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Columns

Some Races and Issues of Note in Tuesday's Primary

August 29, 2016 - 6:00am
Protestors outside of Brian Mast HQ in Stuart on Saturday, demanding he return donations from Big Sugar
Protestors outside of Brian Mast HQ in Stuart on Saturday, demanding he return donations from Big Sugar

You may have other ideas which of Tuesday's primaries stand out in Florida. But from my point of view, after spending the summer traveling the state, here is a thumbnail sketch of some of the most notable races, local through congressional, I saw leading to the Big Day Aug. 30. 


Congressional Races

 

CD 18, Republican

The most covered congressional race this year in the Republican primary is CD 18 on Florida's east coast. This is the seat currently held by U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy who is running for U.S. Senate.

The district covers from St. Lucie County south into Palm Beach County. Republican front-runner in a large field is the candidate with the most name recognition, Martin County School Board member Rebecca Negron, wife of next Senate President Joe Negron. 

Rebecca Negron has done well fundraising and in bringing major endorsements. Her primary campaign issues involve cleaning the Indian River Lagoon and opposing Common Core. Moving up in the polls is former U.S. Army Special Operations Commander Brian Mast. 

Mast's campaign wasn't given much attention by conservative groups at first, but his swell of volunteers may put him in range Tuesday. He was, however, still trying over the weekend to beat back accusations he had only partially returned the donations he received from Big Sugar. In a statement to the press, Mast said, "I returned special interest money donated to my political campaign” and he included a list of contributors to his campaign -- none on the list with a "sugar" connection.

Negron’s opponents claim she is the Republicans' establishment candidate. And while some local polls may put Negron in the lead, the Mast campaign says its latest internal poll shows Mast at 39 percent to Negron’s 19 percent. The Negron people have dismissed that poll.

CD 4, Republican

The race to replace outgoing Republican Congressman Ander Crenshaw narrows between three candidates: Former Duval County Sheriff John Rutherford, former State Rep. Lake Ray and local attorney Hanz Tanzler.

The negative issues have been revolved around immigration and “party establishment.” The latest batch of TV ads have Tanzler referred to as the “outside conservative”. The ad claims that both Rutherford and Gray are weak on illegal immigration.

Rutherford and Tanzler have been power houses in the fundraising department. But the latest poll shows that more money may not equal victory.

A St. Pete Poll shows Rutherford leading the pack with 33 percent, followed by Lake Ray with 22 percent, then Tanzler with 17 percent. Rutherford's strength in this race is that he’s been consistently leading in all the polls. Over the summer a University of North Florida poll showed Rutherford running away with this race.

CD 9, Democratic

Known at the Alan Grayson seat, this Democratic primary has turned virtually into a political "Who's Who" soap opera.  The three candidates running are state Sen. Darren Soto, Susannah Randolph and Alan Grayson's wife, Dr. Dena Grayson.

As a Democratic state senator, Soto’s votes have positioned him as a moderate in the Florida Democratic Party. The NRA has given him an A- rating. Associated Industries of Florida and the Florida Chamber of Commerce have given Soto high marks for his votes in support of pro-business legislation.

But Soto’s votes have given his opponents an open door to attack him as being more in tune with the Republicans than the Democrats -- a position party leaders hardly warm to.

Susannah Randolph, executive director of Florida Watch Action and wife of former state Rep. and current Orange County Tax Collector Scott Randolph, has gone after Soto  for voting with the NRA. Some of Dena Grayson's supporters have pointed out that Soto’s past votes don’t fit well into the current Democratic scene.

Dena Grayson may be the dark horse in this race -- not because of her political experience or lack thereof, but because of her last name.

 

Florida Senate

SD 17, Republican

Probably the second nastiest race of the 2016 Florida elections -- second behind only the presidential race -- is the contest between two state House members, Debbie Mayfield and Rich Workman. Straight out of the chute, the race got ugly. Political committees charged after Workman, attacking him on his immigration votes. pro-Mayfield ads allege Ritch Workman's pro-immigration stands are no different than that of Barack Obama's pro-amnesty legislation.

