Manatee County’s dearth of candidates for many county and municipal offices as well as numerous smaller taxing jurisdictions weakens our democracy by eliminating choice and disenfranchising voters. Government service can be a grind amid voter protests and factional clashes among office-holders — the Manatee County Commission and Manatee County School Board being prime examples here. That’s the cost of leadership, but there appears to be some reluctance this election cycle to seek office.
The big picture nationally doesn’t help. In this era of citizen anger, alienation and discontent, especially over the polarization, gridlock and grandstanding in Washington, sharp partisan divisions drive red-hot rhetoric even more so today as voters march further to the right or left, research shows. But local elections are an entirely different animal — with little acrimony coming from the candidates themselves, at least in most contests.
That more civilized political landscape should attract greater interest in seeking public office, we would hope — especially among highly qualified community leaders. But campaigning is laborious, and the reward for victory is hard work for low or no pay. Certainly, the power of incumbency or an opponent’s fund-raising prowess and influential supporters can deter a candidacy, too.
Candidate qualifying ended last Friday. Of the 21 county and municipal offices on the August and November ballots, 11 are uncontested — leaving the lone candidate a cake walk into office. Two of the county’s four state lawmakers lack opponents, too — Rep. Jim Boyd and Sen. Bill Galvano.
The county’s constitutional offices are also among the noncompetitive, high-profile posts. Out of the five on the ballot, four have been clinched. The most noteworthy is the quick ascension of Rick Wells as sheriff in his first attempt at succeeding not only current Sheriff Brad Steube but his father, Charlies Wells. Rick Wells, the former Palmetto police chief, has earned this post by deed.
Elections Supervisor Michael Bennett, a former state senator; Tax Collector Ken Burton Jr., and Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller Angel Colonneso all waltz back into office. Only the property appraiser’s office is contested.
Among municipalities, Palmetto stands out with both incumbent city commissioners and the mayor all unopposed. Bradenton stands in sharp contrast, with both ward contests and the mayor’s job all competitive. Out of the 10 total elections in Anna Maria Island cities, four candidates are unopposed.
But we save the best for last, contests that promise to be very competitive, maybe even hotly so. All four county commission seats are up for grabs as are two out of the three school board races. Many feature a crowded field of three candidates, even four in one school board match.
And the Bradenton mayoral contest promises to be quite the tussle as the current office-holder, Wayne Poston, seeking his fifth term, once again faces his longtime nemesis in former mayor, Bill Evers, who held the seat for two decades before his loss to Poston in 1999. Plus, the crowded field includes former Bradenton deputy police chief Warren Merriman and community activist Eleuterio Salazar Jr. Expect fireworks.
The nonpartisan School Board District 3 race looks like quite the clash, too, as incumbent Dave Miner faces Misty Martin Servia and Charles Conoley. At $33,000, Servia’s war chest stands at more than triple Miner’s with Conoley in last place by far. The Servia-Miner money-raising difference appears to reflect some community angst over the incumbent. District 1, with four candidates vying to replace Bob Gause, should also be hotly contested with three entrants collecting from $15,000 to $30,000.
County Commission District 1 will be decided in the August primary as the three remaining contenders to replace Larry Bustle are all Republicans. Former state Rep. Ron Reagan vacated his House seat in 2010 due to term limits, and his political and community connections have been generous in contributions, making him a formidable foe. But Priscilla Whisenant Trace, the Manatee Agriculturist of the Year in 2015, is well known in this North Manatee district, which stretches from the coast to Parrish. Corie Holmes, a former sheriff’s deputy, will undoubtedly put up a good fight as he did against Bustle four years ago.
While competition for office is somewhat slim, Manatee County will not be lacking in intriguing contests.