A monumental and collective sigh of relief must have washed over America Tuesday as the polls closed. Here in Manatee County, there are two political powers — along with winning candidates — celebrating major victories thanks to a favorable cast of voters who embraced a brighter future.
Passage of the two half-cent sales tax referendums — one a continuation of the surtax for the Manatee County School District and the other dedicated to county infrastructure improvements — heralds the triumph of a positive vision for our children and our prosperity. Defeat would have relegated the school district to unstable prospects and the county to falling into further disrepair.
The spirited debate over both referendums demonstrates how well democracy can work. Now’s the time to unite and move forward by contributing to progress in the coming public discussions. The written guarantee of citizen oversight, accountability and transparency, as stated in the language of both referendums, allows the public to monitor and comment on expenditures.
Statewide, passage of Amendment 2 legalizing medical marijuana came as no surprise as the previous incarnation in 2012 barely missed receiving the 60 percent voter approval. This rewritten measure tightened the loopholes cited by critics four years ago, critiques that warranted its defeat. This time, however, voters agreed to join the growing national movement to allow patients suffering from pain and other stubborn symptoms that drugs failed to alleviate to try another approach.
On the other controversial amendment on the ballot, the one deceptively dubbed Consumers for Smart Solar and backed by the state’s powerful utility companies, voters saw through the subterfuge and wisely rejected a measure designed to stymie the growth of solar power. Other than cementing current law into the Constitution, a superfluous exercise, Amendment 1’s language put in the option for utilities to charge owners of rooftop panels a fee to be connected to the power grid, a charge that would have made such an investment in green energy all the more difficult. Thank goodness voters did not fall for this fraud.
Locally, incumbents ruled the day except in contests without one. U.S. House Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, rolled to victory over a worthy opponent, Sarasota lawyer, Democrat and policy wonk Jan Schneider, for the District 16 post. In a decidedly safe Republican district, this predictable result tightens Buchanan’s grip on a seat he’s held for the past decade. As Florida’s only member of Congress to serve on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, which presides over tax policy, international trade, health care, welfare, Social Security and Medicare, Buchanan’s influence is vital to the district’s constituency.
Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston and City Councilmen Harold Byrd Jr. and Gene Gallo all won re-election. Only Byrd’s vote total was not overwhelming.
Two hard-fought contests for Manatee County School Board ended with somewhat surprising results. Gina K. Messenger took her six years as an educator in low-income schools and a campaign passion that rivaled every other candidate to a resounding win over Edward G. Viltz. She more than doubled his vote total. Kudos to her for her determination. In the other race, incumbent Dave Miner eked out a victory over Misty Servia by just over a percentage point. That should tell Miner that a very large percentage of the voting public is displeased with his performance.
Joe Gruters, the Republican in the Florida House District 73, fared similarly to Buchanan in his GOP-dominated district as a new candidate. Gruters’ two decades as a GOP activist, current chairman of the Republican Party of Sarasota County, vice chair of the Republican Party of Florida and history in local government gave him a huge advantage over his opponent.
One of the most interesting contests involved two candidates with no party affiliation, Matthew J. Bower and David Zaccagnino, running against a Republican, Stephen Jonsson, for the Manatee County Commission seat vacated by John Chappie. For party voters, the choice was easy. For independent-minded individuals, the decision was tougher. Voters had three very different candidates. In the end, the predictable occurred and the GOP won. Jonsson will now join the Republican-dominated commission.
Manatee County election turnout scored a remarkable 70-plus percent of registered voters. Cheers to this civic engagement.