In my past life, Election Day started at 3 AM to place yard signs at polling locations for the candidate or cause I was supporting. Rocking out to Top 40 or Country Music, I would find a peacefulness in the pre-dawn hours. Once 6 AM hit, I would get breakfast from Chick-fil-a and the first of many caffeine fixes before heading home for a shower and then off to whatever my election day duties were. I would then huddle around a laptop that evening, my candidate looking over my shoulder to watch the returns come in. While there is an amazing thrill in telling a candidate “You won”, there is also the painful task of saying “I’m sorry but the gap is too wide with not enough votes remaining.”
Tomorrow, dozens of campaign staffers and volunteers will do similar work. After weeks and months of hard work including early mornings and very late nights, these dedicated individuals will finally feel the thrill of victory or disappointing (and sometimes heartbreaking) defeat.
No matter your political leanings and preferred candidates, please be kind to staffers and volunteers tomorrow. They are working for what they believe in and deserve our respect and thanks, just as much, if not more, than the candidates themselves.
Now, for a primer on the election from the Chamber’s perspective.
First of all, unlike recent elections, this year nearly every office up for election was contested. Only 4 candidates (State Attorney Bernie McCabe, Public Defender Sara Mollo, Clerk of Court Ken Burke, and County Commissioner Karen Seel) won their seat in June on filing deadline day. That is to be commended.
Second, much like the rest of the country, voters are turning out at an unprecedented rate. Democrats, Republicans, and 3rd Party or No Party Voters are all expected to sail past the turnout in 2016 (75%) and approach the record turnout of 1992 (83%). Even if your preferred candidate loses, we should all agree that when we all vote, we all win.
Now, a quick recap of what is at stake here locally:
The County Commission has seen very few changes since Janet Long and Charlie Justice joined in 2012. While technically partisan, the Commission rarely votes along party lines on issues. Democrats do currently hold a 4 to 3 advantage with 2 incumbents (Long and Justice) running for re-election and an open seat being sought by a Democrat (Rene Flowers) and an NPA (Maria Scruggs). While the partisan balance of the County Commission would change if former State Representative Larry Ahern or small business owner Tammy Vasquez are victorious our hope is the non-partisan, collegial atmosphere stays the same.
County Constitutional Offices
Four of the County’s five Constitutional Offices (Sheriff, Clerk of Court, Property Appraiser, Tax Collector, and Supervisor of Elections), are contested this year. Administrative in nature, and not prone to partisanship generally, the campaigns for these offices tend to focus on experience and qualifications more than politics.
While Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, Tax Collector Charles Thomas, and Property Appraiser Mike Twitty are running for reelection, this will be the first time Julie Marcus will appear on the ballot due to the retirement of Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark this Spring. Pinellas Democrats are hoping Eliseo Santana (Sheriff), Trevor Mallory (Property Appraiser), Joseph Saportas (Tax Collector), and Dan Helm (Supervisor of Elections) will end the 20+ years of Republicans holding these offices.
Two non-partisan seats on the Pinellas County School Board will be decided Tuesday after the August Primaries saw no candidate receive more than 50% of the vote. Both seats have been vacated by the retirements of Joanne Lentino (District 1) and Rene Flowers (District 7). Newcomers Laura Hine and Stephanie Meyer face off for the Countywide District 1 seat while former St. Pete City Council Member Karl Nurse faces Caprice Edmond for the Single-Member District 7 seat.
Congressional District 13
Former Governor Charlie Crist is running for his 3rd term in the US House of Representatives and faces newcomer Anna Paulina Luna. Luna won the highly contested Republican Primary in August and is the best funded candidate to face Crist since David Jolly in 2016. Crist has historically performed well in Pinellas County but local Republicans believe Luna could pull off an upset.
For the first time in 10 years, State Senator Jeff Brandes is not on the ballot. While his seat will be up for grabs in 2022, and Michele Rayner-Goolsby already won the District 70 seat in August, there are several contested elections to be decided Tuesday.
- Senate District 19, held by Democrat Darryl Rouson since 2016, is a safe Democrat district with no Republican challenger this year. Newcomer Christina Paylan is running as an NPA for the seat that includes South St. Pete and portions of Tampa and East Hillsborough.
