Saturday, August 18, 2018

A few last words before voting

August 28, 2018
Primary Elections in Florida
I published my tentative voting decisions a few weeks ago, but have been monitoring the news daily. So far, I’m still comfortable with all but one of them: the Democrat I would vote for for Governor, which I’ll discuss below.

In this post, I’ll share links to the Naples Daily News’ endorsements, which I always consider before voting in local elections because (1) I respect the Editorial Board’s apparent open-mindedness in considering all the candidates; (2) they hold one-on-one interviews with each of the candidates; and (3) at least two members (Allen Bartlett and Brent Batten) have the historical knowledge and perspective needed to evaluate and place campaign trail claims and accusations in context. I am pleased that in these elections, there is not a single case in which their endorsements differ from my tentative choices.

Next, I’ll share some recent articles you might want to consider before casting your vote. Since I have not written about the local referenda (Marco Island Ambulance, North Naples Fire Fee, and Immokalee Fire Fee), I’ve included articles and pro/con commentaries about each.

Finally, I’ll share my current thinking about the Democratic gubernatorial race.

The Naples Daily News endorsements
  • For State Attorney: Amira Fox — “It should speak volumes to voters that [retiring incumbent Steve] Russell, a virtually unchallenged fixture as state attorney for 15 years, chose Fox in 2014 as chief assistant.“
  • For County Commissioner District 2: Andy Solis — “For heightening Collier’s efforts to locally address mental health-related issues that the state has shortchanged, Solis earns the nod over Brad Schiffer, a candidate who is laser-focused on growth-related and quality of life issues.”
  • For County Commissioner District 4: Penny Taylor — “Taylor has a superior grasp of issues and potential solutions facing both her district and Collier County as a whole, making her the clear choice for Republican voters in District 4.”
  • For Clerk of Courts: Crystal Kinzel —  "As chief deputy clerk since 2016 and the office’s finance director before that, no one is more qualified to step in now than Kinzel.”
  • For School Board District 3: Jen Mitchell — “Mitchell comes well-prepared to step into the role of a board member and is so well-versed in issues facing the district that it’s almost as if she is an incumbent facing re-election.”
  • The institutional knowledge Roy Terry brings to the Collier County School Board makes him an exceptional choice for re-election.... Terry has demonstrated a steady hand as board chairman the past two years and importantly can ensure there’s stability on the board after four years of recurring divisiveness.
  • On Marco Island Ambulance Referendum: Vote NO — “The unknown city manager and November election should give Marco voters pause. We … urge city leaders to then immediately resume negotiations with Collier officials to direct additional tax dollars toward an enhanced EMS presence on Marco Island.”
  • On North Collier Fire Fee Referendum: Vote NO — “We recommend rejecting the referendum based on its rushed timing, insufficient dialogue, regressive nature of the proposed fee and a failure so far to convince citizens that the agency has a financial fire to extinguish.”
  • On Immokalee Fire Fee Referendum: Vote NO — “Before enacting a new fee, today’s chiefs and elected Immokalee fire board must show they are better stewards of taxpayer dollars than was demonstrated through bad purchases in the past.”

Note: The Daily News does not endorse in judicial races because candidates can’t discuss issues, only their backgrounds. It also is not endorsing in this year’s party primaries but will evaluate the winners prior to the general election. Read about their endorsement process here.

