Thursday, September 8, 2016

Reflections on the August 2014 School Board Elections


District 2 - Stephanie Lucarelli
District 4 - Erick Carter
I couldn’t be happier with the outcome of the August School Board elections! The candidates I endorsed, supported, worked with and voted for – Stephanie Lucarelli for District 2, and Erick Carter for District 4 – won by double-digit margins: Lucarelli with 59.3 percent of the votes to Louise Penta’s 40.7 percent; Carter with 57.2 percent to Lee Dixon’s 42.8 percent.
See Table 1.

Table 1: School Board election results
That’s the big picture. In this post, I’ll dig into the numbers. Then I’ll compare the results to the election of August 2014, from which followed almost two years of frequently-contentious School Board meetings with lengthy and often uncivil public comments that ultimately brought us to where we are today. I’ll close with some personal reflections.

The numbers

It’s disappointing that fewer than one in three – 32.4 percent – registered voters participated in Collier County’s primary elections, although it beats the ~28 percent turnout in the 2012 primary. (Turnout in presidential election years is usually higher than for mid-term elections; in the 2014 primaries, turnout was just 21 percent.) Almost 62,000 ballots were cast. See Table 2.

Table 2: August 2016 voter turnout by party affiliation

Turnout varied considerably by party affiliation. See Table 2. Since many of the races were open to registered Republicans only, perhaps this was to be expected. But the very important School Board, Clerk of Courts and Property Appraiser races were open to all, as was the vote on state Constitutional Amendment 4, and Republicans represented a far greater percent of ballots cast (69 percent) than they did of eligible voters (52 percent). I am disappointed that so few Democrats chose to participate, though I understand they might resent being disenfranchised by the phony write-in candidate loophole I wrote about here.

The disproportionate participation of Republicans, combined with the Republican Executive Committee’s controversial endorsement of Penta and Dixon, make Lucarelli’s and Carter’s wins even more impressive. (See Collier GOP to regroup after School Board loss.)

Importantly, the trend toward convenience voting continued. Only 26 percent of those who voted waited until Election Day, and more than half voted by mail. See Table 3.

Table 3: Ballots cast

This “new normal” must be taken into consideration in the future by candidates and their campaigns, as well as by local organizations planing candidate forums and the newspapers and others that publish endorsements. The vast majority of voters make up their minds much earlier than they used to, so much of the money and energy spent on advertising and campaigning in the two weeks before Election Day may in the future be better spent differently.

As is usually the case, not everyone voted on every race or question on her/his ballot. The under-vote in the two School Board races averaged 11.3 percent, meaning about one in nine people who cast a ballot didn’t participate in those particular races. This a significant improvement over 2014, as I discuss below.

What a difference two years makes!

In 2014, I was dismayed by the low voter turnout in the primaries. Only 21 percent of the County’s registered voters voted, meaning four out of five did not. Democrats’ participation was far worse than Republicans’ (18 percent vs. 27 percent turnout). And as bad as that was, the under-votes were even worse. See Table 4.

Table 4: 2016 vs 2014 turnout comparison

The low turnout and significant under-votes combined with the fact that there were three candidates running for the District 1 seat enabled Kelly Lichter to be elected with a paltry 16,760 votes. While this was 51.4 percent of votes cast, it was just nine percent of all registered voters. See Table 5.

Table 5: 2016 vs 2014 Primary winners comparison

Two years later, I’m almost as happy about the increased voter participation and decisiveness of the wins in the School Board elections as I am about the fact that Lucarelli and Carter won. Voter turnout among both Republicans and Democrats increased by more than 50 percent, and the percent of under-votes in the School Board races dropped by almost 30 percent. See Table 4. As a result, unlike 2014 when the Board members elected in August received fewer than 18,000 votes each, this year, each winner received more than 30,000 votes. Far more people were engaged and cared enough to participate this year. See Table 5. These are excellent trends that I hope will continue.

I don’t believe the fact that it’s a presidential election year fully explains the higher voter participation. I hope my almost exclusive focus on the School Board in this blog over the past two years raised awareness of what was at stake. See, for example, my report on the first post–2014-election School Board meeting, in which I expressed dismay and concern about the tone of several of the interactions between Board members, members of the audience, the Board attorney and the Superintendent.

In addition, the Naples Daily News’s coverage of the School Board over the past two years and of the School Board election campaigns over the past several months must have played a big part. Looking back over the articles, editorials and letters to the editor I clipped, I can’t help but think that they too got the public’s attention. For example, in the months and weeks leading up to Election Day, the NDN:

  • reported on PACs created to support Lucarelli and Carter (here) and Penta and Dixon (here);
  • highlighted the increasingly partisan nature of what are supposed to be nonpartisan School Board elections (here);
  • hosted forums for the School Board candidates, live-blogged and tweeted highlights, and subsequently posted the video online (here); and
  • reported on “discrepancies” in how candidate Lee Dixon “characterized his time” at the University of Miami (here).

Separately, the Naples Daily News Editorial Board endorsed Stephanie Lucarelli (here) and Erick Carter (here) in their respective races, highlighting not only the experiences and character traits the two will bring to the Board but also the key issues at stake. Since some people vote based on the Naples Daily News endorsements, this too affected the results.

Another major difference in this election was the significant grassroots effort that formed and then evolved over the past year or so as parents, teachers and community members became aware of the issues. Social media played a huge role in growing the grassroots movement, engaging and connecting concerned voters and sharing information. Facebook was the venue-of-choice: if you weren’t following Collier County School Board Watch, Great Schools, Great Minds, The Coalition for Quality Public Education (C4QPE) and my own Sparker’s Soapbox Facebook Page, you missed out on much important activity.