Even personal attacks showing Workman as a member of ashleymadison.com, the website that encourages married men who cheat on their wives. The campaign has gotten so crazy that Workman's ex-wife and his current wife both got together on a T.V. commercial defending Workman. Over the summer, both campaigns have mailed out more than 30 pieces of campaign literature.

When the race started, political insiders believed this race was a slam dunk for Workman because Mayfield has been tagged as a state representative who hasn't been able to get anything passed. In fact, pro-Workman groups have sent out mailers referring to Mayfield as “Do Nothing Debbie.”

But in April when the race really began, Mayfield was beating Workman in his own backyard, straw poll after straw poll. Over the summer, Mayfield's camp released polls showing her up by as much as 14 points.

But as in several key Senate races, the Florida Chamber of Commerce have been spending money touting Workman as the best choice. And the Chambers ad’s may be helping Workman. The latest polls showing Mayfield and Workman race in almost a dead heat. Mayfield barely leading with a 1-2 percent margin lead.
 


State House

HD 52, Republican

A lot of races are based on normal issues like taxes and spending. This one has been focused on residency. This open House seat has all four candidates back and forth on who actually lives in the district.

Technically, Brian Hodgers' is the only one who can brag about having property homesteaded in the district. As petty as that may be, the focus has been on Sen. Thad Altman. Because of redistricting and term limits, Altman, a state senator, decided to run for the open state House seat.

Though it is a four-person race, the race has come down to Altman and his rival opponent, local businessman Brian Hodgers. Hodgers has been enjoying endorsements from groups such as the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Florida Medical Society and pro-life groups. These are endorsements Altman has benefited from over the years.

Over the last month, Hodgers has told voters that Altman is a career politician. Hodgers' mail pieces point out that Altman voted to allow in-state tuition for illegal aliens; Altman voted to allow illegal aliens to have Florida driver's licenses. A local TV ad running show how Altman supported Medicaid expansion when he was a state senator in 2015.

This race has become so important to many political groups. Even the U.S. Term Limits group got involved by going on local talk radio blasting Altman for not wanting to abide by or respect Florida’s term limits law.

But this isn’t Altman's first political rodeo. His supporters says he's been here before, being labeled the establishment guy.

Poll numbers show Altman has 81 percent name recognition in the district. And overall he’s been up by 11+ points in some polls. Hodgers' consultants admit that may be true, but they point out that when you break down the polls and voters find out Altman has been a little more moderate on immigration issues, his numbers tank. Altman's insiders believe, though, the race has tightened up and they believe their candidate is still ahead by 2-3 percentage points.  
 
HD 54, Republican

For a time, this Republican primary in Indian River County may have been a close race. But some political insiders now believe local trial lawyer Erin Grall just may win this primary with a decent spread against fellow candidate Lange Sykes.

The Sykes campaign has accused Grall of working and being associated with groups that have a direct relationship to George Soros. The Sykes campaign also believes the dislike Republicans have toward trial lawyers will have a negative effect on Grall on election day,

But Grall’s support may diffuse those stereotypes. She recently received endorsements from the National Rifle Association and the “trial lawyer” stigma may not hold up after she just got the endorsement the Florida Medical Association's endorsement.

Sykes' opponents state claim he is a liberal "greenie" -- an environmentalist who is “totally green” on the local issues and reports that he has already broken multiple elections laws.
 
HD 11, Republican

Political observers throughout the state have watched heavily this Northeast Florida primary. The top two contenders, long-time Republican Sheri Treadwell and recent Democrat-turned-Republican Donnie Horner.

Treadwell attracts a lot of Republican support in the district for her time served in the George W. Bush administration. Horner, a local businessman, has kept up on fundraising against Treadwell.

Originally, Horner looked as if he just may be able to pull off an upset in the Republican primary, until his party switching came to light. The Treadwell camp made hay pointing out that Horner isn’t a “real Republican” because within just months of his announcing for the GOP primary, he was a registered Democrat.

True, says Horner, but he was a North Florida Democrat -- meaning he was never a liberal. Horner's detractors nevertheless point out that his Twitter accounts bragged about him being an Obama supporter who supports Obamacare.

