Sunday, October 26, 2014

Guest Post: Study the Candidates

I completely agree with this letter to the editor of the Naples Daily News by School Board member Julie Sprague. It was published on October 23 and is reprinted here with her permission.

There is a very important election coming on Nov. 4 that will determine a new School Board member serving our district for the next four years.

When I joined the board in 2008, the school district had been placed on "warning" status by the school accrediting organization SACS CASI for two consecutive years and was in jeopardy of losing its accreditation because of board dysfunction.

Collectively over the past several years, the present five School Board members have worked diligently to restore our accreditation to full status, bring stability and respect back to the district and renew the faith from our constituents. Sadly, Barbara Berry and Pat Carroll, whose combined service to our district is over 20 years, will step down in November. Their leadership will be sorely missed.

We need strong, rational leadership to fill this void — someone who will continue to work together with present board members and the superintendent to address the educational challenges we face.

There are very distinct differences between the candidates running for the board. Study them carefully and choose a candidate who clearly supports our traditional public schools, understands your views and has the best interest of all of our Collier County students as their central focus.

Please exercise your right to vote. Approximately 80 percent of voters did not cast a ballot in the primary election for School Board in August. Allowing 20 percent of voters to select someone to fill a four-year term is not acceptable. Sitting idly by and hoping for the best is not an option. There are 45,000 kids depending on you.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Guest Post: School Board Election Significant for All

This post by John Lynch appeared in a Naples Daily News online blog called "Political Point of View by Collier Democrats" on October 22. It appears here at Mr. Lynch's request; he asks that readers share it with others. I urge you to do so. Vote for Kathy Ryan for School Board.

School Board Election Significant For All
by John Lynch

There are not many dramatic School Board Elections. In the case of the run-off election between Erika Donalds and Dr. Kathy Ryan, a serious consequence is in the making:

1. Mrs. Donalds is a staunch Tea Party organizer. A founder of the Tea Party in Collier County and an integral member of Collier Freedom Council 912. She was the campaign manager for her husband, Byron Donalds’ unsuccessful run for Congress under the Tea Party banner. It should be noted that Byron Donalds is a vice-president of Mason Classical Academy. Mrs. Donalds describes herself as an “advisor” to MCA, though a search of records shows that she has had other posts at the Academy. She is closely allied with Kelly Lichter, the founder of MCA, who has been elected to District 1.

2. Mrs. Lichter shares the same political beliefs as Mrs. Donalds and has been active in Tea Party politics along with her husband in the Collier Freedom Council 912.

3. The Tea Party represents a particular world view, one that denies the role of a federal government, does not accept the authority of the State and will engage in obstructive politics to foster its aims. This world view is isolationist and convinced of the belief that our public school system is a failure; that teachers are liberal plants whose task it is to warp the minds of children. An extreme characterization? Not if you have attended meetings at which speakers are shouted down in an organized way. All knowledge and wisdom, even about the technical aspects of education, are subordinate to the wishes of a vocal minority. The sham debates sponsored by another Tea Party group, the Southwest Florida Citizens Alliance, were built to showcase the campaigns of the two Tea Party candidates.

4. Mrs. Donalds is an accomplished financial professional. She rose to prominence over several issues by founding a parents’ group. The two issues she brought to the public were of some importance; not enough to qualify her for board membership. The first issue was lack of consultation over contracts for after-school programs. The second was the installation of a cell phone transmission tower on a school property. She used these concerns to begin to build her campaign. She has not campaigned about the many other cell towers on the property of many other schools. We have not heard much lately about her objections to the re-vamped after-school programs. These issues are ‘thin gruel’ justifying a rampage through our schools.

Then there is the issue of campaign funds. Mrs. Donalds has accumulated over $80,000 in campaign funds. At least in Collier County, this is new in a school district election. You can see the list of donors by going to the Supervisor of Elections website . Thousands have come from outside the County, notably from political action groups. For a non-partisan election, it would seem that this race has taken on the very same characteristics that we find in the blood sport of our political environment.

What is the interest and goals of these outside contributors? It is part of a nation-wide efforts to build the most radically conservative political machine from the ground up.

What does this portend for the future? All it will take in the next round of elections is to vote in one more school district board member of a similar stripe to Mrs. Donalds and Mrs. Lichter to have a board composed of a Tea Party majority. At the very least, with the election of Mrs. Donalds, we are in for controversy and delay. Further support of our public schools will be eroded by the approval of many more charter schools, the good and the bad. The Naples Daily News series of articles illuminates this.

Dr. Ryan is a consummate education professional. She has the wisdom and the intellect to guide us through to the next evolution of education. She has spent her life in service to the students of Collier County and has been particularly successful with both the advantaged and the disadvantaged. Is she the polished campaigner with an overwhelming fund-raising capacity? Probably not. Some will say this is a virtue. Our children do not need experimentation and radical change. They need steadiness, structure and dedication. Will Dr. Kathy Ryan be able to shepherd us through the tangle of educational theory, technological advance, and changing demographics? We have no doubts about this.


Friday, October 17, 2014

We need to do something about this

I care very much about public education. I am proud of the way our School Board returned civility and professionalism to Board meetings, after being on the brink of nearly losing the District’s accreditation because of the behavior of prior members of the Board.

For that reason, I was very disturbed to learn that Sports CLUB, parent/attorney Steve Bracci and Parents ROCK are appealing the decision a Florida judge reached a few months ago in favor of the School District after a year-long battle. The judge ruled that the District was completely within its rights when it approved the decisions of six elementary school principals to replace Sports CLUB with another after-school program provider.