News articles of interest
  • Governor race
    • An anomaly or a tide turning? Conventional wisdom shifting as primary election nears. New public opinion polls released this week showed Putnam just two points behind DeSantis, within the margin of error. Florida Phoenix, 8/16/18
    • An overview of Florida's GOP gubernatorial race between Adam Putnam and Ron DeSantis. "Trump tweeted his support of an undistinguished Congressman ... and the Republican faithful salivated on cue." Naples Daily News, 8/17/18
    • Palm Beach billionaire’s past legal fights haunt bid for governor. Liked by some and loathed by others, Jeff Greene is invariably described as a headstrong micromanager, a self-assured self-made man who doesn’t hesitate to use the courts and his $3.3 billion net worth to get his way. Politico Florida, 8/17/18
  • Attorney General race
    • Look how negative the GOP race for Florida attorney general has become. In the increasingly bitter primary, Ashley Moody and Frank White have both put out new attack ads against each other – Moody using Florida sheriffs to question White's qualifications, and White continuing his attacks on Moody for having sued Donald Trump over a Tampa real estate deal. Tampa Bay Times, 8/8/18
    • Dems vow to ‘fight’ if elected attorney general. Shaw and Torrens have taken different approaches to the campaign, while sharing stances on issues ranging from opioid manufacturers to their opposition to the state’s “stand your ground” self-defense law. Gainesville Sun, 8/14/18
  • State Attorney race
    • Emails outline concerns about state attorney candidate Chris Crowley's past job performance. Crowley was fired in 2014 as an assistant state attorney for the 20th Judicial Circuit. Naples Daily News, 8/2/18
    • State Attorney candidate Chris Crowley turns himself in, accused of violating campaign laws. He faces third-degree felony charges. Naples Daily News, 8/6/18
  • BCC District 2 race
  • BCC District 4 race
  • Clerk of Courts race
    • Two GOP candidates square off to replace Dwight Brock as Collier clerk, comptroller. Naples Daily News, 8/5/18
  • School Board District 5 race
    • School Board candidate Mary Ellen Cash was fired from Collier district in 2012; job performance, behavior cited. Cash said she was not fired and had left the district in 2013. Naples Daily News, 7/25/18
  • Marco Island Ambulance referendum (website)
    • Commentary: One of the most consequential decisions in our city’s history. There are five reasons to vote “yes,” and five reasons to vote “no.” You decide. By Larry Honig, Marco Island City Council member, via Naples Daily News, 7/14/18
    • Editorial: The known and unknown questions on Marco referendum. Voters won’t know before election day if they will get a reduction in county property taxes if they agree to pay higher city taxes to launch their own ambulance service. Naples Daily News, 7/24/18
    • Commentary: Marco Island’s quest for ambulance transport. It is imperative that Marco Island residents understand the full concept of our quest to have our own license to transport patients. By Bob Brown, Marco Island Councilman, via Naples Daily News, 8/15/18
    • Commentary: Tober cites reasons Collier EMS serves Marco well. It doesn’t appear to be motivated by sound medical practices, and may be unsafe. By Robert B. Tober, M.D., Medical director, Collier County Emergency Medical Services, via Naples Daily News, 8/16/18
  • North Naples Fire Fee referendum (website)
    • Brent Batten: Retirees rise up against fire fee. The proposal would lower the property tax and in its place institute a fire assessment fee, resulting in a lower bill for some but a higher bill for others. Naples Daily News, 7/14/17
    • Commentary: Learning more about North Collier fire fee referendum. During the last 10 years, demand for services has increased by more than 62 percent. However, the district’s taxable revenue is nearly the same as it was in 2007. By Norman Feder, Vice Chairman, North Collier Fire Control and Rescue District Board of Commissioners, via Naples Daily News, 7/22/18
    • Commentary: Much more to learn about North Collier fire fee referendum. “Unfair, regressive, arbitrary and subjective” perfectly describes the proposed new “assessment.” Stephen Demidovich, Chairman, No Blank Check PAC, via Naples Daily News, 7/29/18
    • Commentary: Commitment to public safety behind fire fee proposal. If there isn’t additional funding through the non-ad valorem assessment fee, the level of fire and rescue services will be negatively impacted. By James M. Cunningham, Fire chief, North Collier Fire Control and Rescue District, via Naples Daily News, 8/17/18
  • Immokalee Fire Fee referendum (website)
    • Brent Batten: Immokalee fire fee faces foes in churches, businesses. Unlike the proposed change in the North Naples Fire fee, the Immokalee proposal would make no exemptions. Naples Daily News, 7/26/18
    • Brent Batten: Governments walk a fine line between advocacy and information. The Immokalee fire district’s website paints a bleak picture of the future if the addition of a fire service fee does not pass, including laying off firefighters and closing a station. Naples Daily News, 7/28/18

My thinking about the Democratic candidates for governor

I had tentatively decided to support Jeff Greene, writing that “I like his rags-to-riches story as well as his positions on the issues I care about. But it’s his personal wealth that gets him my vote. The Florida governor’s race is going to be one of the most expensive in the country, and as much as I wish it weren’t necessary, Greene is willing and able to spend what it takes to win, and to help other Democrats up and down the ticket.”

But a recent Politico Florida article — Palm Beach billionaire’s past legal fights haunt bid for governor) — has me questioning Greene’s character. If I were to change my mind, I would likely vote for Philip Levine. (See In Florida governor’s race, are Jeff Greene and Phil Levine one in the same?, Tampa Bay Times, 7/30/18.) But for now, the jury's still out.

* * * * * * *

If you have any questions about when, where or what to bring with you to vote, don’t hesitate to call the Collier Supervisor of Elections Office at 239-252-VOTE, or visit their website at Similarly, if you are a Vote-By-Mail voter, be sure to confirm that your ballot was/is received and counted by calling the Supervisor of Elections or checking the website.


Help me reach more Collier County voters by sharing this post with your friends. You and they can read Sparker’s Soapbox online at or subscribe to posts by email at

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Sunday, August 5, 2018

Local News in Review - July 2018

Here’s my latest review of news about our local elected officials, governing bodies and upcoming elections.

Top stories

  • School Board candidate Mary Ellen Cash was fired from Collier district in 2012; job performance, behavior cited. Cash is running against Darlene Alvarez and board incumbent Roy Terry in District 5. Naples Daily News, 7/25/18
  • Editorial: Newspaper endorsements waning, Daily News continues. Our editorial board has decided to stick with tradition, but on a more limited basis than previously. Naples Daily News, 7/21/18
  • Commissioners vote to keep property tax rate unchanged as values rise 5.6 percent. The levy won't be officially set until the county holds two public hearings in September. Naples Daily News, 7/10/18

Growth and development

  • Editorial: Midyear report: How are we doing on managing growth? If “growth” makes your blood pressure rise, there’s still time to get involved and have your say. Naples Daily News, 7/3/18
  • Editorial: Midyear report: Catching up on infrastructure and community priorities. A Nov. 6 vote on a list of infrastructure and community projects that would be paid for with a one percent local sales tax is tentatively set. Naples Daily News, 7/11/18;
    • Related: Commentary: Why not use road impact fees, gas taxes instead of extra sales tax? By Thaddeus Cohen, Collier County Growth Management Department, via Naples Daily News, 6/30/18
  • Commentary: New roads, MPO and Rural Lands West. With Ave Maria only one-third built out, what's the hurry for a new town next door? By Bonnie Michaels, League of Women Voters, Collier County, via Naples Daily News, 7/3/18
  • Commentary: Are we planning for the right future in Collier County? Citizens over 65 are the largest voting bloc in the county, but their needs apparently aren’t being considered in proportion to their numbers. By Doug Hartman, Chairman, Collier senior advisory committee, via Naples Daily News, 7/16/18
  • Brent Batten: Don't make Bonita's flooding Collier's problem, commissioner warns. District 2 Commissioner Andy Solis wants the Board to oppose diversion of water from Bonita Springs “until a cooperative and coordinated review is completed with Collier County.” Naples Daily News, 7/7/18