Word-of-mouth, email chains and house parties were also extremely effective. People who had never done anything like it before were happy to help, reaching friends and neighbors who would have not been contacted otherwise.

Finally, the candidates themselves were tireless in their efforts: candidate forums, meet-and-greets, petition-gathering, parades, knocking on doors -- I don't know where they found the energy to do it all.

The Naples Daily News Editorial Board called the margin of victory in the School Board races “a statement of significant community support for Superintendent Kamela Patton,” and dedicated a post-election editorial to a call for civility, saying:

"We interpret Tuesday’s election results as voters sending a message that they’re weary of combative leadership. If that’s the message, we concur. Tuesday’s victories by Erick Carter and Stephanie Lucarelli … create an opportunity for a fresh commitment to civil, not uncivil, service when they’re sworn into office this fall."

Some personal reflections

The divisiveness surrounding this election goes back at least three years. One of the first signs that caught my attention was the angry, belligerent and (I believe) staged responses from some members of the public at a May 2013 School District information session about Florida’s Common Core State Standards. See Common Core: An Issue for the School Board Elections?.

Another early sign was the Contract with Collier County, Florida that the 2014 School Board candidates were asked to sign. Weeks before that year’s August elections, a local parent/attorney emailed supporters:

If, on August 26, we elect candidates from each of the three Districts who have signed the “Contract with Collier County," voters will have a Board majority that can return a voice to parents and teachers, protect our students, and improve the quality of our local educational system.

See SWFL Citizens Alliance wants control of the School Board.

Not gaining the majority they sought, supporters of the two then-newly-elected Board members took every opportunity over the following two years to insult the Superintendent and challenge and disparage the Board majority, especially the then-Chair. Some of the issues they raised had to do with:

  • the role of federal, state and local government in public education;
  • the role of parents and community members in the selection of instructional materials, curriculum and pedagogical methods;
  • how comparative religion is taught in the schools;
  • the appropriateness of holding co-curricular events in a church; and
  • the appropriateness of a prayer or invocation before School Board meetings.

These matters, about which people hold strong and differing opinions, merit community discussion and consideration, and I respect their right to bring them before the School Board. What concerned me, and still does, is the lack of civility with which some officials on the dais were addressed, the lack of respect for the views of others and, in some cases, for the law, and the unwillingness to accept, after appropriate Board consideration, the vote of the majority.

I think the higher voter participation and ultimately the elections of Lucarelli and Carter were more about the community’s determination that this uncivil behavior not prevail than about the candidates’ views on the ideological issues. The community understood the need for stability in District administration and in school leadership, and feared the loss of an excellent Superintendent and the changes that might bring.

People were also angry about the encroachment of partisan politics into what should be nonpartisan school board governance. Such encroachment received public attention just over a year ago when the Collier County Republican Executive Committee considered censuring the School Board Chair for not being “Republican enough,” and culminated with the CCREC’s endorsement, for the first time in at least a decade, of candidates in the nonpartisan School Board races. The fact that the then-CCREC Chairman was not reelected is surely further evidence of community dissatisfaction.

I fervently hope that the candidates who lost and their supporters, as well as the continuing School Board members, will take the lessons of this election to heart. It is possible to disagree without being disagreeable.

In two short years, there will be another School Board election, and three of the five seats will be on the ballot. I hope to see change. I intend to remain vigilant. I hope you will, too.



Help me reach more Collier County voters by sharing this post with your friends. You and they can subscribe to Sparker’s Soapbox by email at www.sparkers-soapbox.blogspot.com, “like” me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sparkers.soapbox or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Recapping my Election Recommendations

ELECTION DAY IS
TUESDAY, AUGUST 30!
Tuesday is – finally! – Election Day. Several races important to Collier County voters will be decided: School Board members from Districts 2 and 4, County Commissioner for District 2, and Collier County’s Clerk of Courts and Property Appraiser. In addition, our representatives to the Florida House and Senate will be chosen in closed Republican primaries, although technically the winners will face write-in candidate challengers in November. See my post about the phony write-in loophole here. In addition, voters will decide on an amendment to Florida’s constitution regarding the taxation of solar energy systems.

View your sample ballot here.

A lot is at stake and I am anxiously awaiting the results.

Here is a recap of my recommendations for Collier voters, with links back to the posts where you can review the research and my rationale:

Elections open to registered Republicans in the stated district only
  • U.S. Congress, District 19: Chauncey Goss. Analysis here. The winner will face Democrat Robert Neeld in November.
  • Florida Senate, District 28: Kathleen Passidomo. Analysis here. The winner will face two write-in candidates in November.
  • Florida House, District 106: Lavigne Kirkpatrick. Analysis here. The winner will face one write-in candidate in November.
  • Florida House, District 80: Joe Davidow. Analysis here. The winner will face one write-in candidate in November.
  • Collier County Commission, District 3: Russell Tuff. Analysis here and here. The winner will face Democrat Annisa Karim in November.
  • Collier County Commission, District 5: Randy Cash. Analysis here and here. The winner will face Democrat Tamara Paquette in November.

Elections open to all registered Republicans in Collier County
  • U.S. Senate, Republican primary: Carlos Beruff. Analysis here.

Elections open to all registered Democrats in Collier County
  • U.S. Senate, Democratic primary: Patrick Murphy. Analysis here.

