Polking Around

by Kemp Brinson

2016 Polk County General Election Voter Guide

Hey, Polk County! Looking for a single source for information about everyone on your ballot? Look no further. Here you will find all the candidates and issues on your ballot, with lots of links to help you research before you cast your vote.

I am also including my editorial opinion on some of these contests. I have only weighed in when I felt I had a unique or especially useful perspective. Even where I weigh in, I really hope you do your own research and draw your own conclusions. I hope you find the links useful even if you disagree with me. This is intended primarily as a source of information for your own research, not as an advocacy tool.

You should verify your legislative districts and get a sample ballot to get the most use out of these links, but I have included links to the district maps in the contents section if you want browse around and see who is running where. There have been a lot of changes to legislative district lines since the last election as a result of court cases involving the fair districts amendments that the voters approved in 2010.

If you are aware of any videoed candidate forums, voter guides, or other neutral information about any of these races, please let me know by leaving a comment.

Contents

Federal Offices

State/Multi-County Offices

  • Public Defender – 10th Circuit
  • State Senate (district map)
    • District 20 (Far northwest Polk – North Lakeland north of I4 to county line) – candidate is unopposed
    • District 22 (North Polk – Central and South Lakeland, Auburndale, Winter Haven, Eagle Lake, Dundee, Polk City north to county line, Lake Alfred, Haines City, Davenport)
    • District 26 (South Polk – Mulberry, Bartow, Lake Wales, Fort Meade)- candidate is unopposed
  • State House (district map)
    • District 39 (E. Lakeland, N. Lakeland, Auburndale, Polk City, most of far North Polk)
    • District 40 (Downtown and W. Lakeland, S. Lakeland west of 98)
    • District 41 (Winter Haven, Eagle Lake, Dundee, Lake Alfred, Haines City, Davenport)
    • District 42 (Far east Polk – Lake Wales, Frostproof, far east Polk from southern border north to Poinciana area)
    • District 56 (Southwest Polk – Bartow, Mulberry, Fort Meade)
  • Judicial Retention Elections

Local Offices

Amendments & Referendums

President of the United States

Candidates

Additional Information

  • Ballotpedia race coverage
  • Due to the high profile nature of this race, I am sure you can find all the information you need to make a decision without my help.

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U.S. Senate

Candidates

More Information

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U.S. House of Representatives, District 9

District 9 covers East Polk: Davenport, Auburndale, Winter Haven, Lake Wales, Frostproof, and all points east of 27.

Candidates

 More Information

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U.S. House of Representatives, District 15

District 15 covers north and northwest Polk, including most of Lakeland, most of Polk City, and everything north of I-4

Candidates

More Information

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U.S. House of Representatives, District 17

District 17 covers Southwest Polk, including Bartow, Mulberry, Fort Meade, and all of south Polk west of 27.

Candidates

 More Information

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Tenth Circuit Public Defender

Candidates

More Information

My Subjective Opinion

Rex Dimmig has an outstanding reputation. He was widely regarded as the hand-picked successor to our previous Public Defender, Marion Moorman, who was also highly regarded. I am not aware of any compelling reason not to permit him to continue serving us as our Public Defender. My general impression is that the local bar is behind Dimmig, although I am sure his opponent has some strong supporters.

With that said, in the radio interview linked above, Ms. Stewart highlights the importance of making sure that the Public Defender’s office focuses on diversity in hiring. It is especially important that all agencies involved in criminal justice reflect the diversity of our citizens. It is a point well made and well-considered by whomever wins.
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Florida State Senate District 22

District 22 covers north Polk, including central and south Lakeland, Auburndale, Winter Haven, Eagle Lake, Dundee, Polk City north to county line, Lake Alfred, Haines City, and Davenport.

Candidates

 More Information

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Florida State House District 39

District 39 covers East Lakeland, North Lakeland, Auburndale, Polk City, most Polk North of I-4 except for the Kathleen area.

Candidates

 More Information

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Florida State House District 40

District 40 includes downtown Lakeland west of 98 and all points west, including much of S. Lakeland west of 98 and north of 540A/Ewell road.