Horner has enjoyed some support from establishment Republicans who have accepted his party switch but that may not be enough to defeat Treadwell, the candidate who has consistently won Republican straw polls by a fair margin.


 
County Commission Races

Though few  county commission races receive statewide attention, races in many counties will be settled by who wins in the Aug. 30 primary.

Many of the issues, of course, are budget and taxes, but many of the commission races along Florida's east coast are heavy on water and cleaning up the Indian River Lagoon and/or the St. Lucie estuary.

Also, one of the biggest issues hitting many candidates running for a county commission seat is whether to push for a water cleanup tax to help pay for "fixing" the waterways on both coasts. Another big issue involves how and where Amendment 1 money should be spent.
 

School Board Races

Like many county races, several local school board seats will also be determined Tuesday. The Issues of testing and Common Core are still a popular topic among candidates and voters.

Another hot-button issue is the debate over the Obama administration issuing executive orders demanding local school districts in Florida adopt policies dealing with transgender students and bathrooms.

Several school districts are asking voters this week to vote in favor of raising local sales tax to help fund school infrastructure programs.

One of the biggest issues cropping up in school board races all over the state has been charter schools. The conversation deals with whether charter schools are receiving a fair share or too many local taxpayer dollars. Charter schools nevertheless remain popular because they give parents an alternative to the traditional public school. Nevertheless, some school districts now are re-thinking their support.

The issue is funding. Many school boards feel charter schools are receiving too much government money and that money could be put to better use in the local public schools.

 
Amendment 4

Though most of the amendments fall in the November election, voters will have the opportunity to decide on an amendment to the Florida Constitution this Tuesday.

Amendment 4 states that a vote in favor means you're voting to allow Florida property tax exemptions for renewable energy equipment. This amendment would support providing tax exemptions for solar power and other renewable energy equipment.

Opponents say all this amendment does is play favorites. Jason Hoyt, who is spear-heading the opposition with his group Stopplayingfavorites.com says this initiative just carves out special subsidies and tax exemptions.

Hoyt says the state needs to represent everybody and stop putting one group against another. Hoyt also says that Amendment 4 is not free market, it's crony capitalism.


 
Jacksonville Pension Reform

An issue many cities will be paying attention to on Tuesday will be the city of Jacksonville and how voters deal with their pension problem.

In news articles, Jacksonville has been plagued with the title, "the next Detroit." On Tuesday voters will go to the polls to vote up or down if the city should extend (not raise) the local-option sales tax to help pay down the city's $2.8 billion pension.

Dominic Calabro from Florida TaxWatch says this is a ticking time-bomb not only for Jacksonville but for many other cities in Florida. WBOB, Jacksonville Radio Talk Show host Alexander Pantinakis, says he believes the vote could be close -- about 52 – 48 percent.

The proponents of the tax extension say that this will help pay down the debt. When Lenny Curry became the mayor in May 2015, he said this was a top priority for him. The city has billions of future unfunded liabilities.

The opponents have not shown a strong grassroots organization against the referendum. They say Jacksonville needs to go to a defined contribution, instead of a defined benefit plan.

Proponents say a positive referendum vote -- extending the local-option sales tax -- is the best way to go. It precludes the need to raise property taxes. 

Ed Dean, is a senior editor with Sunshine State News whose talk show can be heard on radio stations in Jacksonville, Tampa Bay, Daytona Beach, Orlando, the Space Coast, the Treasure Coast and South Florida from West Palm Beach to Miami. It can also be heard in parts of Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina. You can reach him at ed@sunshinestatenews.com. Follow him on Twitter: @eddeanradio.

Comments

In a dark room, one couldn't tell the difference between Clinton (either one) and Negron (either one).

Vote Marco Rubio--Florida's hope.

Carlos Beruff to stand with Trump and support the same issues.. Amendment 4 - Enough Crony Capitalism.. And if you VOTE solar - expect your electric bills to rise to pay for it.....

Anybody but Grayson or Rubio and looks like Brian Mast is a liar like Hillary Clinton is.

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