Not only am I disturbed that our District and our School Board (which is also named in the appeal) are being put through this process, but I am concerned because one of the School Board candidates on the ballot now - Erika Donalds - is the founder of Parents ROCK.


For some history on this issue, click here.

In addition to founding Parents ROCK, Ms. Donalds was significantly involved in the formation of Mason Classical Academy, a Hillsdale College public charter school that opened in Collier County last month. Her husband Byron is Vice President of MCA’s Governing Board. According to her bio on the website of The Joe Whitehead Show, Ms. Donalds also serves on the governing board of the Collier Freedom Council, as the Treasurer for the Collier County Young Republicans, and as a Precinct Committeewoman on the Collier County Republican Executive Committee. She is also involved with the Naples Tea Party, the SWFL Citizens Alliance and the Republican Women’s Club of Naples.

Her bio also says, "As a grassroots activist, Erika has worked on a number of campaigns and was the Campaign Manager for her husband Byron Donalds’ campaign for US Congress in 2012."

Ms. Donalds has said if she is elected, she will not be involved in any volunteer organizations. However her leadership, vision and passion for Parents ROCK cannot be denied. She is the one who brought the group together. She is the one who directed its activities. She is also the one who is providing guidance about how parents can opt out of testing.

I certainly have no problem with grassroots activism; I’ve been a grassroots organizer myself. But I do have concerns with the possibility of the founder/leader/visionary of a group that is suing the School District and the School Board serving on the very Board she is suing.

The importance of the race for the District 3 School Board seat between Erika Donalds and Kathy Ryan cannot be overstated.

I strongly support Kathy Ryan and urge you to do all you can to help her get elected.

In particular, letters to the editor would be very effective. Email your letter (250 words max) to letters@naplesnews.com or submit it online at http://www.naplesnews.com/send-a-letter/.

If you share my concerns, please forward this email to other voters in your circles of influence. Let them know their vote is important - and why. Ask them to vote for Kathy Ryan for School Board District 3.

Thanks for your interest in our schools.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

How I will vote: summary

Election Day - November 4
Over the past weeks, I’ve shared the research I’ve done in order to decide on the candidates and issues on my 2014 Midterm Election ballot.

Here is a summary, with links back to the underlying posts, of how I will vote:

For Governor & Lieutenant Governor - Charlie Crist & Annette Taddeo

For Attorney General - George Sheldon

For Chief Financial Officer - William “Will” Rankin

For Commissioner of Agriculture - Thaddeus Thad Hamilton

For District Court of Appeal Merit Retention - Yes for Judges Allenbernd, Silberman and Sleet

For School Board District 3 - Kathy Ryan

For Soil & Water Conservation Group 4 - James M. Lang

For Soil & Water Conservation Group 5 - Clarence S. Tears, Jr.

For Amendment 1, Water and Land Conservation - Yes

For Amendment 2, Use of Marijuana for Certain Medical Conditions - No

For Amendment 3, Prospective Appointment of Certain Judicial Vacancies - No

If you will be voting by mail, please be sure that you sign the back of your ballot with the signature that will match the one on file with the Supervisor of Elections office. If your signature has changed or you are unsure if your signature will match, NOW is the time to make sure there won’t be a problem. Call the Collier County Supervisor of Elections at 239–252-VOTE and ask them how you can check your signature.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

My vote on Amendment 3, Prospective Appointment of Certain Judicial Vacancies

As I learned in “Voting for Judges: Where to Begin?,” Florida’s governor appoints justices of the Supreme Court and judges of the District Courts of Appeal.

A judicial appointment may be necessary when a justice or judge reaches the mandatory retirement age of 70, fails to qualify for a retention election, or fails to secure a majority of votes during his or her retention election.

According to the Florida Constitution, a vacancy exists at the expiration of the term being served. A vacancy cannot be filled prospectively.

That’s the situation Amendment 3 wants to change.

Amendment 3 would require a governor to prospectively fill appellate court vacancies, not wait until the end of the outgoing judge’s term of office.

More than 60 percent of the Florida Legislature (including Collier’s Senator Garrett Richter and Representatives Matt Hudson, Kathleen Passidomo and Carlos Trujillo) approved the proposed Amendment on a party-line vote (Republicans for, Democrats against) in the 2014 Legislative Session. They said it’s needed to avoid the “enormous burden [that would be placed] on the remaining members of the court” “if a judicial nominating commission is forced to delay the beginning of its proceedings until a judge leaves office.”

From the League of Women Voters of Florida Education Fund 2014 Nonpartisan Voter Guide:
In 2006, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that Judicial Nominating Commissions could begin their interviewing and nominating process prior to a judicial vacancy occurring, but an appointment could not be made until after the justice’s or judge’s term actually expired.

Because it is possible for a justice’s or judge’s term to end on the same day that a new Governor takes office, the Florida Supreme Court’s 2006 opinion can be read as authorizing the newly sworn-in Governor to fill those vacancies….

In a situation in which a judicial vacancy is created on the first day of a new Governor’s term, Amendment 3 would authorize the outgoing Governor – rather than the newly elected Governor – to appoint the successor judge or justice.
The matter is not a hypothetical one. Three Florida Supreme Court justices will have reached the mandatory retirement age and are scheduled to step down in January 2019, when the term of the governor elected next month - Rick Scott or Charlie Crist - ends.

According to the Orlando Sentinel’s “Reject Amendment 3” editorial,
Ironically, the three justices are the same ones — Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince — whom Republican leaders in the Florida House tried to marginalize in 2011. Those leaders hatched a plan to relegate the justices to a new criminal appeals court and create three new high court vacancies for Scott to fill, but the scheme stalled amid bipartisan opposition in the state Senate.