Environmental protection

  • Editorial: Midyear report: Slow path on environmental protection. We’re encouraged by some movement, yet the lingering question is whether it’s fast enough. Naples Daily News, 7/4/18
  • Collier County land preservation program moving too slowly for some conservationists. The expiration of the tax to pay for Conservation Collier purchases has complicated new acquisitions. Naples Daily News, 7/10/18
    • Related: Editorial: Commissioners right to continue Conservation Collier acquisitions. Naples Daily News, 7/19/18


  • Editorial: Midyear report: How are we doing on attainable housing? The framework of a community housing plan is in place, but providing enough safe, decent places to live within a price range that’s affordable to the workforce and seniors in Collier County remains a work in progress. Naples Daily News, 7/7/18
  • Commentary: Shift affordable housing focus to economic diversity. County leaders should focus on housing, but focus it where the jobs are, where people can have shorter commutes and not clog up arterial roads. By Jacob Winge, Director, East Naples Civic Association, via Naples Daily News, 7/21/18
  • Editorial: Avoid East Naples for housing? The next time you hear someone say there already is too much housing for the workforce, families and seniors in East Naples, ask, “Do you mean the part of East Naples where you live?” Naples Daily News, 7/28/18

Fees and taxes

  • Commentary: Learning more about North Collier fire fee referendum. By Norman Feder, Vice chairman, North Collier Fire Control and Rescue District board of commissioners, via Naples Daily News, 7/22/18
  • Brent Batten: Retirees rise up against fire fee. North Collier Fire District proposal on the August ballot would result in a lower bill for some but a higher bill for others. Naples Daily News, 7/14/17
  • Brent Batten: Immokalee fire fee faces foes in churches, businesses. Unlike the proposed change in the North Naples Fire fee, the Immokalee proposal would make no exemptions. Naples Daily News, 7/26/18

Other County news

  • Collier County reinvests in business accelerators after disputes, changes. But some question whether taxpayers' money should be used to support them. Naples Daily News, 7/7/18
  • Innovation Zone OK'd by Collier Commission to spur economic development in East Naples. The county hopes to create higher-paying jobs outside its three primary industries: agriculture, hospitality and construction/real estate. Naples Daily News, 7/10/18
  • Collier on the brink of learning how much is here in the arts and what it can do. County commissioners offered matching funds up to $50,000 for a consultant to help it develop an arts and culture strategic plan. Naples Daily News, 7/7/18
  • Brent Batten: Collier hires firm to sell naming rights, starting with amateur sports complex. Commissioners approved a contract for $150,000 — an amount that could grow significantly over five years — to market naming rights for county facilities. Naples Daily News, 7/12/18
  • Editorial kudo to Commissioner Bill McDaniel. He urged the Commission to do away with its 60-day summer break, noting that important business takes place during that time and that commissioners represent a permanent population of 360,000 people. Naples Daily News, 7/13/18
  • Editorial kudo to Collier Board of County Commissioners. Their decision in early July to accept and distribute more than $3 million of federal grants will benefit projects by Habitat for Humanity, Youth Haven and the Shelter for Abused Women and Children. Naples Daily News, 7/27/18

City of Naples

  • City Council accuses Ethics Naples executive director of violating city's code of ethics. The allegations are the latest in a series of battles between the city and the Ethics Naples PAC. Judge Hayes is scheduled to hear the case Aug. 21. Naples Daily News, 7/25/18
    • Related : Editorial kick to Naples mayor and city attorney. Naples Daily News, 7/27/18

City of Marco Island

  • FDOT has schedule for repairing Jolley Bridge streetlights. State official credits Commissioner Donna Fiala’s advocacy for keeping the issue top-of-mind. Marco Eagle, 7/24/18
  • Editorial: The known and unknown questions on Marco referendum. Voters won’t know before election day if they will get a reduction in county property taxes if they agree to pay higher city taxes to launch their own ambulance service. Naples Daily News, 7/24/18
  • Commentary: One of the most consequential decisions in our city’s history. By Larry Honig, Marco Island City Council member, via Naples Daily News, 7/14/18
  • Commentary: Local control – the choice is yours. By Jared Grifoni, Chairman, Marco Island City Council, via Marco Eagle, 7/27/18

City of Everglades City

  • Former Everglades City Mayor Hamilton accused of grand theft, official misconduct. FDLE found Hamilton had used his position to steal almost $48,000 in taxpayers' money and authorized and issued 16 fraudulent checks under the guise of official business. Naples Daily News, 7/17/18

Collier County Public Schools

  • Conservatives back away from Collier School Board race, shift focus to state. Members of the far right said they have given up on the Collier County School Board and instead are focusing on implementing changes at the state level. Naples Daily News, 7/27/18
  • CCPS receives $3 million for workforce training. The Florida Job Growth Fund grant was awarded to develop the Southwest Florida Manufacturing Excellence Center at Immokalee Technical College. Naples Daily News, 7/5/18; Gov. Scott News Release, 7/2/18

Local elections

  • Record number of vote-by-mail ballots for primary sent to uniformed, overseas voters. A higher number were sent this year than in 2016, when the ballot included presidential candidates. Naples Daily News, 7/17/18
  • Collier commissioners, challengers discuss mental health, growth, sales tax at forum. The four candidates laid out their spending priorities, should they be elected or re-elected. Naples Daily News, 7/9/18
  • Safety, teacher retention and charter schools among topics of Collier school board forum. Candidates discussed their priorities and the issues currently facing the school district. Marco Eagle, 7/12/18
  • School Board candidates discuss bullying, reading scores, term limits at conservative group forum. Naples Daily News, 7/16/18

That’s it for July’s local news. Stay tuned in the coming days for how I will vote on my August ballot!