- House District 64 sees Republican newcomer Traci Koster face off against Democrat Jessica Harrington for the seat Jamie Grant vacated to serve as the State’s Chief Information Officer. While historically a safe Republican seat, Democrats are hoping to flip this district on Tuesday.
- House District 65 pits Florida House Speaker-Designate Chris Sprowls against Kelly Johnson. This seat is very safe for Republicans and the Democrats have not put a lot of assets here.
- House District 66 incumbent Nick DiCeglie is running for his second term against former Seminole City Council member Patricia Plantamura. Another safe seat for Republicans without much money being spent by Democrats to flip.
- House District 67 sees a rematch between Democrat Dawn Douglas and incumbent Republican Chris Latvala running for his 4th and final term. While seemingly a “swing district” where Republicans outnumber Democrats by only 538 voters, Latvala historically outperforms the models.
- House District 68 held by Democrat Ben Diamond since 2016 has become more reliably Democrat in recent years. While unchallenged in 2018, Diamond faces a well funded Republican in Matt Tito this year.
- House District 69 is the most highly contested race in Pinellas County this election. Democrat Jennifer Webb flipped this seat in 2018 when Kathleen Peters decided to run for County Commission. Republicans outnumber Democrats by just 467 voters and this year, former St. Pete Beach Commissioner Linda Chaney has the financial backing from House Republicans to potentially flip the seat back to red.
Amendment 1- Citizenship Requirement to Vote in Florida Elections
- Ballot initiative that would slightly change constitution to say that “only a citizen” of the United States can vote. Proponents argue this would keep cities and counties from allowing non-citizens to vote while opponents say that it is redundant.
Amendment 2- Raising Florida’s Minimum Wage
- Ballot initiative that would raise the Minimum Wage in Florida to $10.00 per hour by 2021 and to $15.00 per hour by 2026. For more information visit: Recap of $15 Minimum Wage Discussion with Economist Dr. Paul Isely
Amendment 3- All Voters Vote in Primary Elections for State Legislature, Governor, and Cabinet
- Ballot initiative that would end partisan primary system and allow all voters to vote in a general election and then a runoff between the top 2 candidates. Proponents argue the measure would make primaries more inclusive while opponents say that African American and other minority representation would be weakened. The Florida Democratic and Republican Parties oppose this measure.
Amendment 4- Voter Approval of Constitutional Amendments
- Ballot initiative that would require future amendments be approved in 2 separate elections before becoming law. Proponents argue this would prevent measures that are momentarily popular from becoming law while opponents say this measure would impose an expensive barrier on future petition drives that have been used to bypass the state legislature.
Amendment 5- Limitations on Homestead Property Tax Assessments; increased portability period to transfer accrued benefit
- Placed on the ballot by the State Legislature, this measure would increase the time Florida Residents have to transfer their Save Our Homes benefit from 2 to 3 years when moving to a new residence. Proponents argue this gives homeowners more flexibility while opponents worry local property tax revenues would be reduced.
Amendment 6- Ad Valorem Tax Discount for Spouses of Certain Deceased Veterans Who Had Permanent, Combat-Related Disabilities
- Placed on the ballot by the State Legislature, this measure would carry over certain property tax discounts for deceased veterans with combat-related disabilities to their surviving spouse until he or she remarries. Proponents argue this measure would provide financial assistance to surviving families of the estimated 1 million military veterans in Florida while opponents worry local property tax revenues would be reduced.
Referendum Question- Approval of the Continuation of One-Half Mill Ad Valorem Tax for School Operating Expenses
- Local measure to renew half-mill property tax assessment to fund operating expenses in Pinellas County Schools including salaries, enrichment programs, textbooks and technology. Monies would be shared with Charter Schools are per state law. The St. Pete Chamber supports this measure.
As I have been telling friends and colleagues who have asked for my predictions I can only say this:
Expect the Unexpected
There will be surprises. Chances are that at least one of the candidates you voted for won’t win. Additionally, don’t expect us to know the results of the Presidential Election on Tuesday night or even Wednesday morning. Prepare yourself mentally for a process that could take us into December.
In the meantime, on Wednesday morning, I am going to congratulate the candidates who won, reach out and extend my best wishes to those who lost, and get back to work for our members and the community.
Which, in the end, is all any of us can do once the counting starts.