces tough choices as election approaches.

Manatee Commissioner James Satcher has been appointed to be Manatee County's supervisor of elections.
Manatee Commissioner James Satcher has been appointed to be Manatee County's supervisor of elections.
Photo by Jay Heater
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If you want to mail your concerns to Commissioner James Satcher, you will find his address on Manatee County's website. His name is listed as "The Honorable James Satcher."

Most of what he has done as a commissioner would affirm that title. Sure, he can be annoying as he wastes time in commission meetings on topics that don't belong on a county agenda. Sure, he is overzealous when it comes to our out-of-control growth. But, right or wrong, there always is a certain integrity attached to his personal agendas, whatever his position.

Integrity, yes. The guy has a degree from Rhema Bible College. He is a minister who met his wife on a mission trip to Peru, for goodness sakes. We all know these things don't assure high morals, but in this case, it would be hard to argue that Satcher walks the walk.

But that doesn't always make you right for every job. We haven't seen a lot of priests become president.

Even so, Manatee County voters decided Satcher was best for the District One seat. Appearances say that he is doing everything he can to live up to that responsibility. Like him or not, you will get a chance in upcoming elections to let him continue in his post, or not.

Or maybe you won't have a chance, as far as his running for commissioner.

I would imagine that Satcher's head has to be spinning right about now.

You see, Satcher is one of two applicants for the Manatee County Supervisor of Elections position. The other is Scott Farrington, who has served 11 years as chief of staff and as the No. 2 elections official in the Manatee County Supervisor of Election's office. He also has more than 20 years of total experience in an elections office (he worked in Sarasota before Manatee).

Manatee County is waiting for Gov. Ron DeSantis to make his choice between the two. It would seem it is like that Capital One Bank commercial where they are choosing up sides for a third-grade basketball pickup game and Charles Barkley is one of the choices.

Making an appointment became necessary when Mike Bennett, who has held the position since 2013, retired on March 1. It wasn't a surprise, Bennett alerted the governor of his retirement on Feb. 1.

Being an election year, you might have expected Gov. DeSantis would have made that choice quickly. But he hasn't.

When you call up for all our county's election information, there still is a photo of Bennett on the top of the page that lists his name and — Supervisor of Elections — even though he is retired. When you look at the Supervisor of Elections race, Farrington is the only candidate listed.

Meanwhile, the 79-year-old Bennett continues to work, for free, as a volunteer to assist Farrington in getting everything done. They work, and they wait for the governor's decision. Perhaps the governor is hoping that he can squeeze another six months out of Bennett so he doesn't have to make a decision, and that way voters can decide the new Supervisor of Elections in the November election without any political drama.

Bennett has complicated matters by working for free because "he doesn't want to let Manatee County down." He doesn't want to hang Farrington out on a limb alone during a Presidential election year and he wants citizens to have a smooth election process.

All the while, Satcher remains in limbo, not knowing what direction his political career will go. If he is appointed as supervisor of elections, he said he will accept that job, and that will mean giving up his commission seat and running against Farrington in November.

If he doesn't get the appointment, then he will continue his bid for commission reelection, in a race in which he would have to be considered the favorite. He is an incumbent who lists $70,500 in contributions, running against Jennifer Lynne Hamey (no party affiliation), who has listed $3,350 in donations and Republican Carol Ann Felts, who lists $0 in contributions. While that isn't a tell-all statement, money is powerful in these elections.

For the voters of Manatee County, we are left to wonder what the heck is going on here? Why would Satcher ditch being commissioner to go into a field where he has no experience? Certainly, this is not about a religious calling.

Satcher was gracious enough to tell the East County Observer in a previous interview, “I have an amazing role right now. I love being the commissioner for District 1. A public servant is generally going to be looking, or open to the role where he can make the biggest difference and do the most good. That’s how I’ve made decisions my whole life, honestly."

It sure seems that somebody is telling him he can make the biggest difference in being the supervisor of elections. Who is this person and why is Satcher listening? It begs the question, how are you going to make a big difference overseeing elections that have been running smoothly for years and which have a qualified candidate ready to take over?

So we go to perception. Would the perception be that someone in the Manatee County political machine wants to get Satcher off the commission so they can replace him with someone they deem to be a better choice? They can do it by using salary as a carrot.

Commissioners made $98,743 in 2023. The supervisor of elections earned $168,563 in 2023.

Personally, I am hoping that Satcher isn't chewed up and spit out by the political machine. The past five years of Manatee County politics have played out as a reality TV show where the actors are given scripts. I could see Satcher getting run over by political strategizing.

I could see Gov. DeSantis appointing Satcher as supervisor of elections, then seeing him drop out of the commission race, before losing to Farrington in the election. Then he would be left with neither job to "make a difference."

Let's hope the minster, the missionary, the father of six, is choosing his own path, and letting his own ethical standards guide his choices, and not trying to please a system that chews people up and spits them out.



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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