Thursday, August 2, 2018

State News in Review - July 2018

There's little to feel good about in July’s news about our state government. It's another reminder that it's important to stay informed so we can hold elected officials accountable at the ballot box.

Top stories

  • Gov. Scott declares state of emergency over algae bloom. The order allows the Department of Environmental Protection and the South Florida Water Management District to waive restrictions in order to help alleviate the water discharges that are causing the blooms. Sun-Sentinel, 7/9/18; News Release, 7/9/18
    • Related: How Florida's algae crisis is affecting tourism and other businesses. Naples Daily News, 7/14/18
  • Editorial kick: a disgraceful disenfranchising of the majority of Southwest Florida voters. Attorney Joseph P. Hoffman’s filing as a write-in candidate for State Attorney, 20th Circuit, prevents at least 438,500 registered voters from having a say in the Fox-Crowley primary. Naples Daily News, 7/20/18
    • Related: Editorial: Disenfranchising state attorney voters is shameful. Blame members of the  Florida Constitution Revision Commission, every member of the Lee and Collier legislative delegations, and just about all members of the Florida Legislature for that matter. Naples Daily News, 5/12/18

The “good news”

  • Florida lawmakers OK use of $19M federal grant for election security after hack attempts, a week after a federal indictment alleged Russian hackers targeted county offices before the 2016 presidential election. Associated Press via Naples Daily News, 7/20/18
  • Judge strikes down Florida's campus ban on early voting. In a scathing ruling, he called the ban put in place by Secretary of State Ken Detzner unconstitutional, saying it appeared to be done to stop younger voters from casting ballots. Tallahassee Democrat via Naples Daily News, 7/25/18
  • State fixes voter registration problem with simple updates. A problem that had activists worried about voter suppression was solved by informing users they had to enter personal information “EXACTLY” as it appears on their driver license. Politico Florida, 7/23/18
  • Army Corps pledges $500 million to fix Lake O's aging dike. State leaders have pressured the federal agency to fix the dike since a 2006 engineering report pronounced the massive earthen ring around Florida's largest lake "a grave and imminent danger to the people and environment of South Florida." Miami-Herald, 7/6/18
  • Army Corps approves reservoir to cut Lake Okeechobee discharges. The plan to build a reservoir south of Lake O can now be included in the federal Water Resources and Development Act, the list of water projects throughout the country to be done by the Corps. The federal government is to pay half the project’s $1.6 billion cost. News-Press, 7/11/18

Gun permit saga continues

  • Problems with concealed weapons permits in Putnam’s office were first discovered in 2012. Forty-eight Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services employees made mistakes while issuing concealed weapon permits and armed security guard or similar licenses. In all, two concealed weapons permits and one armed security guard license were revoked. Associated Press via Tampa Bay Times, 7/3/18
  • Ex-supervisor in Adam Putnam’s gun-license unit warned of ‘gross misconduct,’ sued and got $30,000 settlement. In a whistle-blower lawsuit, the former chief of the Bureau of License Issuance said she was threatened with retaliation for saying workers were deficient in processing licensing applications, and that her bosses told her she "worked for the NRA." Tampa Bay Times via Naples Daily News, 7/16/18
  • Auditors reviewing Putnam’s office over concealed carry background checks. It’s not clear when the audit will be finished, but the review was underway before news stories revealed problems in the office. Herald Tribune, 7/24/18


  • Florida Board of Education adopts rules on scholarships for bullied students. After questioning by Board member Tom Grady of Naples, the Board was satisfied there are safeguards in place to prevent fraud. Tampa Bay Times, 7/18/18
    • Related: Commentary: Florida’s new school-voucher plan for bullying is a farce. Orlando Sentinel, 11/24/17
  • Rush job on school safety law causes mental-health conundrum for families, no help from state. A little-noticed provision requires that students – at the time of initial school registration — disclose if they’ve been referred for mental health services. Florida Phoenix, 7/20/18
  • Sides battle over 'high quality' schools requirement. The Florida Supreme Court agreed to hear a long-running case about whether the state has met its constitutional requirement to provide a “uniform, efficient, safe, secure and high quality” system of public schools. News Service of Florida, 7/23/18
  • Florida risks losing $1.1 billion in federal funds over ESSA spat. Since the law was passed in 2015, Florida has resisted complying with several of its new accountability requirements. Education Week, 7/23/18

Other state government news

  • Troubled SunPass vendor linked to Gov. Rick Scott. The company won the lucrative, seven-year contract with the help of one of Scott’s top supporters, despite allegations of favoritism and the company’s history of problems, records show. News-Press, 7/25/18
    • Related: Florida halts payments to company with $287 million contract to upgrade SunPass. Sun-Sentinel, 7/16/18
  • Florida Legislature keeps stomping on local laws. Twenty Florida mayors challenged a state law making local gun laws illegal. The state and several others – including AG Pam Bondi, Ag Commissioner Adam Putnam and CFO Jimmy Patronis – filed a motion to get the suit dismissed. Florida Phoenix, 7/17/18
  • Backing beachgoers: Gov. Rick Scott signs executive order to protect public's access. State Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, sponsored the Senate version of the bill that caused widespread confusion about what is and isn't a public beach and left local governments scrambling. Naples Daily News, 7/13/18
    • Related: Commentary: Customary use beach bill widely misunderstood. By State Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, via Naples Daily News, 4/9/18
  • Florida’s embattled director of medical marijuana steps down. He had been appointed in 2015 to lead what was then known as the Office of Compassionate Use, though his job application documented only 15 months of experience consulting on medical marijuana issues and his job was not publicly advertised. Miami-Herald, 7/27/18
    • Related: Legalized smokable medical pot won’t happen anytime soon in Florida, court rules. An appellate court refuses to allow smokable medical marijuana while a legal fight continues to play out. News Service of Florida via Tampa Bay Times, 7/5/18
  • State Supreme Court blocks Gov. Scott’s judicial appointment. At issue is whether Scott or the voters should fill a vacancy that occurred before the start of an election-qualifying period. News Service of Florida via, 7/12/18

