In previous posts, I wrote about the August 2016 local School Board elections here and here, Board of County Commissioners elections here, and the County Constitutional Officers elections here. I began the series about the August elections with some basic things Collier voters should know.
In this post, I turn to state House Districts 80, 106 and 105 and tell you who will be on the August ballot to represent Collier County. Find your District here.
Hang on to your hats – it’s a wild ride!
Last-minute write-ins deny 42 percent of Collier voters a say
Ten days ago, I thought this would be a straight-forward post to write. But as the result of filings on the last day of the qualifying period by “write-in” candidates in House Districts 80 and 106, the Republican Party primaries in those Districts will be “closed” and only registered Republicans may vote in them. The same thing happened with the Hudson/Passidomo State Senate race, which I’ll write about in my next post.
To explain: write-in candidates run without party affiliation, and all write-in candidates appear on the General Election ballot. (I learned this from the Collier County Supervisor of Elections Candidate Qualifying and Campaign Handbook, here.)
Had the write-ins not jumped in, those primaries would have been “open” to all registered voters in those Districts, regardless of party affiliation, since the state Constitution provides that when only candidates from one party qualify to run for an office so that the election is decided by the primary, everyone can vote in that election.
So what has happened is that the write-ins have effectively denied the 51 percent of District 80 voters and 44 percent of District 106 voters who are not registered Republicans the opportunity to participate in the election of the people who will represent them in Tallahassee.
This “write-in loophole” is an administrative interpretation of the state Constitution that was written in 2000 by Florida’s Division of Elections under then-Secretary of State Katherine Harris. If the primaries were open, the candidates would likely have to moderate their rhetoric to appeal to Democrats and NPAs, and “Republicans would no longer compete to out-conservative each other. (See ”Let’s close the phony write-in candidate loophole.")
Which of the Republican candidates in those Districts stand to benefit most from the write-ins? Who might be behind it?
According to NBC–2.com, Emily Jeanne Thoemke, a GOP political consultant in Collier County, has heard that there are "certain individuals in leadership, specifically upper leadership of the Republican executive committee in Collier County that paid college students to write in their names and close their primary.” The documents filled out by the write-in candidates for the two seats were both filed in Tallahassee on the same day at the same exact time.
The Florida House has been firmly under Republican control since 1996. Regardless of party affiliation, all Collier residents should pay attention to these primaries – and the candidates’ campaign rhetoric, as the winners will likely to go on to win in November.
Issues at stake
Public education (funding and vouchers, testing and standards), guns (violence prevention and ownership), immigration, health care (for women, for the uninsured, choice, and Medicaid expansion), the environment (protecting the Everglades, growth management, sea level rise) and energy (drilling, fracking, solar) are just some of the legislative issues I follow at the state level. All are likely to see significant action in the coming years.
District 80 (map here)
Two Republicans and one write-in candidate have qualified for the District 80 seat currently held by term-limited Matt Hudson: Byron Donalds (R), Joe Davidow (R) and Anthony Joseph Centrangelo Jr. (WRI).
According to the Naples Daily News, both Republicans were “recommended” by the Republican Executive Committee; Donalds got the endorsement. Donalds and Davidow will be on the closed August primary ballot; the winner will face Centrangelo in November.
Joe Davidow is a trial attorney at Willis & Davidow, LLC; his legal focus is on business disputes and federal criminal defense. He has an undergraduate degree in political science and history from Virginia Tech and a law degree from St. Thomas University. He is an executive board member of the Collier County Men’s Republican Club, the Collier County Republican Executive Committee and the Republican Jewish Coalition. He serves on the executive boards of Collier Child Care Resources and the Naples Gulfshore Sunset Rotary Club, and on the Harry Chapin Food Bank Collier Action Committee.
Davidow ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2012. He finished last among the six Republican candidates in Collier County and District-wide, and did not run in 2014.
On his website, Davidow says, “We need more state leaders with a track record in private business, true conservatives who will keep bureaucrats off the backs of our job creators and who will recognize that a quality education is the best investment we can make in Southwest Florida’s future.” His Facebook page is here; his LinkedIn pages are here and here, he is @JoeforFlorida on Twitter.
