For Manatee County Commission: Larry Bustle, Vanessa Baugh, Betsy Benac

October 21, 2012 

The Manatee County Board of Commissioners will undergo a major overhaul come November as only one of the three contested positions features an incumbent. With at least two new commissioners, the board will operate under a different dynamic.

Two of the districts in this election are mostly East Manatee with State Route 64 as the dividing line east of Interstate 75. Both Districts 1 and 5 cover portions of the county west of the interstate as well. The third district is an at-large seat with all county voters entitled to mark ballots.

In District 3, based in the islands, west Bradenton and far western Manatee County, incumbent John Chappie did not get a challenger and retains his seat.

District 1 -- Larry Bustle

The former Palmetto mayor, decorated combat pilot and one-term Republican county commissioner faces political newcomer, investigative consultant and Democrat Corie Holmes in this spirited contest.

Bustle remains committed to a business-friendly county government focused on job creation and economic incentives to both attract new businesses and encourage existing ones to expand.

During the tough economic times that have prevailed over his first term, he cites commission success in passing affordable budgets every year while tax rates remained stable.

Like Bustle's primary opponent, Holmes contends that special interests and campaign contributors hold sway over Bustle's decisions.

As we have opined several times, Bustle has demonstrated integrity in working through controversial policy and budget issues. As a graduate of the Naval Academy, Bustle remains steeped in a strict code of conduct, one that emphasized honesty and accountability.

Now in his third consecutive year as chairman of Port Manatee's Port Authority, Bustle is working toward fulfilling the port's potential for direct and indirect job creation.

He is also focused on growth in Parrish and construction of the Fort Hamer Bridge, the latter a key to economic development in East Manatee.

Holmes is an eloquent and animated campaigner, and we applaud his candidacy. We expect to hear from him again in the political arena.

Bustle's lengthy experience in military, government and community service make him the best candidate in this contest. The Herald Editorial Board recommends Larry Bustle for Manatee County Commission, District 1.

District 5 -- Vanessa Baugh

Lakewood Ranch business owner Vanessa Baugh, a Republican and political novice, espouses policy priorities that mirror Bustle's: a diverse economy, business recruitment and job creation alongside fiscal responsibility in the county's budget.

A pastor, lawyer and military veteran, James T. Golden, a Democrat and former Bradenton City Council member, holds similar priorities.

On the campaign trail for the past year, Baugh has been attending county commission meetings regularly for two years to gain insights into governance and public policy decision-making. That speaks well of her commitment to public service.

Additionally, Baugh's community connections include such key organizations as the Lakewood Ranch Community Fund, Kiwanis Club of Lakewood Ranch, Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance and the Main Street Merchants Association. She has been been involved with Meals on Wheels, the Boys and Girls Club, the Hope Foundation and the American Cancer Society.

Her primary objectives include strong communications with constituents and advocacy for all segments of the community, residents and businesses alike, while working in close partnership to improve the economy. But she states growth should be in harmony with the environment, pointing out all the green construction in Lakewood Ranch.

Also like Bustle, Baugh embraces common sense leadership and limited government.

In recommending Golden in the Democratic primary, we agreed with his point that seasoned leadership is vital.

In this general election, however, Baugh's very close ties to the Lakewood Ranch community and those constituents are even more important as this is the heart of District 5.

The Herald Editorial Board recommends Vanessa Baugh for Manatee County Commission, District 5.

District 7, At-Large -- Betsy Benac

A Manatee County assistant planning director for more than a decade and currently employed by Benderson Development Co., Betsy Benac defeated longtime county Commissioner Joe McClash in a heated Republican primary in August.

Her November opponent is write-in candidate Thomas Dell, who has not mounted much of a campaign.

Benac vows to be a full-time commissioner dedicated to consensus leadership and ensuring the quality of life here is protected and improved.

Sharp critics contend she will side with developers in all matters, though during her tenure as a county planner she held their feet to the fire over project proposals as those who watched her operate then attest.

Benac says she is a "committed environmentalist" and evidence supports that. As an appointee of Gov. Jeb Bush, she served three terms on the Manasota Basin Board, representing that panel on the Sarasota Bay National Estuary Policy Board.

Her expertise in land-use regulations and planning will be an asset to the county commission. Her community service and leadership skills in a broad range of organizations are also advantageous.

The Herald Editorial Board recommends Betsy Benac for Manatee County Commission, District 7 At-Large.

Candidate rebuttals

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 day after the endorsement appears in print. Those can be sent to letters@bradenton.com or faxed to 745-7047.

View candidate forums

Several weeks ago, The Herald, in partnership with Manatee Educational Television, videotaped candidate forums in these contested 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.

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