Name recognition. Overwhelming campaign war chest. A majority Republican electorate. Two political novices as opponents. Outgoing GOP state Sen. Mike Bennett has all the advantages in this contest for Manatee County supervisor of elections against Democrat Charles N. Williams Jr. and write-in candidate Rodney "Smokey" Smithley.
The victor will replace Bob Sweat, who is retiring after 27 years as Manatee's elections chief. Sweat earned great respect in the community for running an efficient and successful operation that produced clean elections. All three candidates contend they can maintain those strong traditions, though only Bennett has experience in government service.
With his military service and business background as an electrical contractor and owner of the Linger Lodge and Ellenton Ice & Sports Complex, Bennett possesses the experience and organizational skills to recruit, train and supervise a strong elections office team. That, he notes, is essential to ensure fair, accurate and timely elections. We would expect nothing less than that.
After two years in the state House and a decade in the Florida Senate, serving as that chamber's president pro tempore most recently, Bennett maintains the next elections supervisor must be able to work with all political parties and independent voters while encouraging non-voters to register and participate in the democratic process. He also prides himself on working across the aisle while in the Legislature.
Considering his partisan history as a legislator and strong Republican Party ties, we challenge the termed-out senator to indeed follow that nonpartisan path.
With strong legislative connections, Bennett vowed to serve as the voice of all the state's elections supervisors in Tallahassee. He also cited his strong relationship with Manatee County commissioners, who set the elections office budget. These political ties could prove advantageous.
In supporting Florida's stringent elections law, Bennett famously remarked that voting "should not be easy."
But, as he stated in response to a Herald Editorial Board questionnaire, "I will do all in my legal power to ensure that this position and the office will be fair and impartial to all." We will hold him to that promise.
Furthermore, he noted that the "supervisor must, through outreach, citizen involvement and public presence, ensure that all of the citizens of Manatee County are comfortable with the fact that their vote will be counted, and that the election will be fair. This is critical."
Bennett also pledged to direct an office dedicated to transparency.
Smithley and Williams are waging commendable campaigns, and we applaud their efforts.
Still, the Herald's Editorial Board recommends Mike Bennett as Manatee County supervisor of elections.
Candidates who do not receive the Herald Editorial Board's endorsement are invited to submit a response of up to 300 words by 4 p.m. the next weekday after the endorsement appears in print. Those can be sent to email@example.com or faxed to 745-7047.
View candidate forums
The Herald, in partnership with Manatee Educational Television, videotaped candidate forums in a variety of key races.
These forums can be viewed on www.bradenton.com on the "Recent Multimedia" page. METV is also regularly airing all the forums, and the station can be viewed on Brighthouse channel 614, Verizon FIOS 31 and Comcast 19. For METV airtimes, visit www.metvweb.com.