The governor’s race

  • DeSantis, Graham lead primaries for Florida governor in new Mason-Dixon poll. For Republicans: DeSantis - 41%, Putnam - 29%, undecided - 28%. For Democrats: Graham - 27%, Levine- 18%, Greene - 12%, Gillum -10%, King - 7%, undecided - 25%. Florida Today, 7/27/18
    • Related: RealClearPolitics - Florida governor raceshere.
  • Democrat Jeff Greene discloses finances as part of governor run. Greene, who has promised to spend “whatever it takes” to become Florida’s next governor, is worth about $3.3 billion. His fortune eclipses that of Gov. Rick Scott, worth $232 million, and President Donald Trump, worth $3.1 billion according to Forbes. Palm Beach Post, 7/3/18
  • Who does the Florida House Speaker support for governor? Depends which one you ask. Current Speaker Richard Corcoran endorsed Putnam. Incoming Speaker Jose Oliva, a close ally of Corcoran's in the House on nearly every policy issue, endorsed DeSantis. Tampa Bay Times. 7/2/18

By this time next month, we’ll have the outcome of the August primaries. Stay tuned.


Help me reach more Collier County voters by sharing this post with your friends. You and they can read Sparker’s Soapbox online at or subscribe to posts by email at

News happens daily! Stay current with Sparker’s Soapbox on Facebook at or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

How I will LIKELY vote in the August elections

August 28, 2018
Primary Elections in Florida
I heard from so many Sparker's Soapbox readers anxious to complete their ballot that I reconsidered my earlier decision. Rather than wait until mid-August to share how I will vote, in this post, I’ll share my CURRENT THINKING .

But I won’t complete my Vote-By-Mail ballot until much closer to Election Day. New information may come to light, and I want to be able to change my decisions if necessary. I urge others to wait, too.

So here it is — subject to change. Be sure to click on the “background here” links and read my previous posts about the candidates for each of the offices. 

U.S. Senate (background here)

Republican Primary: Rick Scott — Scott’s opponent, Rocky de la Fuente, is simply not to be taken seriously as a candidate. Rick Scott will face Democrat Bill Nelson in November.

    U.S. Congress District 19 (background here)

    Democrat Primary: David Holden — Holden shares my values, priorities, and positions on issues. I admire his intelligence, his drive, his passion for civic engagement, and his willingness to serve, and I know he would be a great Congressman. Importantly, he has the better chance to beat the incumbent in November. As a result, he has my support and I have contributed to his campaign.

    Florida Governor (background here)

    Republican Primary: Adam Putnam — I respect Putnam’s long public service to Floridians, first in the State Legislature, then in Congress, and then as Commissioner of Agriculture. Ron DeSantis’s alignment with President Trump means he’s the candidate least aligned with my values.

    Democratic Primary: Jeff Greene — A late-comer to the race, Greene ( was not a candidate when I did my initial research. I like his rags-to-riches story as well as his positions on the issues I care about. But it’s his personal wealth that gets him my vote. The Florida governor’s race is going to be one of the most expensive in the country, and as much as I wish it weren’t necessary, Greene is willing and able to spend what it takes to win, and to help other Democrats up and down the ticket.

    The winners will face off in November.

    Florida Attorney General

    Republican Primary: Ashley Moody — I like Moody’s background as a judge, and the fact that she founded both an Attorney Ad Litem program and a mentoring program for at-risk children within the juvenile delinquency system. Her long list of endorsements, including those of Collier Sheriff Kevin Rambosk and State Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, shows she is well-respected statewide. I’m uncomfortable with some of her opponent’s TV ads.

    Democratic Primary: Sean Shaw — I like Shaw’s background as a state representative and former state insurance consumer advocate, as well as his issue priorities. His endorsements, including those of former Gov. Bob Graham and former Attorney General Bob Butterworth, show he is well-respected statewide.

    The winners will face off in November.

    Florida Commissioner of Agriculture

    Republican Primary: Denise Grimsley — The Commissioner of Agriculture oversees a department with a budget of $1.8 billion, five times that of the other Cabinet offices. As such, I want it led by someone with not only an understanding of Florida’s agriculture industry, but also substantive business experience. In my view, Grimsley’s background as a registered nurse, citrus grower, hospital administrator, and chief operating officer of her family’s business likely provide her the best insight and relevant experience for the job.

    Democratic Primary: Jeffrey Duane Porter — In my opinion, none of the three Democratic candidates have backgrounds sufficient for the job. Of them, Porter is the only one with executive experience, having served as mayor of the city of Homestead, FL (population about 70,000).

    The winners will face off in November.

      State Attorney, 20th Circuit (background here)

      Republican Primary: Amira Fox — Having spent a successful career in the State Attorney’s office and with the endorsement of retiring State Attorney Steve Russell, Fox is the better qualified candidate for the job. Her endorsements by Russell’s predecessor Joe d’Alessandro, the President of the Florida Prosecuting Attorney's Association, the sheriffs of the five counties of the 20th Circuit and Collier County Commissioner Burt Saunders are also persuasive.