These are also the same three justices who drew unprecedented opposition from the Republican Party of Florida in their retention elections in 2012. Scott would have filled those vacancies if the justices had lost their seats, but voters kept them on the bench.
The Naples Daily News, which has yet to take an editorial position on the Amendment, printed a guest commentary by Former Supreme Court Justice Harry Lee Anstead, who served on Florida’s highest court from 1994 to 2009. Justice Anstead wrote:
Don’t be fooled. This is not a simple clarification. It is a wholesale change from what our constitution currently allows. There can be no confusion when the constitution is already clear on its face on the question of when judicial vacancies occur….

This process has provided for timely and orderly replacement of retiring justices and other Florida judges for more than four decades. If there are delays in an appointment, as there have frequently been, the chief justice has long used several options for ensuring the work of the court moves forward without interruption. The chief justice has the authority to either extend the service of a retiring justice until the appointment is made, or the chief can appoint a temporary replacement from other sitting judges. Both alternatives have been utilized repeatedly over the years to provide for smooth transitions. This history proves any alleged crisis of delay in processing the court’s cases is a false threat.
The Tampa Bay Tribune says:
We agree clarity is needed but think this proposed amendment offers the wrong solution. A governor who just lost an election or is leaving because of term limits should not be allowed to pack the court with like-minded jurists on the way out the door. That authority would be better vested with a newly elected governor who has just won a popular vote. Or perhaps a compromise of shared authority between the outgoing and incoming governors might be a fairer solution.
Regarding that suggestion, the Tampa Bay Times pointed out that in 1998:
The Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission began vetting candidates under outgoing Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles, but Chiles and incoming Republican Gov. Jeb Bush jointly chose Quince from the JNC’s list of nominees. Lawmakers could easily require such a schedule in statute. Or the 2017 Constitution Revision Commission could offer other fairer solutions.
The Tampa Bay Tribune also supports having the Constitution Revision Commision consider the matter:
…[W]e think that process would be better left to the state’s Constitution Revision Commission, which meets again in 2017 and will have a chance to tackle the question before the three jurists retire in 2019. The commission meets every 20 years to consider possible amendments for voters to decide.
The League of Women Voters of Florida, too, says “vote no on 3.”
The League of Women Voters of Florida has been concerned with justice in Florida since the League began here seventy-five years ago… At all times, the League has advocated for an independent judiciary, free of political influence….[T]he League cannot support an amendment that could be used to undermine the independence of the judiciary; that is why we do not support Amendment 3.
So who, other than the Republican members of the Florida Legislature, supports the Amendment? I could find just two endorsers: the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the Florida Farm Bureau.

The Florida Chamber says it supports Amendment 3 because it:
  • Clarifies existing constitutional language to specify that the outgoing governor appoints incoming Florida Supreme Court Justices and district court of appeal judges if a vacancy occurs at the same time as the outgoing governor’s term ends.
  • Cannot be solved through legislation and must be passed as a constitutional amendment.
  • Prevents the possibility of legal challenges and confusion when governors change and judicial vacancies occur.

The Florida Farm Bureau, whose mission is “to increase the net income of farmers and ranchers, and to improve the quality of rural life,” endorsed the Amendment but gave no rationale for its support.

How I’ll vote
The editorials I read are compelling. I’m especially persuaded by Justice Anstead’s guest commentary. This Amendment is a solution in search of a problem. The system works just fine for now. If there’s a need to address the possibility of legal challenges and confusion when governors change and judicial vacancies occur, the 2017 Constitution Revision Commission is the right place to deal with it.

As Justice Anstead wrote:
The scheme proposed in Amendment 3 gives a departing governor the power to tip the scales of justice for partisan reasons on the way out the door, with impunity. And, therein lies the easily identified real intent of this amendment.
I will vote no on Amendment 3.

Regarding proposed Amendment 1


This guest post by Susan Calkins provides excellent background for voters’ decision-making about Amendment 1, The Florida Water and Land Conservation Amendment. Ms. Calkins is a retired professor of anthropology/sociology, Florida Master Naturalist engaged in environmental policy issues, graduate of the Greater Naples Leadership Master’s Program, and recipient of 2007 Jefferson Award for Public Service. The post appears here with her permission, because I too will vote yes on Amendment 1. But its appearance does not constitute Ms. Calkins' endorsement of any of my past or future posts.

Amendment 1 Needs Your YES vote
By Susan Calkins, Naples

Susan Calkins
The citizens of Florida have long been committed to the protection of the natural resources of their state, a state soon to be the third largest in the nation. Article II, Section 7 of the Florida constitution states, “It shall be the policy of the state to conserve and protect its natural resources and scenic beauty.” For years, voters have supported funding to do just that.

In 1972 the Florida Legislature passed the Land Conservation Act, creating the Environmentally Endangered Lands (EEL) program, designed specifically to “protect environmentally unique and irreplaceable lands.” In 1979 this program was replaced by the Conservation and Recreation Lands Program (CARL), which established a land acquisition/management advisory council and made other significant administrative changes to the program.

In 1981, at the urging of Governor Bob Graham, two more programs – the Save Our Coast and the Save Our Rivers – were established to fund the purchase of critical coastal lands (SOC) and the acquisition and restoration of water resources (SOR). The SOC program resulted in the purchase of more than 73 miles of coastline and thereby significantly increased the number of coastal state parks. The SOR program largely funded Everglades restoration efforts.

By 1989 Florida was experiencing a major population “boom.” Irreplaceable, sensitive environmental lands had begun to disappear at an alarming rate. The pace of land acquisition, hampered by the year-to-year funding mechanism, could not keep up with development.