Elections open to registered voters in the stated district, regardless of party affiliation:
  • Collier County Commission, District 2: Andy Solis. Analysis here and here.

Elections open to all registered voters in Collier County, regardless of party affiliation:
  • Collier County School Board, District 2: Stephanie Lucarelli. Analysis here and here.
  • Collier County School Board, District 4: Erick Carter. Analysis here and here.
  • Collier County Clerk of Courts: Dwight Brock. Analysis here and here.
  • Collier County Property Appraiser: Abe Skinner. Analysis here.
  • State constitutional amendment 4: Yes. Analysis here.

Voter turnout for early voting has set a record for primary elections in at least 10 years, according to the Collier County Supervisor of Elections office. Hopefully the same will hold true for the election as a whole, and not just reflect a shift from Election Day to early and vote-by-mail voting.

We’ll know on Wednesday.

Thank you to all who have considered my research and recommendations in the past 3–1/2 months since my first “Get Ready to Vote” post in May. Fingers crossed!



Help me reach more Collier County voters by sharing this post with your friends. You and they can subscribe to Sparker’s Soapbox by email at www.sparkers-soapbox.blogspot.com, “like” me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sparkers.soapbox or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Get Ready to Vote for Board of County Commissioners: An Update

In a post last May, I explained that some - but not all - Collier County voters will have the opportunity to vote in one of the BCC primary elections in August. By now, you should have received your Vote-By-Mail or sample ballot and know if you are one of them. If you have not received it, check the status here or call the Collier County Supervisor of Elections at 239–252-VOTE.

Early voting began last Saturday, August 20, and continues through this Saturday, August 27. There is no voting on Sunday or Monday; Election Day is Tuesday, August 30. You can vote at any of the early voting locations, regardless of where you live, but on Election Day, you may only vote at your precinct polling place.

Commissioners are elected to four-year staggered terms, with Districts 1, 3 and 5 on the ballot in presidential election years. Find your commission district here.

This year, since no one challenged incumbent Donna Fiala (R) for her District 1 seat, she will be automatically reelected. Due to District 2 Commissioner Georgia Hiller’s decision to run for the Clerk of Courts, this seat is on the August ballot for an abbreviated two-year term. With only Republicans qualifying to run, all District 2 voters can vote in that race. Also on the ballot, for registered Republicans only, are seats representing District 3 and District 5.

In this post, I will share my research and recommendations of who to vote for in Districts 2, 3 and 5. I relied heavily on the candidates’ responses to the League of Women Voters of Collier County (LWVCC) Environmental Affairs Committee Survey of Candidates and Candidate Profiles, the SWFL Citizens’ Alliance (SWFLCA) Voter Guide for Collier County Commissioners and the Naples Daily News endorsements.

District 2

The three Republican candidates in District 2 are James CalamariJim Carter and Andy Solis. See Calamari’s LWVCC profile here, Carter’s here and Solis’ here. Calamari’s community engagement has been in the area of security and emergency management services, while Carter’s and Solis’ service has been more broad-based. I think the latter is preferable in this role, so I focused my research on Carter and Solis.

I compared Carter’s and Solis’ answers to the LWVCC and SWFLCA surveys. Where they differed, Carter’s indicated a more libertarian approach. For example, in response to the question “Would you support the creation of a Collier County trash ordinance designed to minimize human-bear interaction,” Solis gave an unqualified “yes;” Carter wrote, “I’m not going to try and regulate bear behavior. Owners know what to do. They just need to do it.” I was put off by this flip response. No one is advocating regulating bear behavior, but I do think there is a role for government when the actions of some community members adversely affect the well-being of others.

Further, Solis’ responses to the SWFLCA survey indicated more of an open-mindedness than Carter’s. For example, in response to “Do you support reducing Florida intake of federal dollars to our total state budget over the next 5 years,” Carter said “yes;” Solis said “undecided.” In response to “Will you champion an Ordinance banning sanctuary cities in Collier County,” Carter said “yes;” Solis said “undecided.” In response to “Do you support eliminating the Florida Corporate income tax,” where “undecided” would not be an acceptable response for me, Carter said “yes;” Solis said “no.”

Andy Solis
Based on these responses, I was strongly leaning toward Solis. The Naples Daily News endorsement solidified my decision. In comparing the experience of Carter and Solis, they wrote, “Carter’s service was yesteryear. Today’s and tomorrow’s challenges lie east of District 2. Solis’ current service give him the edge to grasp that critical growth-management decisions in inland regions of Collier directly affect district residents.”

For voters in District 2, I recommend Andy Solis.

District 3

The three Republican candidates on the closed primary ballot in District 3 are Ron Kezeske, Burt Saunders and Russell Tuff. See Kezeske’s LWVCC profile here, Saunders’ here and Tuff’s here. Both Saunders and Tuff have long histories of service to Collier County, while Kezeske moved here in 2009 to attend Ave Maria Law School. Because there are two other excellent choices who would bring important qualities, connections, knowledge and experience to the job, I eliminated the relative newcomer.

Saunders knows the workings of the county commission and state legislature from the inside: he served as Collier County Attorney from 1982 - 1986, as a Collier County Commissioner from 1986 - 1994, in the Florida House from 1994 - 1998, and the Florida Senate from 1998 - 2008. A shareholder with the GrayRobinson law firm, Saunders now “lobbies for various governmental entities and serves as the Village Attorney for the Village of Estero, Florida.”