      Even though a write-in candidate closed this race so that only registered Republicans can participate in it, the winner will effectively be decided in August.

        The local races

        Let me begin by saying how impressed I am by each of the individuals running for the following offices. While I may not agree with some of their priorities, or think they have the necessary background or experience for the job, without exception they appear be sincerely motivated to make a difference in our community. I thank each of them for their willingness to serve.

        With that, here’s how I would likely vote:

        Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller

        Universal Primary: Crystal Kinzel — I’ve known Kinzel since before 2007, but that year we worked together as members of a League of Women Voters of Collier County study of charter government. She is smart, hard-working, ethical and dedicated to public service. Her years as Finance Director for the Collier Sheriff (1989 - 2005) and for the Clerk of Courts (2005 -2016), and the fact that she was selected by her long-time boss Dwight Brock to be his Deputy Clerk, more than qualify her for the job. In fact, I’d say she’s earned it.

        With just two candidates running, this race will be decided in August.

        Collier County Commissioner
        District 2 (background here)

        Universal Primary: Andy Solis — I’ve known Solis since 2014, when we supported the same candidate for School Board; later, I supported him over two opponents in his first run for County Commission in 2016. I feel today, as I did then, that his broad-based and diverse community engagement makes him my preferred candidate for this position. In addition, I am impressed with Solis’s leadership of and advocacy for development of a county-wide strategic plan to address mental health and addiction. (More here and here.)

        With just two candidates running, this race will be decided in August.

        Collier County Commissioner
        District 4 (background here)

        Republican Primary: Penny Taylor — I commend and support Taylor’s efforts to persuade fellow Commissioners to deal with the County’s workforce-housing shortages and the prospect of sea level rise. I especially like that she initiated annual Mock Commission Meetings for middle school civics class students, introducing them to county government. She deserves another term to continue her work.

        The winner will face Democrat Gary Petit-Dor in November.

          Circuit Judge, 20th Circuit (background here)

          Open Primary: John Owen McGowan — Not only does McGowan have the appropriate legal experience for the job, his additional service for the past ten years representing indigent clients will likely broaden the perspective with which he approaches his role as a judge. In addition, I admire the fact that in addition to his legal duties, McGowan served for twelve years as an elected North Naples Fire Commissioner and was part of the team that worked toward fire district consolidation, a concept I have supported since 2010.

          With just two candidates running, this race will be decided in August.

            County Judge, Group 2 (background here)

            Open Primary: Dominick Russo — A Naples High graduate, Russo has spent his legal career in Collier County representing the types of clients and handling the types of cases likely to come before him as a judge. Before law school, he taught public school in South Los Angeles, and he speaks Spanish. The more I learned about Russo’s background, the more convinced I became that he is the best candidate for this particular job.

            Unless one of the five candidates gets 50 percent of the votes plus one, the top two vote-getters will face off in November.

              School Board District 3 (background here)

              Open Primary: Jen Mitchell — I’ve been actively working with Mitchell as a member of her campaign team since 2017, and I contributed to her campaign. She is smart, committed to public education, a strong supporter of CCPS, has great insight having been an active parent-volunteer in her children’s classrooms for more than 15 years, and her energy knows no bounds. She’s also a realtor, which gives her another perspective on the importance of good public schools. Knowing her as I do, I am confident that she’s the best candidate for the job.

              With just two candidates running, this race will be decided in August.

                School Board District 5 (background here)

                Open Primary: Roy TerryI’ve been a supporter of Roy Terry since well before his election to the School Board in 2014, and I contributed to his campaign. I endorsed him in 2014 for the same reasons I endorse him today: he has devoted his career to public education, and continues to do so in retirement , having served on the School Board since first being appointed by the Governor in 2010. He has been an excellent Board member, always listening and participating respectfully in Board discussions, and soliciting input from community members before making important decisions. His community involvement has been consistent and shows a commitment to helping others. I especially appreciate Terry’s willingness to endure another campaign in order to provide what he sees as much-needed continuity and stability for the Board for another four years.

                Unless one of the three candidates gets 50 percent of the votes plus one, the top two vote-getters will face off in November.

                Saturday, July 28, 2018

                Who's Running for County and Circuit Judge in the August 2018 Primaries?

                August 28, 2018
                Primary Elections in Florida
                Published 7/28/18; updated 7/30/18 - 8:45 AM and 7/31/18 - 8:35 PM

                Here's my post about the two judicial elections of Collier County voters' ballots. These races are the ones I'm most frequently asked about, since judicial races are nonpartisan and candidates can't discuss issues that may come before them as a judge.

                This is my final post about what's on Collier voters' ballots. Now it's time to watch what happens as the campaigns heat up. Like many readers, I received my Vote By Mail ballot this week, but I'm not yet ready to fill it in. If there are any last minute surprises, I want to be able to take them into consideration. Closer to Election Day -- in time for those who are out-of-town to mail in their ballots -- I'll share how I plan to vote.

                * * * * * * * * 

                In August, all Collier voters will have the opportunity to vote in two judicial elections: one for county judge and one for circuit judge. The terms of office are six-years, and there are no term limits. The elections are nonpartisan: candidates appear on the ballot without reference to any political party. A county judge salary is currently $151,822, and a circuit judge salary is currently $160,688 (see here).

                From the Florida Bar’s Guide for Florida Voters

                "Both county and circuit judges are trial judges. County judges hear criminal misdemeanors (crimes that have possible sentences of less than one year in jail) and civil cases in which the amount in dispute is $15,000 or less. Circuit judges deal with criminal felonies, domestic relations, juvenile matters, probate issues and civil cases in which the disputed amount is greater than $15,000....