Regarding the suspicious last-minute write-in candidate, Davidow told NBC–2, “It’s highly questionable…. It’s of a concern.”
The money: Davidow reported monetary contributions of $41,654 through May 31 of which seven percent was from out-of-state. His one PAC contribution was from the Collier County Medical Society PAC.
Byron Donalds is a Financial Advisor at Wells Fargo Advisors, LLC where his areas of focus include education funding and estate and retirement planning. He has a B.S. In finance and marketing from Florida State University. In 2014, he was appointed a trustee of Florida Southwestern State College (formerly Edison State College) representing Collier County by Governor Rick Scott. He is an Advisory Board member for the Salvation Army of Collier County and a youth leader at Living Word Family Church.
Like Davidow, Donalds ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2012, coming in fifth among six GOP candidates District-wide but winning Collier County with 28 percent of the votes. Trey Radel ultimately won that election but resigned in early 2014 after pleading guilty to a cocaine charge. While Donalds was mentioned as a possible successor, he declined to run, saying the timing wasn’t right. Curt Clawson ultimately won the seat.
Donalds went on to start, with his wife Erika and Kelly Lichter (who were both elected to the School Board in 2014), the Mason Classical Academy public charter school and continues to serve as its Vice President. He is also a guest host and commentator on three local conservative talk radio programs: Daybreak with Drew Steele, The Bob Harden Show, and The Joe Whitehead Show. In addition to being endorsed by the Collier County Republican Executive Committee, Donalds was endorsed by the conservative Eagle Forum PAC.
According to his campaign flyer, Donalds offers “Conservative Leadership for Florida’s Future;” his platform issues are economic growth, educational excellence, less taxation and strong families.
But at a candidate forum I attended in April and at a Republican Party event reported on by the NDN in May, among other events, Donalds makes clear that education is the issue he is most focused on. He believes that “economic growth is solved through education reform, and, for him, the key to reform [is] giving more power to parents on where to send their kids to school. Donalds praised private schools and prep schools, claiming they outperform public schools.” (Obviously this is a hotly debated issue. See, for example, “Turning Conventional Wisdom on Its Head: Public Schools Outperform Private Schools,” Harvard Graduate School of Education Letter, 2015, which states “The differences in student performance across school sectors apparently have little to do with market forces such as competition and autonomy and much to do with the demographics of the students served. In fact, after considering demographics, the public schools appear to have a pronounced advantage in student performance.” See also “Yes, Private Schools Beat Public Schools,” The Cato Institute, 2014, which states “School choice programs consistently produce similar or better results for much less money.”)
At a recent candidate forum, Donalds said he did not support spending state funds to purchase and maintain environmentally-sensitive lands south of the Everglades. “The reason why we are in this quandary is because we’ve completely undone what the Everglades were supposed to be. It can never go back to that,” he said.
The money: Donalds reported monetary contributions of $109,058 through May 31, of which four percent was from out-of-state and $5,500 was from these PACs:
- Florida Dental Association PAC - $1,000
- Fighting for Florida’s Families - $500
- Florida Beer Wholesalers (trade association of Florida independent beer distributors) Good Government Committee - $1,000
- Prosperity Florida PAC - $1,000
- Real Property Probate & Trust Law PAC - $1,000
- Wells Fargo & Co. Florida Employees Good Government Fund - $1,000
Other contributions of note:
- $1,000 from retiring Florida Congressman Curt Clawson, who made a similar contribution to the 2014 School Board campaign of Erika Donalds;
- $1,000 from RAI Services Company (parent of the RJR Tobacco Company);
- $1,000 each from local Anheuser-Busch beer distributors Suncoast Beverage and Coastal Beverage;
- $1,000 each from Lane Beatty and Pam Beatty, president and secretary respectively, and $150 from William Carufe, vice president, of Sports Club, the after-school child care provider that has sued the Collier County School Board;
- $150 from Michelle Bracci, wife of Sports Club attorney Steven J. Bracci;
- $500 from Collier County Commissioner Tom Henning;
- $250 from Naples City Council Member Teresa Heitmann;
- $50 from World Changers of Florida, Inc., the group that distributes bibles in Collier schools on Religious Freedom Day.