According to a 2008 Naples Daily News article about Saunders’ service in the Florida Legislature, “Nowhere was Saunders more effective than on the environmental front. A fiscal conservative, Saunders reflected the region’s environmental sensitivity and used his influence - especially as chairman of the Senate Environmental Preservation Committee - to promote a progressive environmental agenda, colleagues and environmentalists agree. During his final year, Saunders shepherded legislation to further protect the Everglades, and to continue the state’s land-buying efforts. On energy, he shared the governor’s belief in alternative fuel use and promoting energy efficiency.”

As much as I appreciate what Saunders did for us while in the Legislature, I have concerns about a former state legislator turned lobbyist coming back into a county commissioner role. While Saunders undoubtedly knows how to get things done in Tallahassee to benefit the County better than any current commissioner or candidate, I’m concerned about the revolving-door aspect of it as a matter of principle, though certainly not in any way as a reflection on the candidate in question. Rather than have Saunders back as a commissioner, I would prefer that the County continue to employ him as its lobbyist as issues requiring his expertise arise.

Russell Tuff
On the other hand, Tuff is what the Naples Daily News calls “the local guy.” He won their endorsement because “this is a district race, not a countywide contest… Through decades of civic service, Tuff already is the face of District 3, centered in the densely packed, working-class Golden Gate community. He not only knows the agenda for the district, he’s been actively leading the way in setting it.”

District 3 has many needs and I like the idea of having a commissioner who has already spent years actively working to meet them.

For Republicans in District 3, I recommend Russell Tuff.

District 5

The three Republican candidates on the closed primary ballot in District 5 are Randolph Cash, William McDaniel and Douglas Rankin. See the LWVCC profile of Cash here, McDaniel here and Rankin here.

Continuing with my approach of focusing on candidates with long track records of service to the community, I eliminated Rankin, whose commitment has been more to the Collier County Republican Party than to serving the needs of his rapidly-growing community and its many challenges. Further, Rankin did not respond to the LWVCC’s Environmental Affairs Survey while the other candidates did.

Cash and McDaniel had similar responses to the LWVCC survey. Their answers on the SWFLCA survey differred on only six of 25 questions; four of them are important matters of policy to me:

  • “Will you support fracking in Eastern Collier County?” Cash: no; McDaniel: undecided
  • “Do you support reducing Florida intake of federal dollars to our total state budget over the next 5 years?” Cash: undecided; McDaniel: yes
  • “Do you support off shore drilling in Florida outside the 10 mile limit?” Cash: undecided; McDaniel: yes
  • “Do you support developers be required to provide affordable housing as part of their development plan?” Cash: yes; McDaniel: no

Based on these responses, I was leaning more toward Cash than McDaniel, but I needed more to go on. The Naples Daily News endorsement decided it for me. It said, “In a group dynamic, five headstrong people all wanting to lead, disinclined to follow, would create repeated clash that accomplishes little. Cash convinces us that he has the savvy to discern when it’s better to lead or follow.”

Randy Cash
They also liked Cash’s “more realistic and affordable ideas for the Immokalee airfield, especially considering the airport’s proximity to panther habitat,” as opposed to McDaniel’s “grandiose plans for the Immokalee airport’s transformation with substantially widened roads, rail, a shipping hub and passenger traffic.”

The Naples Daily News commended McDaniel for his leadership of the Collier County Housing Authority, saying he “can be an asset going forward as a task force and consultant begin shaping a housing affordability plan for commission review.” I hope he will continue his efforts in this important area.

For Republicans in District 5, I recommend Randy Cash.

Summary

* If you live in District 2, regardless of your party affiliation, vote for Andy Solis.

* If you live in District 3 and are a registered Republican, vote for Russell Tuff.

* If you live in District 5 and are a registered Republican, vote for Randolph Cash.



Help me reach more Collier County voters by sharing this post with your friends. You and they can subscribe to Sparker’s Soapbox by email at www.sparkers-soapbox.blogspot.com, “like” me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sparkers.soapbox or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Get Ready to Vote for Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller

This post is about my choice for Collier County Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller (“Clerk”) in this month’s election. In my next “Get Ready to Vote” post, I’ll share my recommendations for the three County Commission races on the ballot.

All Collier voters, regardless of party affiliation or residence, can vote in this election, because only Republicans qualified to run, making what would otherwise have been a closed election open.

Dwight Brock
I wrote extensively about the two candidates for Clerk – incumbent Dwight Brock and challenger Georgia Hiller – in “Get ready to vote for the Constitutional Officers” in June. I reviewed their bios, some of the interesting history between them, and money raised to-date. I explained that I had endorsed Brock over challenger John Barlow in his re-election bid in 2012 because I believed he had served the County well as watchdog over taxpayer funds. I said I thought he was a man of principle who takes quite seriously his responsibility to uphold the law, and that his combination of professional training and on-the-job experience far exceeds that of his opponent. While I still felt that way four years later, I wasn’t quite ready in June to make my decision.

Georgia Hiller
Since then, I’ve given it a lot of thought. I attended the League of Women Voters Candidate Forum on June 29 (watch replay here), followed developments in local media, reviewed campaign contributions and endorsements, and spoke with people I respect who know one or both candidates well. I also reviewed the most recent Clerk Budget to get a more complete sense of what the job entails, how the $20.5 million budget is spent, and how many employees are involved (185, in six Departments: General Services, Clerk to the Board, Clerk of the Circuit Court, Recording and Management Information Systems).

