Manatee County voters will decide between incumbent Betsy Benac and challenger Jack Richardson in the Manatee County Commission District 7 at-large race.
While both candidates are registered Republicans, Richardson is running with no party affilation so the race automatically went to the Nov. 8 election. Early voting begins Monday and runs until Saturday, Nov. 5. Since it is an at-large seat, all registered Manatee County voters regardless of district can vote.
Benac, who was elected in 2012, said she wants to continue what she’s started during her first term.
“I think we made good progress in moving our economy and our county forward,” she said. “We’ve been able to accomplish bringing many jobs. We’ve been able to protect the quality of life. We’ve been able to keep our taxes lower. I think we need to continue to work hard to protect those things and expand emergency services.”
But for Richardson, he said it is time for change.
“I’m just tired of the bullies manipulating the process to the detriment of the voters,” he said. “If the voters want real change and to do some new things and provide common sense to how we conduct ourselves in Manatee County, then I ask for your vote.”
Since Richardson filed to run on the last day of the qualifying period, which was also when he changed his voter registration from Hillsborough County to Manatee County, he elected to run without a party for the race to go to November rather than be decided during the August primary.
As a political newcomer, Richardson said he’s been working the circuit like a good candidate. Richardson has $6,638.77 in contributions to date.
“The whole campaign is a challenge,” he said. “It is a challenge because we are a big county and furthermore the county is too big for me to knock on doors. I was depending on the media a little bit, but they haven’t come through, including your paper.”
With $49,700 in contributions to date, which includes some from developers, Benac said she didn’t really start seriously fundraising until her opponent entered the race “at literally the last moment.”
“I’m very proud of the fact that I’ve had over 150 different donations,” she said. “It shows that I have so much more support and connections in the community. He doesn’t have those community connections. It helps to run a campaign, which can be very expensive.”
For Benac, the biggest issue facing the county is growth.
“We live in a place where people want to live,” she said. “We have to deal with the issues of growth, primarily traffic, making sure we get our fair share of federal and state tax dollars. We work very hard to create options for multi-modal options, not just cars.”
Traffic is the biggest issue facing the county, Richardson said.
“The culture of the BOCC is that we don’t have a real plan on what to do and we have to do something,” he said. “That is the job of the commissioner and it is wrong that we continue to rubber stamp all these developments without addressing that issue first.”
If elected, Richardson said he’s not going to adhere to what other organizations tell him to do.
“I’m not tied into the bullies and the developers at all,” he said. “I’m going to provide common sense legislation and decision making.”
As a hard worker, Benac said she wants to keep the progress going forward.
“I have the experience that it is going to take for us to work together to resolve some of these problems,” she said. “It is no time to bring in a rookie.”
Name: Betsy Benac
Election experience: Elected to county commission in 2012
Professional experience: Professional urban planner since 1979
Family: Married with two children
Name: Jack Richardson
Election experience: None
Professional experience: Independent business owner for 24 years; currently a rental manager for industrial properties