Candidates

More Information

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Florida State House District 41

Candidates

More Information

My Take

This is my district, and this is one of those situations where we win either way. I know both of these candidates, and know both of them to be great people who would do well representing us. Sam is a red-blooded conservative who knows his way around Tallahassee. He will work hard and get things done. Despite his very strong right-wing political opinions, I can personally attest that he is always willing to have a conversation with those who disagree with him and will put Polk before Party. I have had the pleasure of appearing before Judge Doyel when he was on the bench and found him to be a very good, no nonsense, get things done kind of judge. As a Democrat, he will reliably be less conservative than Mr. Killebrew. I encourage you to vote for the candidate who most aligns with your policy views, and, regardless of who wins, we will be well represented. And don’t believe any of the ridiculous, nasty hate-mailers you may have received casting aspersions about either of these gentlemen. They are both good men.
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Florida State House District 42

Candidates

More Information

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Florida State House District 56

Candidates

More Information

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Judicial Retention Elections

Information

My Take

Three Supreme Court justices and a number of Second District Court of Appeals judges will be on the ballot for an up or down retention vote. I am not aware of any compelling reason to remove any of these judges from office, or of anyone seriously campaigning to remove any of them. I intend to vote to retain them all. All of the judges or justices on the Polk ballot have the support of at least 79% of the attorneys responding to the survey.
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Polk County Commission District 3

Candidates

Additional Information

My Take

John Hall is the incumbent, a former county employee himself. He is now a cattle rancher and president of a project management firm. He is a classic Polk County establishment candidate. I would love to see a viable challenger. Carol Castagnero, a/k/a Grandma Carol, is not that challenger. She has run for, and lost, elections for all sorts of county and state offices for well over a decade. She was even banned from setting foot in the Polk elections office in 2004 over accusations that she was verbally abusive to staff. From what I have seen of her comments on various local issues, I have not been impressed with her mastery of logic. There is a video on you tube of her ranting about Newt Gingrich’s open marriage that illustrates the point. I’ll take John Hall, who is serious and smart, even if I do not always agree with him. (She might make a fun subject for a documentary, though.)
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Polk Soil & Water Conservation District Group 3

Candidates

  • William ‘Bill’ DeHart, website (none known)
  • Brian Dockery, (none known)

 Additional Information

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Polk County School Board District 1 Runoff

Candidates

Additional Information

My Take

This is a runoff election between the top two candidates in the August primary. I am voting for Billy Townsend. Here is what I said about this race back in August:

This is the easiest vote on the ballot: Billy Townsend

I know Billy personally. He is a bull dog and he’s smart. He works hard, he thinks for himself, and he is merciless towards incompetence and corruption. He owes no favors to anyone and will devote himself to one thing: the students of Polk County. He is not part of the good ole boy network, but he knows all the people in the network and what makes them tick. He is adamant about reforming our testing schedule and about making changes to attract and keep the best teachers we can.

Billy was instrumental in the founding of Citizens for Better Educational Leadership, advocating for the departure of Superintendent LeRoy, and advocating for our schools from the outside. He is a journalist who used to work the education beat for the Ledger. Now he has a corporate writing gig as a day job, but he has kept up his public interest reporting and writing and has effected positive change for numerous causes. This is a candidate who will get things done, who will ask hard questions, and who will not shy away from hard decisions.

Hunt Berryman is the incumbent and has been a leader on the commission for four years. That leadership has proven itself to have failed.

At the League forum, when asked specifically about what changes he wanted to make to School Board policy, Berryman had nothing to propose. Townsend had clear, specific, well-thought out answers: testing changes, tying regional superintendent positions into specific learning communities, and making Polk County a teacher-friendly county.

Mr. Townsend gave a devastating critique of Berryman’s failed leadership in his closing statement at the League forum (fast forward to 24:20). In his own words: “It’s been a passive board. They’ve turned over the keys to Kathryn LeRoy who is the worst public official Polk County has ever hired for a major position. And then they failed to supervise her. And Mr. Berryman knew, a year before the public did, that she was in a toxic relationship that was tearing the district apart, and he kept it secret from his board members, and he kept it secret from the public…” True, that.

If you want the school board to keep doing what it is doing, vote for Hunt Berryman. He represents the anemic heart and soul of the status quo. We deserve better.

Please check out Billy’s website and consider giving him your vote. You will find that he has published a Herculean quantity of thoughtful commentary and analysis about the state of our school system and how to fix it. I think you will like what you see.