It has been a very tough decision.

The Money


Nothing particularly concerning turned up in my review of the candidates’ contributions, but I was once again dismayed at what it costs to run for local office. Hiller has outraised Brock but I doubt that that will be the deciding factor as both have considerable name recognition. Hiller received about the same number of contributions but in larger amounts and with more for the maximum $1000. None of Hiller’s contributors identified as PACs; two of Brock’s $1000 donors did: Prosperity Florida, whose mission is “to foster and promote accountable, efficient and limited government throughout Florida, while promoting reform through market solutions,” and The Committee for Justice, about which I can find no meaningful information. Brock loaned $6000 more to his campaign than Hiller loaned to hers.

Endorsers and Critics

It’s not surprising that both candidates have their strong supporters and their harsh detractors, given their out-sized personalities, the publicly-contentious relationship between them and the differences between the Clerk and some Commissioners over the years about the role of the Clerk and, more recently, approval of vendor invoices.

Hiller’s website cites endorsements critical of Brock from former County Commissioners Jim Coletta and Fred Coyle and current Commissioner Tim Nance. Other endorsements are from former Naples Councilman Gary Price, the Greater Naples Better Government Committee and the Libertarian Party of Collier County.

Brock’s website cites endorsements from current Commissioner Tom Henning, Naples Vice Mayor Linda Penniman, former State Representative Tom Grady, Collier County Tourist Development Council Chairman Murray Hendel, prominent Naples attorney Laird A. Lile and the Collier County Republican Executive Committee.

My decision

Both candidates are CPAs, MBAs and attorneys with appropriate education for the job. Brock has built and strategically directed the organization over time and, having been elected to six successive four-year terms, it seems the public and his constituents in the judicial system believe he has managed it well.

The single glaring exception is his disputes with the BCC which are, in my opinion, substantive. I’ve been disappointed by the failure of both sides to resolve these matters professionally, courteously and without litigation. Each side and its supporters blames the other and, quite honestly, it’s an embarrassment to our community.

I agree with those who say that after 23 years, it’s time for a change. It is the responsibility of every organization’s leader to identify and train a successor, and I fault Brock for not having done so, as other Collier Constitutional Officers have done (e.g. former Sheriff Don Hunter and former Tax Collector Guy Carlson) or are doing (e.g. Supervisor of Elections Jennifer Edwards).

That said, I don’t think replacing Brock with Hiller is the answer. It takes a certain amount of management experience to lead an organization of the size (employees and budget) and complexity of the Collier Clerk’s Office. While Hiller is clearly very smart and has relevant legal and financial knowledge, she has not had the organizational management and leadership experience I believe is necessary to successfully fill the role.

I am willing to give Brock one more term, with the hope that he will actively work to identify and train a successor. I hope he will put the past behind him and make a concerted effort to work with the County Manager and new Board to resolve all outstanding differences quickly, professionally and without drama, and to bring all outstanding litigation with the County Commission to an end.

And I would very much like to see Hiller run for the State Legislature in 2018. I believe she has much to offer and, with her knowledge of local issues, could represent Collier County very well at the state level.

So after much research and deliberation, I will vote for Dwight Brock for Clerk.



Help me reach more Collier County voters by sharing this post with your friends. You and they can subscribe to Sparker’s Soapbox by email at www.sparkers-soapbox.blogspot.com, “like” me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sparkers.soapbox or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Get Ready to Vote for U.S. Senate (Democratic Primary)

Five Democratic candidates for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Marco Rubio appear on Florida Democrats’ primary ballot. They are Roque “Rocky” De La Fuente, Alan Grayson, Pam Keith, Reginald Luster and Patrick Murphy.

In this post, I’ll first take a look at the money, then tell you a bit about the candidates and share the strategy I used to decide who to recommend.

The Money

As I described in my post about the Republican Senate candidates, a look at the money reported by the candidates to the Federal Election Commission tells a great deal about the state of the race. Through June 30:


Based on their contributions, spending, cash-on-hand and lack of name recognition, I don’t think Keith or Luster have any chance against the other candidates.

De La Fuente is a mystery. His campaign is essentially self-funded with $6 million in personal loans and has far outspent his competitors – and yet I’ve never heard of him. I don’t think he has a chance either.

So before doing any other research, I have narrowed my likely choices from five candidates to two. With that, let’s look at all five, in alphabetical order.

The Candidates

"Rocky" De La Fuente
Roque “Rocky” De La Fuente, age 61, describes himself as “an extremely successful entrepreneur [who] has created thousands of jobs across the nation and throughout Central and South America, and [who] can be counted upon to do the same for Florida.”

Born in California and educated in Mexico and the U.S., De La Fuente appears to have earned his fortune in car dealerships, financial services and real estate development. As a 2016 Democratic candidate for President, he accused DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz on Facebook of blocking him from participating in debates. A resident of Orlando, he filed to run for Senate in June 2016.

His website is www.rocky2016.com, his Facebook page is here, and he’s on Twitter @VoteRocky2016. There is a Wikipedia page on him here.

Alan Grayson
Alan Grayson, age 58, is a three-term U.S. Representativewho says he is “looking forward to bringing his political, legal, and business experience to the U.S. Senate.” He announced his intention to run in July 2015.

Grayson earned his B.A. in economics, Master’s of Public Policy, and J.D. degrees from Harvard University. After law school, he spent two years (1984–85) at the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, where he clerked for future Supreme Court justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia, and five years (1986–1990) at the D.C. law firm of Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson, specializing in contract law. In the early ’90s, he helped co-found the telecom/internet company IDT Corporation, where he reportedly made his fortune.