In response, Governor Bob Martinez appointed a Commission on the Future of Florida’s Environment. The Commission concluded that at the current rate of growth, the state would lose 3 million acres of wetlands (our freshwater recharge areas) as well as over 500 endangered and threatened species. They advised a more aggressive source of funding for conservation was needed. Consequently, in 1990 the Legislature approved the Preservation 2000 Act that provided for the sale of $3 billion in bonds over a 10-year period, providing $300 million per year from 1991–2000. The program was not only successful, preserving almost 2 million acres of land for conservation and resource-based recreation; it had the strong support of the general public.

In 1999 the Florida Legislature, with the support of Governor Jeb Bush, passed the successor to the Preservation 2000 Act — the Florida Forever Act. Although using the same source and amount of funding ($300 million a year), this new act made several changes to the previous program. Besides organizational changes, there was a greater emphasis on water resources and supply, and a new emphasis on purchasing conservation easements on lands such as existing farm and ranch lands.

Like its predecessor, Preservation 2000, Florida Forever was popular with the citizenry, no doubt because Florida was still losing land to development at a rate of nearly 500 acres per day. Hence in 2008, the highly successful Florida Forever program was reauthorized at the amount of $300 million per year for another ten years.

However, the Great Recession saw the Florida Forever program decimated; in 2010 funding for the program was cut by an estimated 95 percent. During the 4 years of Governor Scott’s administration, the Legislature diverted conservation trust fund dollars elsewhere, primarily to the newly created Department of Economic Opportunity.


Between 2011 and 2014, just less than $29 million went to Florida Forever conservation projects. Protection of our waters and environmentally sensitive lands appeared to have lost the bipartisan support it had enjoyed for so many years. And just at a time when conservation lands were more affordable.

In response, a coalition of civic and environmental organizations created the Florida’s Water and Land Legacy campaign to petition for a constitutional amendment, which would dedicate 33 percent of existing real estate transfer fees (“doc stamp” tax) toward water and land conservation.

Approximately a million Floridians signed petitions to put the Florida Water and Land Conservation Amendment on the Nov. 4 ballot.

If passed, Amendment #1 would dedicate less than 1 percent of the state’s annual budget to conservation. The amendment does not create a new tax. And it is of limited duration, expiring in 20 years. It does not change or affect land use regulations; it is only a funding source.
The Florida Water and Land Conservation Amendment

TITLE: Water and Land Conservation - Dedicates funds to acquire and restore Florida conservation and recreation lands

SUMMARY: Funds the Land Acquisition Trust Fund to acquire, restore, improve, and manage conservation lands including wetlands and forests; fish and wildlife habitat; lands protecting water resources and drinking water sources, including the Everglades, and the water quality of rivers, lakes, and streams; beaches and shores; outdoor recreational lands; working farms and ranches; and historic or geologic sites, by dedicating 33 percent of net revenues from the existing excise tax on documents for 20 years.
Do we need this amendment now?

Yes. We can no longer afford to have the conservation and protection of our natural resources dependent upon the whims of the Legislature. Remember, we will soon be the third largest state in the U.S.; in fact, we may be right now. Our rapid population growth has continued to put tremendous pressure on our natural resources, and the task of protecting them is more critical than ever.

The Florida Forever program has identified over two million acres of environmentally sensitive lands still in need of protection – among them lands necessary to protect water quality. Since the vast majority of Floridians get their drinking water from groundwater sources, conserving our wetlands, and the lands which buffer our springs and rivers, is essential to us.

Unfortunately, a recent report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration identified southwest Florida as a “hot spot” for recent wetland loss. These wetlands are vital; they trap floodwaters, recharge groundwater supplies, remove pollution and provide fish and wildlife habitat. One-third of Floridians are dependent upon our most precious and endangered wetlands, the Everglades, for their drinking water supply.

In addition, most of our bays and estuaries, rivers and lakes currently do not meet the State of Florida 2010 water quality standards for safe public use. Locally, Naples Bay is an impaired (polluted) water body under both the federal Clean Water Act and the Florida Watershed Restoration Act (F.S. 403.067). And polluted waters (think toxic algae blooms) have been tied to the death of scores of dolphins, birds and other wildlife, not to mention a record number of manatee deaths (829 last year). These impaired water bodies not only threaten our wildlife and our quality of life; they also put Florida’s 65 billion a year tourism industry at risk.

Wetland areas and water bodies like Naples Bay can be restored and protected — but it is a costly task. We have accomplished a great deal as a state when it comes to protecting our natural resources and our scenic beauty. But we still have work to be done.

If we want to save our “paradise” for ourselves and for future generations, we need 60% of voters to say YES to Amendment #1, the Florida Water and Land Conservation Amendment. YES.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Regarding proposed Amendment 2

This guest post by Michael Reagen provides excellent information for voters’ decision-making about Amendment 2, Use of Marijuana for Certain Medical Conditions. Dr. Reagen is a citizen member of The Fort Myers News-Press Editorial Board, and this opinion piece appeared in the News-Press Sunday, October 12. It is republished here with his permission, because I too will vote no on Amendment 2. But its appearance does not constitute endorsement by Dr. Reagen of any of my past or future posts.

Michael Reagen
Vote No on Amendment 2
By Michael Reagen, Naples

By absentee ballot, I voted “No” on Amendment 2 and I hope 60 percent of Floridians will also vote “No.”