                "What makes someone a “good” judge? Judges must be impartial, fair and understand the law. All judges may deal with cases that are either civil or criminal in nature. Knowledge in one particular area is not more important than the other. Judges should be selected based on their legal abilities, temperament and commitment to follow the law and decide cases consistent with a judge’s duty to uphold the law regardless of his or her personal view."

                The candidates - County Judge

                There are five candidates for county judge: Blake Adams, Sal Bazaz, James Moon, Michael Nieman and Dominick Russo. Moon, Nieman and Russo completed the Florida Bar’s “Judicial Candidate Voluntary Self-Disclosure Statement;” Adams and Bazaz did not. Links are included below.

                Blake Adams
                Blake Adams ( is Collier County Deputy Chief of the Law Offices of Kathleen A. Smith, Public Defender 20th Judicial Circuit. He was admitted to the Florida Bar in 2010; Bar profile here. He has a BA from William Jewell College, and an MBA and JD from the University of Tulsa. Prior to earning the latter two degrees, Adams spent ten years in the financial services industry (retail banking, investments and mortgages), and owned and managed rental properties.

                His volunteer activities have included Habitat for Humanity of Collier County; volunteer judge for Collier County Teen Court; courthouse panelist for Youth Leadership Collier; and volunteer for Ave Maria School of Law mock trials. He currently serves on the Criminal Justice Academic Advisory Board of Lely High School.

                Adams says he should be Collier’s next county judge because he is a “dedicated and experienced public servant” with “Personal Integrity. Community Commitment. Genuine Experience.”

                His website lists endorsements by State Attorney Steve Russell, Naples Mayor Bill Barnett and Public Defender Kathy Smith, among others.

                Sal Bazaz
                Sal Bazaz ( is an attorney (Law Office of Sal Bazaz) specializing in criminal defense and family law in Collier and Lee counties. He was admitted to the Florida Bar in 2003; Bar profile here. He has a BS from St. John’s University (summa cum laude) and a JD from St. John’s University School of Law.

                His volunteer activities have included Knights of Columbus; Collier County Bar Association High School Mock Trial Competition; Collier County Homeschool Community Mock Trials; Teen Court; Legal Aid Service of Collier County; and Friends of Foster Children.

                Bazaz says his experience as both a prosector (Assistant District Attorney in Richmond County, NY; Assistant State Attorney in Lee and Collier Counties) and now, as a defense attorney, set him apart from the other candidates. In addition, he says is one of only ten attorneys in Collier County appointed by the Court to represent parents in Dependency Court.

                His website lists no endorsements.

                James Moon
                James Moon ( practices law in the areas of civil, business, and commercial litigation as a partner in the Fort Myers and New York offices of Quintairos Prieto, Wood & Boyer, P.A., “the largest minority and women owned law firm in the country.” He was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1999; Bar profile here, Disclosure Statement here. According to his professional bio, he has a BS from Eastern Michigan University, an MA (with honors) from Saginaw Valley State University, and a JD from Thomas M. Cooley Law School. He also has a ML (cum laude) in international taxation and financial services from Saint Thomas University School of Law and a Graduate Certificate in Anti-Money Laundering, and is a Supreme Court certified mediator.

                His community activities have included: City of Naples Code Board; Collier County Tax Abatement Board; Junior Achievement volunteer lecturer; Volunteer Judge Ave Maria Law School and Collier County High School Moot Court Programs; FGCU and Big Brothers/Big Sisters mentor; Humane Society; Drug Free Collier; NAMI. He served in the U.S. Army National Guard as an infantryman during the first Gulf War.

                His website lists endorsements by Naples City Council members Linda Penniman and Terry Hutchison, and more.

                Michael Nieman
                Michael D. Nieman ( is Collier County’s Ethics and Compliance Counsel, reporting to the County Manager. He was admitted to the Florida Bar in 2009; Bar profile here, Disclosure Statement here. He has a BA from The American University and a JD from New York Law School. Prior to joining the County Manager’s Office in 2015, his legal career included time as a prosecutor, criminal defense attorney; and family law practitioner.

                His community activities have included: Human Trafficking Taskforce; Collier County Domestic Violence Taskforce; Domestic Violence Fatality Review Team; volunteer judge for Ave Maria Law School Moot Court Competitions and mentor through the Young Lawyer’s Division of the Florida Bar.

                Nieman says “As a former prosecutor and criminal defense attorney,” he “has the necessary experience in each of these areas to serve successfully,” as well as a “demonstrated commitment to public service, ethics and the rule of law.”

                Nieman lists endorsements from Naples Vice Mayor Gary Price and former State Senator Garrett Richter, among others.

                Dominick Russo
                Dominick Russo ( is a criminal defense attorney in Naples (Dominick Russo, P.A.). He was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1998; Bar profile here, Disclosure Statement here. A graduate of Naples High School, he attended Middlebury College, then taught public school in South Los Angeles for five years before attending Loyola Law School (Los Angeles) and returning to Naples.

                He has spent his legal career representing people in Collier County, first as an attorney with the Office of the Public Defender, and since 2001, in private practice. He is fluent in Spanish.

                According to his Facebook page, he is the only candidate for Collier County Judge who earned his way on the ballot by getting petitions signed by 2,008 registered voters from Collier County. The others paid a $5,520.80 qualifying fee.

                His volunteer activities have included service as a judge with Collier County's Teen Court diversion program and in the Collier County Bar Association's High School Mock Trial competition; he also volunteers with the Naples Cat Alliance, a a no-kill, free-roaming cat shelter.

                Rosso says he would be a good county judge because his legal experience has focused in the types of cases a county judge would hear (misdemeanor criminal cases, landlord-tenant cases, small claims, and motions to seal or expunge misdemeanor criminal cases), and because he has 16+ years running his own small business.