In 1991, he founded the law firm Grayson & Kubli, PC (1991–2008), where, he says, “I specialized in whistleblower fraud cases aimed at Iraq War contractors. I am the only attorney to have successfully brought a fraud case to trial against those who illegally profited from the war in Iraq.”

In Congress

Grayson sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee (including the Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee and the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee), and on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee (including the Environment and the Oversight Subcommittees). He is Ranking Member of the Science Committee’s Subcommittee on Energy. More here.

The top three issue areas in which he has sponsored bills (2013 - present) are Taxation (32%), Economics and Public Finance (28%), and Armed Forces and National Security (13%), according to GovTrack.

Grayson is ranked fourth most progressive among the 27-member Florida Delegation and 57th most progressive of the 192 House Democrats. See GovTrack’s complete Legislative Report Card on Grayson here.

The negatives

Grayson has been called “a firebrand liberal” “dogged by ethics complaints over an offshore hedge fund he managed” and charges that he withheld information from his annual financial disclosure reports and used his office and official resources for unofficial purposes, including his Senate campaign. Grayson “waved off” the House Ethics Committee report, “arguing that the findings mean he’s practically in the clear,” said POLITICO.

More recently, he has been accused of domestic abuse by an ex-wife, as a result of which, POLITICO reports, several staffers resigned and “a chorus of Democrats called on him to quit the race, including the party’s future Senate leader,” Sen. Chuck Schumer. Grayson has vehemently denied the claims of his ex-wife.

Endorsements

There is no “endorsements” tab on Grayson’s website. He recently lost the endorsements of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and Democracy for America, high-profile progressive groups. And last week, MoveOn.org said, “We are not in a position to fully investigate these claims but take them very seriously…. In light of this disturbing news, we have decided not to issue any endorsement in this race at this time.”

Grayson’s website is senatorwithguts.com, his Facebook page is here, and he’s on Twitter @AlanGrayson. The Wikipedia page on him is here.

Pam Keith
Pam Keith, a Miami resident, is a former labor attorney and naval officer. The daughter of a U.S. Foreign Service officer, she was born in Turkey and spent most of her early years abroad. She earned Bachelor’s (1990) and Master’s (1992) degrees in rhetoric and communications from the University of California, and a J.D. (1995) from Boston College Law School. After law school, she served for four years in the U.S. Navy as a Judge Advocate (Chief Lawyer), then became a labor attorney, working with nationally-known law firms including Morgan Lewis and Jones Day in Washington, D.C. In 2011, she was recruited to join Florida Power & Light Co. / NextEra Energy, Inc. as Senior Labor and Employment Counsel. She left that position in August 2014 to run for the U.S. Senate.

Her candidacy has gotten little traction, and she rarely breaks into double-digits in the polls. With less than $2,500 in the bank on June 30, it’s hard to imagine she has much of a chance.

Keith’s website is pamkeithforsenate2016.com, her Facebook Page is here and she is @PamKeith2016 on Twitter.

Reginald Luster
Reginald Luster is a former assistant U.S. attorney and founder/owner of Reginald Luster, P.A, a civil law firm in Jacksonville, FL, and Radiant Lands Corporation, a real estate investment and management corporation. He has a B.A. in history (1985) and a J.D. (1987) from Florida State University.

With $5,000 in the bank, he, too, has little chance. His website is reginaldluster.com, his Facebook Page is here, and he’s on Twitter @Luster4USSenate.

Patrick Murphy
Patrick Murphy, age 33, has represented for Florida’s 18th congressional district since 2013. He describes himself as “a CPA and businessman who grew frustrated with the dysfunction in Washington and decided to take action.” He is a native of the Florida Keys. According to his website, “After graduating from the University of Miami with majors in accounting and finance, Patrick went on to work as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) for Deloitte and Touche, auditing Fortune 500 companies, before establishing his own environmental cleanup business.”

This description of his pre-Congress work experience and college degree has been the target of GOP attacks, and subsequent defense by President Obama. (See GOP hits Murphy in Florida Senate race, and Obama hits back.)

Murphy lives in Jupiter, FL, and filed to run for Senate in November 2015.

In Congress

Murphy sits on the House Financial Services Committee (including the Capital Markets and Government Sponsored Enterprises Subcommittee and the Monetary Policy and Trade Subcommittee), and on the House Intelligence Committee (including the Department of Defense Intelligence and Overhead Architecture Subcommittee and the National Security Agency and Cybersecurity Subcommittee). More here.

The top four issue areas in which he has sponsored bills (2013 - present) are Taxation (26%), Government Operations and Politics (23%), Social Welfare (11%) and Armed Forces and National Security (11%), according to GovTrack.

He is ranked fifth most progressive among the 27-member Florida Delegation and 69th most progressive of the 192 House Democrats. See GovTrack’s complete Legislative Report Card on Murphy here.

The negatives

As mentioned above, Murphy is being attacked for misrepresenting his background. A web ad by a PAC supporting Rubio’s campaign says Murphy “isn’t who he says he is.” The Murphy campaign has “pushed back.” PolitiFact Florida “found that Murphy’s description of his past employment is based on actual circumstances, but at times he omits a full explanation.”

Endorsements

A win in Florida could help shift the Senate back to Democratic control, and Party leaders early on thought Murphy, a moderate, had a better chance than “firebrand” Grayson of beating any of the Republicans expected to run.