Full disclosure: I have proudly supported his campaign financially and his sign is in my yard.
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Polk County School Board District 4 Runoff

Candidates

Additional Information

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Polk County Sheriff

Candidates

  • Grady Judd (incumbent) – website (none known), Facebook (none known for candidate)
  • Michael Lashman (write-in) – websiteFacebook

My Take

Michael Lashman attempted unsuccessfully to usurp Grady’s throne in 2008 and 2012, winning less than 5% of the vote each time, and now he’s back for more punishment. What is this guy thinking? Although I have been critical of Sheriff Judd from time to time, the fact is that he runs a tight, professional organization, he solves crimes, and he tries very hard to keep me safe. I have had positive personal experiences with the agency. Exhibit A: an exceptionally amusing personal anecdote involving me butt-dialing 911 not five minutes after chatting with the man himself at a political even we both attended. He personally got involved to make sure I was OK. He deserves less celebrity than he receives, for sure, but tossing him out of office in favor of a candidate who can’t even get enough support to have his name listed on the ballot is foolish. I am proud to be a vocal critic of Sheriff Judd when I think he deserves it, but I’m also proud to say that I’ll be voting for him again in November. Thank you for your service to our county, Sheriff, and I look forward to four more years. And thanks for giving me stuff to write about.

However, raising over $200,000 and not even having a campaign website or facebook page…. that’s a little cocky, don’t you think?
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Amendment 1 – Solar Energy

Ballot Language

This amendment establishes a right under Florida’s constitution for consumers to own or lease solar equipment installed on their property to generate electricity for their own use. State and local governments shall retain their abilities to protect consumer rights and public health, safety and welfare, and to ensure that consumers who do not choose to install solar are not required to subsidize the costs of backup power and electric grid access to those who do.

Organized Campaigns

Additional Information

My Take

This is a NO vote. I once had an economics professor tell me that most economic problems are not caused by the market, but by the absence of one. I think this amendment is an illustration of that. Amendment 1 is reflective of a monopoly industry seeking to tighten the screws on its power over the market.

Here’s how solar panels work. On cloudy days and at night, you get little or no power from your panels and you buy it from the power company. On sunny afternoons, when you are generating more energy than you are using, you feed that extra power back into the grid and the power company buys it from you. This is called “net metering”. Basically, your meter runs backwards when the sun is shining. In Florida (I think), it’s a 1:1 swap if you are generate less power than you use, so you are a net user of grid power. If you generate more than you use, the power company pays you a discounted rate.

Power companies do not like this arrangement. Not at all. They claim that it creates an extra cost and headache for them. And, of course, a kilowatt-hour I generate on my roof is a kilowatt-hour I don’t buy from TECO.

I doubt anyone would take issue with the provision of this amendment that says that people have the right to install solar panels. (Although this simply re-affirms a right that already exists.) The real business of this is in the second part, which would “ensure that consumers who do not choose to install solar are not required to subsidize the costs of backup power and electric grid access to those who do.” What does that mean?

It means that the state could (arguably) pass a law (at the behest of the utilities), that allowed the utilities to charge higher rates or impose surcharges on solar panel users because of the “burden” of having to provide them with “backup” electricity on cloudy days. As an example of textual subterfuge, the term “backup power” is defined in the amendment to mean all the power that someone with solar panels uses from the grid. That’s preposterous.

Sometimes I drive, and sometimes I walk. That doesn’t make my car my “backup” mode of transportation. It doesn’t mean that I am a “burden” on people who drive everywhere. Just because I use less electricity from the grid does not mean I am a burden on the people who use more. But that’s what this amendment defines a solar user to be: a burden on the rest of us. It gives the power company the right to increase rates on solar users and thereby discourage the use of solar panels.

The power companies should not be able to enshrine a right to artificially jack up the cost of going solar into the Florida Constitution. A kilowatt-hour is a kilowatt-hour, whether used by a house with a solar panel on it or not.

I am sympathetic, to some extent, to the power industry’s complaints. For example, a solar user might be generating power for the grid during non-peak hours, but then using power from the grid during peak hours, which means that maybe a 1:1 net metering relationship might not be appropriate. That’s a valid discussion to have, but not in a Constitutional amendment. Users who use less power, on average, also might appropriately be charged a higher marginal rate for the power they do use, because of the fixed costs and capacity requirements of delivering power. But that’s not an issue that is unique to solar. It applies to all users who use less power.