Years ago, I directed the Institute for Drug Abuse Education at Syracuse University and edited a book of papers by experts on illicit drug use, including marijuana or “MJ,” as we called it then. Since then, I have had mixed feelings about the legal classifications, law enforcement obligations and criminal penalties for growing, selling, possessing and using MJ … all issues for maybe another column because they are complicated aspects of our complex society. So, before voting, I read, asked questions and thought a lot.

I am now convinced Amendment 2 is not a good proposal and I enthusiastically voted “No!” Here’s why.

Administration problems
If enacted, Amendment 2 will permit growing, buying, possessing and using medical MJ when recommended by a physician to treat certain medical conditions.

Among those urging to vote “No” on Amendment 2 are the Florida Medical Association, Florida Sheriff’s Association, American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, National Institute of Drug Abuse, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Association, Food and Drug Association, Drug Enforcement Agency, American Society of Addiction Medicine, and Drug Free Florida.

All of us seek pleasure, avoid pain and try to advance what we think is our personal advantage. But most in health care, science, law enforcement and human services professions live lives that are primarily motivated to seek social balance and the common good. If they are worried about the administration of medical MJ, so am I.

Efficacy issues
There is no credible scientific evidence recognized by the FDA that it has good health efficacy. Rather, considerable evidence exists to suggest regular use of MJ has the opposite effect and bad ramifications, including opening the door for use of more serious, addictive drugs to initially help folks feel happy. Surely, before we enact a law permitting a drug’s use to improve health, we should have rigorous evidence that it will do so.

Amendment 2 does say medical MJ may be used for treatment of a few illnesses and says regulations that will have the force of law must be developed by the Florida Department of Health and be reasonable, available and posit safe use. But the protocols for all of these have yet to be fully developed. And to do so properly will take a while.

Meanwhile, upon enactment, pressure will build on physicians and law enforcement. Florida, sadly, has seen its small share of doctors who have illegally profited from pushing pills. Many physicians, I am told, worry about pressure to prescribe MJ in the future.

Wrong process
Many public opinion polls suggest a large percentage of Americans are pessimistic about the future and deeply disenchanted by the lack of balanced problem-solving by our elected officials. Surely, we are gridlocked in Washington, and several state legislatures seemingly are not focusing on core infrastructures and human service issues.

Florida has a proclivity for using its constitutional amendment process to historically deal with issues involving gestating pigs to now medical MJ. Many, including me, view national and state constitutions, county and municipal charters as sacral in our secular society which should only be subject to rare, thoughtful and well-studied changes. Many believe our elected officials, our legislators … those elected to make policy … should carefully and thoughtful enact laws to minimize unintended, rippling consequences.

I voted No to Amendment 2 because I think the Legislature should take the time to properly study and deal with the issue of legalizing the medical use of a now illicit drug.

My votes for Florida’s Agriculture Commissioner and Chief Financial Officer

The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services “supports and promotes Florida agriculture, protects the environment, safeguards consumers, and ensures the safety and wholesomeness of food.”

The Department of Financial Services is responsible for Insurance, Treasury, State Fire Marshal, Banking and Finance.

The officials who head both departments, along with the Governor and Attorney General, make up the Florida Cabinet, which sits as a collective decision- and rule-making body for the state. The Cabinet oversees numerous boards and commissions that significantly affect the economy and daily lives of Floridians, including:
Many people don’t realize the power Cabinet members have, not only over the departments they oversee, but in all matters controlled by the Executive Branch of Florida’s government.
Reflecting the concern that a single person might exercise too much power, Floridians ratified the Florida Constitution of 1968, affirming the independence of Cabinet members by deleting the phrase, “the Governor shall be assisted by” the Cabinet. This gave each member equal footing with the Governor on matters that come before the Governor and Cabinet so that Cabinet members were no longer expected, constitutionally, to capitulate to the Governor’s wishes. (See “History of the Florida Cabinet.”)
Given each Cabinet member’s equal standing with the Governor in this decision- and rule-making body, our vote in these races is important, and my goal is to elect those who share my values. Should Charlie Crist be elected Governor, which now seems a real possibility, it will be important for him to have Cabinet member support to get things done.

Agriculture Commissioner - Thad Hamilton (D) vs Adam Putnam (R)

Thad Hamilton (D)
Thad Hamilton (D)
Thad Hamilton has over 40 years of experience in agriculture and environment, retiring after 36 years from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Services. He was honored by President George H. Bush for outstanding service in agriculture and the environment. He was in the U.S. Army from 1972–2000. He has an undergraduate degree in agriculture from the University of Arkansas in Pine Bluff. He ran unsuccessfully for Commissioner of Agriculture in 2010 as an Independent.

My web research revealed no smoking guns. However the Tampa Tribune wrote last week:
Hamilton faces an uphill slog: Polls show Putnam leading by as much as 12 points and the incumbent has raised more than $2.7 million and spent almost $789,000, including $205,000 on mailers late last month. Hamilton, who got 2 percent of the vote when he ran for the seat as an independent in 2010, has raised nearly $21,000. But he’s also taken out $13,000 in loans to finance his campaign, records show.
Adam Putnam (R)
Adam Putnum (R), incumbent
Adam Putnam is a fifth generation cattle rancher and citrus grower from Polk County, FL. He was a member of the Florida House of Representatives from 1996–2000 and the U.S. House of Representatives from 2001–2011. He returned to Florida to run for state Agriculture Commissioner in 2010, and is now running for a second term. He has an undergraduate degree in food and resource economics from the University of Florida.

In its endorsement of Putnam, the Naples Daily News writes, “The main criticism he’s received in four years centers around his going along with other leading Republicans on a Texas hunting trip sponsored by the sugar industry, with its big stake in agriculture and water.”