Murphy has been endorsed by President Obama, Vice President Biden, 11 U.S. Senators (including Chuck Schumer, Harry Reid and Tim Kaine) and dozens of Congressmen. He has also been endorsed by numerous unions and groups, including the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the Florida Education Association (FEA), the Florida Police Benevolent Association (PBA) and NARAL Pro-Choice America, and there is an extensive list of state legislative and local endorsements.

I suspect that Murphy’s strong support and standing in the polls led to Republican Party pressure on Marco Rubio to reverse his earlier pledge not to run. “The decision instantly transform[ed] an already competitive race and improv[ed] Republicans’ chances of maintaining the Senate majority,” wrote PowerPost.

Murphy’s website is murphyforflorida.com, his Facebook page is here and he’s on Twitter @PatrickMurphyFL. The TV commerical in which President Obama endorses Murphy is here. The Wikepedia page on him is here.

The Polls

The most current RealClearPolitics average of Florida Senate Democratic Primary polls, taken between March 2 and June 27, shows Murphy with 29.3%, Grayson with 21.0%, Keith with 6.5%, and Other/Undecided with 43.2%.

More recently, a StPetePolls.org poll on August 2 of 1,807 likely voters showed Murphy with 44.7%, Grayson with 20.1%, Keith with 7.2% and Other/Undecided with 27.9%.

Not only is Murphy the likely winner in the Democratic Primary, he also seems to have the best chance of beating Rubio in November, according to the most recent RCP averages – although the win itself is not likely:

RealClearPolitics Florida Senate Match-Ups as of 8/6/16
My Decision

I’m a pragmatic primary voter. Like the Democratic Party leaders who anointed Murphy, I would like to see control of the Senate go to the Democrats. I am not particularly bothered by the charges that Murphy inflated his resume. And if the more-liberal Bernie Sanders couldn’t beat the more-moderate Hillary Clinton in the Presidential Preference Primary in March, why expect Grayson to beat Murphy in November?

Murphy is the Senate Primary candidate with the best chance of the five candidates of beating Rubio. That’s why I recommend a vote for Patrick Murphy in the August primary.



Help me reach more Collier County voters by sharing this post with your friends. You and they can subscribe to Sparker’s Soapbox by email at www.sparkers-soapbox.blogspot.com, “like” me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sparkers.soapbox or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Get Ready to Vote for U.S. Senate (Republican Primary)

Four Republicans qualified for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Marco Rubio, who in the final days decided to run for re-election. Rubio’s challengers are Carlos Beruff, Ernie Rivera and Dwight Mark Anthony Young.

In this post, I’ll first take a look at the money, then tell you a bit about the candidates and share the strategy I used to decide who I will vote for.

The Money

I was surprised at how much of the story was told by the candidates’ federal campaign finance filings. Through June 30:



Rivera does not have a chance against Beruff and Rubio, given his limited funding through March 31. He didn’t file the second quarter report that was due July 15.

Young filed his Statement of Candidacy on July 5; no other information about his campaign finances is available on the federal website

Beruff seems to plan to buy his way into the Senate. Having seen his TV ads, I was surprised to realize that he had spent $4.4 million, including over $4 million of his own money, through June 30 … and who knows how much more since then? How much does it cost to buy a Senate seat? His ads these days tie him to Trump and Scott. Will that do it?

Rubio’s money is interesting. Individual contributions through June 30 totalled $1.7 million; he also had Party Committee contributions of $46,800 and Other Committee contributions of $450,100. No loans to his own campaign. And through June 30, only $173,870 of expenditures. Time will tell what he does with the money.

With that look at the money, let’s turn to the candidates.

Marco Rubio
Marco Rubio is Florida’s junior U.S. Senator. He is 45 years old, born in Miami in 1971 of Cuban immigrants. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida (1993) and a law degree from the University of Miami (1996). Two years after law school, he entered politics as Commissioner - City of West Miami, where he served for two years before running successfully for the Florida House of Representatives. There, he served the maximum eight years, the final two as Speaker. Bypassing the Florida Senate, he then ran for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Mel Martinez (R) in 2009. Rubio won in a three-way race with 48.89 percent of the vote, beating challengers Charlie Crist (Independent - 29.71 percent) and Kendrick Meek (Democrat - 20.20 percent of the vote).

His website lays out his positions on seven issues:

  1. Florida water (“pass the Central Everglades Planning Project”);
  2. America’s seniors (“protecting” them);
  3. Farmers and Ranchers (“getting government out of the way of”);
  4. Second Amendment (“protecting the sacred rights” of gun owners);
  5. Reforming the VA;
  6. American Strength ("building” the military; calling out “radical Islam”);
  7. Taxes (reforming the tax code).

His website is marcorubio.com, his Facebook page is here and he’s on Twitter @marcorubio.

Carlos Beruff
Carlos Beruff is a Florida real estate developer who founded Medallion Home in Bradenton, FL, in 1994. Born in 1958, he is 58 years old. Like Rubio, he was born in Miami to Cuban immigrants. He attended Stetson University, then the University of South Florida, but did not earn a degree.

ABC7 said he is “one of the wealthiest developers in Southwest Florida” whose political influence was “fueled by campaign contributions to then Florida Governor Charlie Crist.” He has never held elective office, but served as a 2008 Crist appointee on the boards of the Southwest Florida Water Management District, the State College of Florida and the Manatee-Sarasota Airport Authority, which overseas the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport. He supported Crist in the 2010 Senate election, but then “shifted his allegiance to Governor Rick Scott, who appointed him to his health panel and reappointed him to positions already held.”