Because of our geographic latitude, Florida should be leading the nation in solar. We are not. This amendment guarantees monopoly utilities, through their lobbyists, the power to keep it that way. They did not raise $16,000,000 (as of September, 2016) to get this passed because they care about the consumer. Please consider voting NO.

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Amendment 2 – Medical Marijuana

Ballot Language

Allows medical use of marijuana for individuals with debilitating medical conditions as determined by a licensed Florida physician. Allows caregivers to assist patients’ medical use of marijuana. The Department of Health shall register and regulate centers that produce and distribute marijuana for medical purposes and shall issue identification cards to patients and caregivers. Applies only to Florida law. Does not immunize violations of federal law or any non-medical use, possession or production of marijuana.

Organized Campaigns

Additional Information

My Take

This is the second time in a row a medical marijuana amendment has been on the general election ballot, and the same people are lining up to fight over it. In 2014, the opposition focused their campaign on alleged legal “loopholes” in amendment. These loopholes, alleged the opposition, would have essentially authorized recreational use of the marijuana. I did a lengthy legal analysis of these alleged loopholes two years ago. I concluded that the language was a little loose, but not to the extent the opponents claimed.

The proponents claim to have fixed the loopholes this time around, and the opponents say they haven’t. The extent to which these loopholes actually still exist or not may be the subject of a future post. If it is, I will update this post to reflect that. But, from my perspective, I would not have a problem with full legalization. So I’ll be voting YES, whether they have fixed the loopholes or not. YMMV, depending on how warm you are to the idea of marijuana in general.
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Amendment 3 – Tax Break for Disabled First Responders

Ballot Language

Proposing an amendment to the State Constitution to authorize a first responder, who is totally and permanently disabled as a result of injuries sustained in the line of duty, to receive relief from ad valorem taxes assessed on homestead property, if authorized by general law. If approved by voters, the amendment takes effect January 1, 2017.

Organized Campaigns

  • Vote YES: no known organized campaign
  • Vote NO: no known organized campaign

Additional Information

My Take

I strongly support disabled first responders, but a better way to do that is through robust and easy to obtain disability pension benefits that benefit all disabled first responders. This amendment only helps disabled first responders who own homes, and only with a very small amount of property tax relief. It does not help disabled first responders who rent, who live with other family members, who are institutionalized, or who are homeless. It does not help them with medical expenses. It creates yet another headache for the property appraiser and a bureaucratic application process for the claimant, for a benefit that is worth, at best, a few hundred bucks, I imagine.

It has also been added to the ballot by the legislature, for, I suspect, non-transparent purposes. I think the real intent of this amendment is to turn out conservative voters, who like all things first responder, and all things tax cut. If you are going to help first responders, do it correctly, and help them all, not just those who happen to own their homes. I will be voting NO. I would gladly support an amendment that truly benefits ALL first responders.
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Amendment 5 – Tax Break for Certain Seniors/Veterans

Ballot Language

Proposing an amendment to the State Constitution to revise the homestead tax exemption that may be granted by counties or municipalities for property with just value less than $250,000 owned by certain senior, low-income, long-term residents to specify that just value is determined in the first tax year the owner applies and is eligible for the exemption. The amendment takes effect January 1, 2017, and applies retroactively to exemptions granted before January 1, 2017.

Organized Campaigns

  • Vote YES: no known organized campaign
  • Vote NO: no known organized campaign

Additional Information

My Take

I feel similarly about this as I do about the disabled first responder amendment above. It has no business being in the state Constitution. I will be voting NO.
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Polk County Indigent Health Care

Issue

This renews an existing half-cent sales tax in Polk County used to fund health care programs for indigent residents.

Organized Campaigns

  • Vote YES: Keep Polk Kids Healthy – website
  • Vote NO: no known organized campaign

Additional Information

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Final Thoughts

A lot of work went into this. I hope you found this useful. If you did, please share a link on social media.

UPDATED 10/22/16 to add links to newly posted forum and articles in a few races.

UPDATED 10/24/16 to add links to judge bios and a couple of new Ledger articles

UPDATED 10/25/16 typo fixes and to add a couple more links

UPDATED 10/28/16 added a link

UPDATED 10/30/16 added a link

UPDATED 11/1/16 added a link

UPDATED 11/3/16 added a link

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