This is a reference to news reports in July that Putnam, Governor Rick Scott, House Speaker Will Weatherford, incoming House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and perhaps other Florida politicians took “secret” hunting trips to King Ranch (Texas) that were, per the Tampa Bay Times, “orchestrated by and at least partially paid for by U.S. Sugar.”

Florida is the biggest sugar producer in the country, and the sugar industry is one of the biggest special interests in Tallahassee. With its reliance on agriculture and water in the Everglades Agricultural Area between Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades, its interests are frequently at odds with those of environmental groups. Putnam’s participation in these fundraising trips is, to me, a concerning conflict of interest.

Chief Financial Officer - Jeff Atwater vs Will Rankin

Jeff Atwater (R)
Jeff Atwater (R), incumbent
Atwater had a career in banking, serving as chairman, president and CEO of the Barnett Bank of Broward County and the Treasure Coast, and later as market president of Riverside National Bank for Palm Beach and Broward counties, before running for the Florida House in 2000. He served one term in the House, 2000–2002, and then two terms in the Florida Senate, 2002–2010. Atwater was elected CFO in 2010 and is now running for a second term. He has an undergraduate degree and a Masters in Business Administration from the University of Florida.

Of concern to me is that Atwater, who oversees the Office of Insurance Regulation, opposes Obamacare and presumably supported the 2013 insurance rate bill signed by Governor Scott that suspended for two years the state’s authority to set health insurance rates. According to the Palm Beach Post, Senator Bill Nelson urged the Governor to veto the bill, saying it would put consumers at risk of sky-high rate hikes.
Nelson’s criticism echoes that raised … by legislative Democrats who said the legislation appeared designed to shield state regulators from any fallout stemming from the Affordable Care Act. Among them would be Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater… Proponents of the legislation, however, said it is merely aimed at helping the state comply with evolving regulatory requirements under the federal health care overhaul.
Scott’s signing this bill is one of the things Charlie Crist has called him out about. He says that if elected, he will reinstate the insurance commissioner’s ability to renegotiate premiums for 2015 in time to affect those rates.

Will Rankin (D)
Will Rankin (D)
Rankin had a career in business development in the private sector before serving as the Director of Asset Management for the State Treasury of Ohio, overseeing the state’s $120 billion dollar public trust and retirement fund, in the 1990s. He has an undergraduate degree in Business Administration majoring in Economics from St. Xavier University in Cincinnati.

Rankin has an uphill battle, too. According to the Orlando Sentinel," Rankin has raised just $16,370, with virtually no paid media.

How I will vote

The Democratic challengers are competent, credible candidates with significant, relevant work experience. While the odds of either winning are slim, as I said earlier, it’s important to me to vote for competent candidates whose values and views of the role of government are similar to mine.

Further, if enough of us vote for these candidates, it might send a signal to people who might consider running in the future that there are voters in the state who will support them if they’ll take the risk and make the effort.

For these reasons, I’ll vote for Thad Hamilton for Agriculture Commissioner and Will Rankin for CFO.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

My votes for Collier Soil and Water Conservation District Board

Lake Trafford - restoration
completed in 2010
Florida’s 62 Soil and Water Conservation Districts and their governing boards of supervisors were established in 1937 as part of a nationwide response to the period of severe dust storms (the Dust Bowl) and other conservation problems that severely damaged the country’s ecology and agriculture during the 1930s.

According to Florida’s SWCD Supervisor’s Manual:
The powers of SWCDs and supervisors are quite broad, and relate to the development and implementation of soil and water conservation practices on private lands. These duties are performed in conjunction with federal, state, regional, and local partners through funding and technical assistance. Funding programs include state and federal cost-share for environmental protection practices, as well as federal disaster relief and emergency watershed projects.
The Collier SWCD administers two Mobile Irrigation Labs (MILs), which:
… conduct extensive irrigation system evaluations…. The information gathered is used to make recommendations for improvements to the system for water conservation and for the health of the plants….

Follow-up evaluations are conducted after improvements are made to measure actual water savings and to improve MIL procedures. Both potential and actual water savings number in the millions of gallons per year, and the MIL is considered to be an effective conservation program by numerous government agencies.
If you’re concerned about your home irrigation system’s water usage, you can schedule a MIL visit to identify potential problems.
The MILs also participate in outreach and education in coordination with the Rookery Bay Natural Estuarine Research Reserve, the University of Florida Best Management Practices program, the University of Florida Extension Service, and the Master Gardener program.
In Florida, District governing bodies are made up of five Supervisors elected in nonpartisan, district-wide elections to four-year terms. Supervisors are volunteers, receiving no compensation other than reimbursement for travel expenses.

Incumbents Bruce Reichert (Group 1, treasurer) and Dennis Vasey (Group 3, chairman) would have been on our ballot this year, however they had no challengers so are automatically reelected.

Incumbents Clarence Tears, who had been appointed to fill a vacant seat, and James Lang (secretary) each have challengers. I requested meetings with all four candidates, and, with my friend Susan Calkins, met with the two incumbents. Neither challenger responded to my invitation.

Group 4 - James Lang vs Jared Jones

James Lang
James Lang is a customer service manager with the City of Marco Island Water Department.

I found no Facebook or Twitter presence. A 2008 article in the Marco Island Eagle reported that “Lang is pushing residents to take steps both big and small to conserve water during the drought….” My web research also revealed that Lang is Commander, Marco Island VFW Post #6370.