                His website lists no endorsements.

                The money

                The Money - County Judge Candidates

                In addition to noting the differences among the candidates, I found these findings interesting in my review of individual contributions on the Collier Supervisor of Elections website:

                • James Moon received $1,000 from Sheri Hutchison, spouse of Naples City Councilman Terry Hutchison, and $100 from Naples City Councilwoman Linda Penniman.
                • Michael Nieman received over 95 percent of his contributions from attorneys/lawyers.
                • Dominick Russo received $685 in-kind in website advertising from Larry’s Lunchbox.

                The candidates - Circuit Judge

                There are two candidates for circuit judge: James Wesley Chandler and John Owen McGowan. Both completed the Florida Bar’s “Judicial Candidate Voluntary Self-Disclosure Statement.

                James W. Chandler
                James Wesley Chandler (no campaign website or Facebook Page) is an attorney specializing in criminal, juvenile and family law (Law Office of James W. Chandler, P.A.). He was admitted to the Florida Bar in 2004; BAR profile here, Disclosure Statement here. He has a BS from West Virginia University and a JD from University of Denver, College of Law. Before beginning his own law practice, he spent two years as attorney/partner with Agoston & Chandler, P.A. , two years as associate attorney with Law Offices of David T. Agoston, P.A., and three years as an Assistant State Attorney.

                Asked why he believes he would be a good judge, Chandler wrote, “I am not running to fulfill a dream, etc. I am running because I was asked to run because I would make a good judge, honest and fair.” (sic)

                His volunteer activities have included Ave Maria Board of Visitors Mentor Program; Collier County Teen Court; Collier County High School Mock Trial Competition; Ave Maria School of Law Moot Court Competition; and president of a local Condo Association.

                I could find no endorsements.

                John O. McGowan

                John Owen McGowan ( is an attorney in private practice specializing in Criminal and Civil litigation (John O. McGowan & Associates, P.A., via McGowan & Clarke). In addition, he has worked with the State of Florida's Office of Criminal Conflict and Civil Regional Counsel, Second District for the past 10 years, providing criminal legal representation to indigent clients throughout Southwest Florida. He was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1993; Bar profile here, Disclosure Statement here. He has a BA (with honors) from Eckerd College and a JD from Western Michigan Cooley Law School (cum laude).

                McGowan served (2006 - 2018) as an elected North Naples Fire Commissioner and as District Liaison between the North Naples and the City of Naples Fire Departments. He says he is “committed to providing excellence in service at the most efficient cost to the taxpayers,” and supports consolidation of fire districts throughout the County.

                His volunteer activities have included Muscular Dystrophy Association; Drug Free Collier; Cancer Alliance of Naples; Safe and Healthy Children’s Coalition; Stepwise Collier; Angela’s Angels.

                According to a postcard from his campaign and/or his Facebook Page, McGowan has been endorsed by State Attorney Stephen Russell, Naples Mayor Bill Barnett, Naples City Councilmen Reg Buxton and Terry Hutchison, and Public Defender for the 20th Judicial Circuit Kathleen A. Smith; see members of his Election Campaign for more.

                The money

                The Money - Circuit Judge Candidates

                • James Wesley Chandler received 85 percent of his monetary contributions from attorneys, including 25 contributions of $1,000 each. In addition, among his first contributions are seven $1,000 checks from contributors associated with FTE Networks, Inc., a publicly-traded “global network infrastructure solutions provider” headquartered in Naples, FL, with offices throughout the U.S. and Europe.
                • John Owen McGowan received 71 percent of his monetary contributions from attorneys, including 13 contributions of $1,000 each; 7 percent is from firefighters and related. Of note is $1,000 from the Seminole Tribe of Florida, $500 from Collier County EMS Medical Director Robert Tober, and $250 from Naples City Councilman Terry Hutchison.

                Things to consider

                These are some things I will be considering in deciding how I will vote in these two judicial races:

                • Does the candidate have a website and/or a campaign Facebook Page to introduce himself to voters? Does it clearly disclose his education and work history, community service and volunteer activities, and endorsements by well-respected community members?
                • Has the candidate made a convincing case for why he wants to be a judge, and why he would be a good judge and/or is the best candidate?
                • Did the candidate complete the Florida Bar's Voluntary Disclosure Statement?
                • What impression can I draw from a review of the candidate's sources and uses of campaign funds and the candidate amount he loaned to his own campaign?
                • What does all the above tell me about the candidate's personal values and beliefs, and which candidate do I think would make the “best” judge given the nature of the cases that will come before him?

                In closing

                This the final post in my GET READY TO VOTE series for the races and candidates that will be on Collier voters' August Primary ballot. You can review the posts you missed (see Archive) as you consider your own ballots choices. Be sure to follow my Sparker's Soapbox Facebook Page for day-to-day election news updates. My next election-related post(s) will reveal how I've decided to vote -- probably just before early voting starts on August 18, which should allow out-of-town voters time to get their Vote By Mail ballots in on time.

                My next posts will be my regular Month in Review of State and Local News, coming next week.


                Correction: I originally published on 7/28/18 that James Moon received $5,500 from Naples City Councilman Terry Hutchison’s Campaign Fund and $2,250 from Sheri and Terry Hutchison. Both amounts were in error, and resulted from my confusion about filings by the Moon campaign and its refund of amounts it initially received. The net result of the seven reported transactions is that Moon received one contribution of $1,000 from Sheri Hutchison and no contributions from Terry Hutchison or his Campaign Fund. I corrected the post online on 7/30/18, and thank Mr. Moon for bringing the error to my attention.

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