Beruff “talks to Scott at least once a week”), and Scott endorsed him in June.

A Google search on Carlos Beruff reveals self-professed business mistakes and a $235,000 tax avoidance scheme that Democratic Senator Bill Nelson also benefited from on a lesser scale (see here). In 2010, Medallion Homes was accused of building homes with contaminated Chinese drywall.

Beruff lists 13 issues on his website:

  1. Obamacare (“a disaster”);
  2. Jobs and Economy (“the Obama Administration has done nothing but hurt businesses and slow job creation”);
  3. Energy and Environment (“pro-environment is not anti-business”);
  4. Life (“no principle is as important as the sanctity of life”);
  5. 2nd Amendment (“our founding fathers gave all Americans the right to bear arms”);
  6. Immigration (“a country without borders is not a country at all”):
  7. Foreign Policy (“America’s standing in the world has been unconscionably diminished”);
  8. National Security and Terrorism (“the threats to our national security are growing by the day”);
  9. Veterans (… “they have given us everything”);
  10. Education (“I’ll fight to end Common Core”);
  11. Cuba (“President Obama’s Cuba policy is personally offensive to me”):
  12. Spending & the National Debt (“I’ve built a business so I know … about living within your means”);
  13. Protecting Our Seniors (“I will never support anything that would hurt current retirees”).

Beruff was the only major Republican candidate to remain in the Senate race after Rubio reversed previous statements and decided to run. He uses his support for Trump in attack ads against Rubio. (See here.)

His campaign website is carlosberuff.com, his Facebook page is here, he’s on YouTube here and on Twitter @carlosberuff.

Ernie Rivera
Ernie Rivera was born in Tallahassee in 1958 and is of Puerto Rican heritage.

He says “his goal is to take back the country for the Lord and move forward with/for US citizens, Floridians, and the wonderful Puerto Rican people.”

His website lists six issues, each with considerable detail.

His website is ernierivera.com, his Facebook page is here, and he’s on Twitter @ernierivera2016.


Dwight M. A. Young
Dwight Mark Anthony Young is a Detention Deputy working for the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. He is 50 years old and has a B.A in Political Science from Queens College New York.

In a “Meet the Candidate” piece, Young said, “I have decided to run for the US Senate because of what I see as the political betrayal of our Political leaders in regards to the Constitution of America. I see it as my civic duty to do something about this problem.”

I could find no campaign website or Facebook Page and very little about Young online.

My Strategy

My strategy is to vote for the candidate most likely to lose to the Democratic challenger in November.

According to a June 29 Naked Politics | Miami Herald post titled “Poll: Marco Rubio leads Carlos Beruff by 64(!) percentage points,” Rubio “trounced” Beruff 71–7 percent in a June 27–28 poll of 750 likely voters, with 18 percent of voters undecided. Rivera and Young each got 2 percent of the vote.

The two leading candidates in the Democratic Senate primary are Patrick Murphy and Alan Grayson.

A Quinnipiac University poll taken June 30 - July 11 had Rubio beating Murphy by 13 points and beating Grayson by 12 points. Quinnipiac writes, "The breadth of Sen. Rubio’s lead against Rep. Patrick Murphy, who has the backing of the Democratic leadership, is impressive. He has a 19-point margin among independent voters and scores 10 points better among Republicans than Murphy does among Democrats.” The same poll shows Murphy beating Beruff 40/34, and a Beruff/Grayson race tied at 38/38.

The Real Clear Politics polling average for 6/15 - 7/11 shows Rubio beating Murphy by 4.4 points, and beating Grayson by 7.3 points.

My Decision

Rivera and Young aren’t worth considering. Democrats seems to have a better chance of winning the Senate seat in November against Beruff than against Rubio.

For that reason, I will vote for Carlos Beruff for U.S. Senate in the August primary.



Help me reach more Collier County voters by sharing this post with your friends. You and they can subscribe to Sparker’s Soapbox by email at www.sparkers-soapbox.blogspot.com, “like” me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sparkers.soapbox or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Last chance to change your party affiliation before the August primaries

Monday, August 1, is the last day to change your party affiliation if you want to vote in the August 2016 primary election of the party in which you most want your voice to be heard.

To do so, complete a Voter Registration Form – even if you are already registered. Be sure to check the box to indicate “Record Update/Change (e.g. Address, Party Affiliation, Name, Signature.” Update your signature while you’re at it.

You may complete the form online and then print, sign and deliver it to the Supervisor of Elections Office.

Or if you prefer to fill in the application by hand, you can download and print the form:

Florida Voter Registration Application — English
Florida Voter Registration Application — Spanish

They must have an ORIGINAL signature. Faxed or emailed forms are not valid and will not be accepted.

Deliver the completed, signed form to the Collier County Supervisor of Elections NEW LOCATION between the hours of 8 AM - 5 PM:

Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr Building
3750 Enterprise Avenue
Naples FL 34104
Get directions

If you want to check the status of your registration, including your party affiliation, click here.

If you have any questions, contact the Supervisor of Elections office at (239) 252-VOTE.

Don’t miss out on your opportunity to vote in the August primaries!



Help me reach more Collier County voters by sharing this post with your friends. You and they can subscribe to Sparker’s Soapbox by email at www.sparkers-soapbox.blogspot.com, “like” me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sparkers.soapbox or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.