Mr. Lang has served on the Collier SWCD Board eight years, but this is the first time he has had a challenger. When asked, he told Susan and me that he didn’t really want to serve another term, being seventy years old and still working, but is willing to run because he thinks protecting our water resources is so important. He helped Susan and me understand what the Mobile Units do, and how important it is to have their local presence.

No campaign finance reports have been filed.

Jared Jones
Jared Jones notes on his campaign Facebook Page that he’s “very pleased to announce that I have been endorsed by the Libertarian Party of Collier County,” and shares why he’s running for the Collier SWCD. Here is an excerpt:
The state of Florida is charged with the responsibility of soil and water conservation throughout the state…. [W]e don’t need two (2) government entities doing the same thing…. I believe the citizens of Collier County will benefit greatly by this board being dissolved…. It’s time to be fiscally conservative and do what fiscal conservatives talk about…. cutting waste and finding ways to save money! It’s a no brainer. We need to end the redundancy of government. Our soil and water conservation will not be affected by the dissolution of this unnecessary board….
The Facebook page notes that:
He has a background in Construction Engineering Inspection (CEI). As a roadway and bridge inspector, Jared assured the protection of lakes, rivers, creeks and canals from construction debris and run off. He has first hand experience with soil and water through his experience in earthworks. He’s been a consultant for Collier County, Florida Department of Transportation and the F.A.A. to name a few.
His personal Facebook page trumpets his support for “Adrian Wyllie and Greg Roe, Libertarians for Governor and Lieutenant Governor of Florida,” and lists his membership in 23 Facebook Groups, including “Opt Out Collier,” “Collier Tea Party,” “America, Here’s Your Wakeup Call,” and the like.

Nine campaign finance reports filed since July 2014 show a total of $269 in monetary contributions, $33 in-kind, and expenditures of $108.

Group 5 - Clarence S. Tears Jr. vs William Tolp

Clarence Tears
Clarence Tears has had a decades-long commitment to keeping Florida’s water clean and safe, including 33 years in water resource management. From 1996 - 2012, he was Director of the Big Cypress Basin, overseeing the response to and management of water resource issues in Collier County.

Mr. Tears’ LinkedIn page shows an engineering degree from Miami Dade College (1988) and an MBA from International College (1991). He served as Command Chief of the Homestead, FL, U.S. Air Force Base from 2007–2011.

Tears, who is now retired, was appointed to the Collier SWCD Board to fill a vacancy; this is his first run for office. In meeting with Susan and me, he was passionate about the need to put environmental protections in place, especially now with the economy improving and development picking up. His role in previous environmental protection efforts was impressive. He seemed most proud of the successful restoration of Lake Trafford. Like Mr. Lang, when asked, Mr. Tears told Susan and me he didn’t really want to run, but “with my background and connections in government, I think I can make a difference.”

No campaign finance reports have been filed.

William Tolp
I found no Facebook presence for William Tolp. He did not respond to my invitation to meet through his private Twitter feed @WilliamTolp1.

The Libertarian Party of Collier County’s endorsement of William Tolp says:
While this office is relatively unknown to the public, the [Collier SWCD] Board has an annual operating budget of over $200,000. William Tolp brings a strong background in relevant fields that make him well-suited for this position. [Note: I can’t find what that background is.] Tolp is bright, articulate, passionate, and dedicated to the principles of limited government. We trust William Tolp to find and eliminate redundancies and unnecessary expenditures in the Board’s bloated budget and to defend the interests of Collier taxpayers while ensuring that all necessary functions are handled appropriately. We believe that his voice is much needed on this board.
Mr. Tolp ran unsuccessfully for State Representative from District 75 on the Libertarian Party ticket in 2012.

Eight campaign finance reports filed since July 2014 show only one contribution to his campaign, by himself for $50.

My decisions

The drinking water supply for those of us in the southern part of the state is the Everglades. Protection of our water resources is essential. It seems to me extremely beneficial to have elected community members – people who know our area, our economy, our businesses, our needs – participate in state water quality and land-use management programs, and in the administration and oversight of funds which provide state financial assistance for installing soil and water conservation practices.

The most recent published Collier SWCD financial statements show fiscal 2012 revenue and expenses of about $200,000. To Mr. Jones’ and the Florida Libertarian Party’s comments about redundancy of government: the statements note that the District received 97% of its funding from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the South Florida Water Management District, and that the District owns no land or buildings for its operations. Office space is provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture at no cost. I fail to see the redundancy, because to me,
who better than local citizens – volunteers! – with a passion for protecting our water to represent our best interests in these matters?

I will vote for Jim Lang for Soil and Water Conservation District Group 4 and Clarence Tears for Group 5.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Be an Informed Voter