Donalds’ campaign website is byrondonalds.com, his Facebook pages are here and here, his LinkedIn profile is here, his Twitter page is @ByronDonalds and the YouTube channel from his 2014 unsuccessful run for Congress is here.
District 106 (map here)
Three Republicans - Bob Rommel, Lavigne Kirkpatrick and Nick Ballo - will face off in the closed August primary for the House seat currently held by state Senate candidate Kathleen Passidomo. The winner will face write-in candidate Connor Maguire.
The Republican Executive Committee recommended Rommel, but not Kirkpatrick. Ballo had not filed to run at the time of the REC vote.
Bob Rommel is a local businessman who sold the mortgage company he co-founded and moved to Naples in 2002. He co-owns three restaurants – two in southwest Florida, one in New Jersey. He describes himself as “a successful businessman concerned about our future and determined to make a difference.” He attended Brookdale Community College in NJ.
Rommel is the past president of the Caxambas Republican Club, a Marco Island group dedicated to identifying Republicans and encouraging them to vote, and a member of the Collier County Republican Party.
In a candidate forum on Marco Island in May, Rommel said he is running because “I love our country, but I really hate the direction our country is going. Maybe that’s why Donald Trump is the Republican nominee.” A self-described unabashed Republican,“ he says ”his vision for Florida’s future is simple: economic opportunity, personal responsibility and limited government." His issues are the economy, lower taxes, education, and smaller government.
Regarding education, he says he will “fight for local control of our schools, directing dollars into the classrooms, a return to students mastering the basics and classroom discipline.” He is against Common Core.
In an August 2015 letter to the editor titled “School near you,” Rommel wrote: “Across the country, educators seem more like progressive activists rather than teachers and administrators. When did schools decide they know better than parents what their children should eat? When did the schools decide they were going to teach progressive social issues instead of history? In some schools, you would be shocked by the curriculum…”
In the same letter, Rommel challenged the teaching of climate change and the District’s participation in the Blue Zones Project.
At another recent candidate forum, Rommel, like Donalds, said he opposed government funding to purchase land to protect the environment. “Whether it’s the state of Florida or the federal government, buying more land is not going to fix the problem,” he said.
According to his Facebook post on June 29, Rommel was endorsed by Collier Commission Donna Fiala.
Rommel’s campaign website is www.bobrommel.net, his Facebook page is here, his LinkedIn page is here and his Twitter page is @RommelForRep.
The money: Rommel reported monetary contributions of $102,761 through May 31, of which 33 percent was from out-of-state, primarily Illinois, New Jersey, New York and Ohio. He received $8,500 in contributions from PACs:
- Florida Beer Wholesalers (trade association of Florida independent beer distributors) Good Government Committee - $1,000
- Beer Distributor’s Committee For Good Government - $1,000
- Prosperity Florida PAC - $1,000
- Financial Reform In Government Network - $1,000
- Florida Health Care PAC - $1,000
- Wine & Spirits Distributors of Florida Political Committee - $1,000
- Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association - $1,000 and $500 from two different PACs
- Suncoast Political Action Committee - $500
- Florida Dental Association PAC - $500
Other contributions of note:
- $1,000 each from RAI Services Company (parent of the RJR Tobacco Company), Coastal Beverage LTD and Suncoast Beverage Sales LTD,
- $1,000 from Kitson Babcock, LLC, the developer of the nearby Babcock Ranch community;
- $1,000 from The Celebration Company, a Disney subsidiary and developer of Celebration, FL., and $1,000 each from Disney Destinations LLC, Disney Gift Card Services Inc, and Disney Vacation Development Inc.;
- $540 from frequent School Board and Blue Zones critic Dr. Joseph Doyle;
- $25 from Collier County School Board member Kelly Lichter, whose occupation is reported as “education reformer”
Lavigne Kirkpatrick, a registered nurse for over 32 years, is an educator and specialist in End of Life Care Planning. She worked at Avow Hospice for almost 12 years, most recently as External Affairs Manager, and is a past Chair or the Florida Board of Nursing.