There are several upcoming opportunities to hear from candidates and learn about the issues:
  • The Naples Daily News and Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce will hold a School Board Candidate Debate at 3:30 p.m. today, Thursday, October 2nd at the Naples Daily News Building, 1100 Immokalee Rd, Naples. Questions can be submitted online here.
  • The East Naples - Golden Gate Fire Control and Rescue Districts will hold a Town Hall Meeting to provide information about the proposed merger between the two Districts on Tuesday, October 7th at 7:00 p.m. at South Regional Library, 8065 Lely Cultural Parkway, Naples.
  • The Southwest Florida Citizens Alliance is hosting a Lively Debate for the Collier School Board on October 13th at 7:00 p.m. at the River Park Community Center, 301 11th St. N., Naples. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. The debate will be moderated by Jared Grifoni of Resistance Radio, and Rick Borman of the Rick Borman Show.
  • The League of Women Voters of Collier County is sponsoring a Ballot Forum on October 14th at 5:00 p.m. at the North Naples Church, at 6000 Goodlette Road. Doors open at 4:30 p.m., and the forum is expected to conclude by 6:45. Experts have been recruited to present pro and con positions on the three proposed Constitutional Amendments and on the fire districts merger referenda. Jeff Lytle, recently retired from the Naples Daily News, will moderate. Other event sponsors are Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce, Collier Citizens Council, Greater Naples Leadership, North Naples Church and the Naples Daily News.
  • The North Naples Fire Control and Rescue District will host at Community Meeting to discuss the proposed merger with the Big Corkscrew Island Fire Control and Rescue District at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, October 15th at Bonita Shores Club, 315 West Avenue, Bonita Springs.
  • The North Naples Fire Control and Rescue District will host at Community Meeting to discuss the proposed merger with the Big Corkscrew Island Fire Control and Rescue District at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, October 22nd at Big Corkscrew Island Admin Bldg. at Station #10, 13250 Immokalee Road, Naples.
  • The Naples Press Club is hosting a School Board Candidates Q&A on October 23rd at 11:30 a.m. at the Hilton Naples. Non-member guests must purchase tickets online. Go to Eventbrite.com and search for “Naples Press Club.”
  • The North Naples Fire Control and Rescue District will host at Community Meeting to discuss the proposed merger with the Big Corkscrew Island Fire Control and Rescue District at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, October 29nd at St. John the Evangelist Church, 625 111th Avenue, Naples.
If you hear of any other opportunities for voters to learn about the candidates and issues, please let me know by replying to (email) or commenting on (web) this post.

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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

It’s October!

Election Day is just over a month away. Mail and sample ballots will be arriving soon. But you don’t have to wait to find out what will be on your ballot. You can view your sample ballot right now.

How? Go to colliervotes.com, click on “Am I Registered?” on the left side of the brown bar, fill in the information requested on the next page, click “Submit,” and then on the next page, under “Future Elections,” in the blue box labeled “2014 General Election,” click the words “Sample Ballot.”

As I wrote before, I will be researching many of the candidates and issues on my ballot between now and Election Day, and sharing how I will vote. In this post, in the interest of getting information out as soon as possible, I’ll let you know how I’ll be voting in those cases where I’ve already made my decision, and what I plan to do between now and Election Day in those cases where I haven’t.

These are the items on my ballot and where I stand on my voting decisions, as of today:
  • Governor and Lieutenant Governor: I’ll vote for Charlie Crist and Annette Taddeo. No question. I’m a progressive and my values are more aligned with the Democratic Party platform than those of the alternatives when it comes to state government issues in Florida.
  • Attorney General: I’ll vote for George Sheldon. See my prior post. Incumbent Pam Bondi is a progresssive’s nightmare.
  • Chief Financial Officer and Commissioner of Agriculture: I’m still undecided. The incumbents have good resumes, seem to have performed well in their first terms, and I know nothing about their challengers. I want to make informed decisions and not just vote the (Democratic) party line.
  • District Court of Appeal: I’ll vote yes for the retention of Judges Altenbernd, Silberman and Sleet. See my prior posts here and here.
  • School Board District 3: I’ll vote for Kathy Ryan. She’s highly qualified, and I disagree with some of the values and priorities of her opponent, Erika Donalds. See my prior post.
  • Soil and Water Conservation Group 4 and Group 5: I’m still undecided. I’ve completed my usual web-based research, and requested meetings with the four candidates for the two nonpartisan positions. By Friday, I’ll have met with the two incumbents. I have not had a reply to my invitations from either of the challengers.
  • North Naples Fire District Seat 4 and North Naples/Big Corkscrew Fire District Merger: I have no opinion yet on the North Naples Fire District race, and I’m undecided but leaning in favor of the merger. I’ve completed my web-research, and plan to attend one of the upcoming Community Meetings later this month to hear first-hand about the merger, have the opportunity to ask questions, and - hopefully - meet the candidates. If I feel it’s necessary after that, I’ll request one-on-one meetings. 
  • Amendment 1 - Water and Land Conservation: I’ll vote yes to fund the Land Acquisition Trust Fund to acquire, restore, improve, and manage conservation lands, along with 1000 Friends of Florida, the Alliance of Florida Land Trusts, the American Planning Association, Audubon Florida, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, the Sierra Club, the Nature Conservancy, and countless more. See the list here.
  • Amendment 2 - Use of Marijuana for Certain Medical Conditions: I’ll vote no. I do not believe the use of marijuana is something that should be included in the Constitution. Rather, I beleive it should be governed by state statute, as is public health and the use of alcoholic beverages and tobacco. I’ve read strong opinions both for and against the amendment, by people and professional organizations (health care workers, law enforcement, etc.) who know much more about the potential risks and rewards than I do. If citizens are unhappy that their elected officials will not pass such a law, they should elect different representatives, but I don’t think amending the Constitution is the way to go on this issue.
  • Amendment 3 - Prospective Appointment of Certain Judicial Vacancies: I’m still undecided. According to the Tampa Tribune:
Making appointments to the Florida Supreme Court and to state appellate courts are among the most lasting and consequential decisions that governors make. Jurists on the state’s highest courts often serve for decades and are called upon to decide some of the most pressing issues of the day. School vouchers, abortion restrictions and death penalty appeals represent just a tiny sampling of the far-reaching questions they are called upon to decide. That’s why the fate of Amendment 3 on the November ballot has broad implications.
This is an important issue, and one I want to fully understand before casting my vote. I will read the amendment carefully, research the pros and cons, read the editorial opinions and then decide.

That brings you up to date on my plans for my research and blogging for the next month or so. I look forward to your comments.

___________________

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