Kirkpatrick has an Associate’s degree in nursing from Broward College, a Bachelor’s degree in social science and public policy and a graduate certificate in county and city management from Florida State University, and is a candidate for a Master’s in public administration from the University of South Florida. Her community leadership activities include current or past service on the Collier County Public Safety Authority, Champions for Learning’s Golden Apple Selection Committee, the Collier Senior Resources Board and the Leadership Council on Aging.
Kirkpatrick has long been locally active in Republican Party politics. She worked on the presidential campaigns of George W. Bush in 2004, John McCain in 2008, Herman Cain in 2012 and Ben Carson in 2016, and ran unsuccessfully for the Board of County Commissioners in 2014. She was a member of the Collier County Republican Executive committee for 10 years, and served as a state committeewoman from 2008 to 2012.
The principles that will guide her if elected to the House include: “respect and protect individual freedom;” she believes government should promote free enterprise and individual initiative, be fiscally responsible and “allow its people to keep more of the money they earn,” and provide only “those critical functions that individuals or private enterprise cannot provide.”
Like Donalds and Rommel, she does not favor purchasing land to protect the Everglades, saying “Money is not the answer.”
Kirkpatrick was recently endorsed by the Collier County Medical Society PAC and by the conservative Eagle Forum PAC. Regarding the last-minute write-in candidacy of Connor Maguire, she told NBC–2 that if elected, she will fight to get rid of the write-in loophole.
Her website is at lavignekirkpatrick.com, her Facebook pages are here and here, her LinkedIn page is here, and her Twitter page is @LavigneAnn.
The money: Kirkpatrick raised $14,950 in monetary contributions through May 31, virtually all from local supporters. She received no contributions from PACs.
Nick Ballo filed to run for this seat the day before the end of the qualifying period. He is co-founder of Gnarly Harley Paddleboard Rentals serving Naples, Bonita Springs and Fort Myers Beach, but lists no current employment. He has a Bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Florida and is currently studying law at Florida International University.
Ballo was a self-described “political operative” for the Republican Party of Florida, and worked to elect Jacksonville, FL, Mayor Lenny Curry in 2015.
In 2006, while a high-school senior, he ran briefly for the Collier County School Board District 1 seat then held by Pat Carroll. A NDN editorial said he had been “briefed on the fundamentals of the office” by School Board member Linda Abbott. (Readers may recall that Abbott, along with Steve Donovan and Richard Calabrese, supported the 2007 firing of then-Superintendent Ray Baker; Carroll and Kathy Curatolo opposed the move.)
Having started and managed a business in Naples, Ballo says he has “a working knowledge and understanding of how effective laws implemented at all levels of government can encourage business development and support the livelihood of its residents and business owners.”
His campaign issues are: jobs; education (“Nick personally experienced the challenges that the Florida Common Core standards present for students”); repealing “Obamacare;” support for police and firefighters; safety; and health care.
The money: Ballo’s campaign paid a filing fee of $1,781.82 on June 22, but it is too soon to see his first monthly campaign finance report.
District 105 (map here)
With only one Republican and one Democrat running, there will be no House primaries for District 105 voters. Incumbent Carlos Trujillo (R) will face challenger Patricio Moreno (D) in November.
The filing by Moreno is one of a series of just-under-the-wire qualifications to challenge Republican incumbents who would otherwise have been unopposed for reelection.
As of May 31, Trujillo raised $193,912. Moreno has yet to file any campaign finance reports.
My recommendations for August
Researching the candidates for the three State House primary elections that Collier County voters will have an opportunity to vote in has been an intense and evolving multi-day effort.
It is important to know how the candidates portray themselves in their campaign websites and social media, but scrutinizing their campaign contributions and online presence has been even more informative and critically revealing.
Based primarily on my strong support for public education and educational standards, my discomfort with the PAC contributions received by Donalds and Rommel, my suspicions about the seriousness of Ballo’s last-minute filing, and Kirkpatrick’s track record of community engagement and grassroots organizing, I recommend that registered Republicans vote for Joe Davidow for District 80 and for Lavigne Kirkpatrick for District 106.
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