Polking Around

by Kemp Brinson

One Citizen’s Votes in the August 30 Primary

Election season is here. This is a run-down of the candidates and causes in the August 30 primary election with my own personal choices and explanations. Maybe it will help you think through your own choices. I’ve also provided links to all the candidate websites, news write-ups, and forums that I found helpful in making a decision.

I am registered as “no party affiliation”, so I will only cover the non-partisan or open primary races.

Quick links:

County Commission District 3 – Bill Braswell vs. JC Martin

Info: Ledger Q&A

This is the Republican primary, but since there is no Democrat running, the primary is open to all voters. I am voting for Bill Braswell. In the Ledger Q&A, Mr. Braswell gave more coherent and polished answers and addressed each question more directly. I don’t agree with all of his answers, especially with regards to impact fees and environmental lands, but he strikes me as someone who is astute and thoughtful. His campaign seems to be more carefully thought out, and his endorsement list more extensive, than Mr. Martin’s*. His agricultural experience is a plus, and his aviation background is also personally appealing. I thought he did a great job in an appearance on the Law Talk radio show as well.

(*UPDATE: At the time I wrote this post, I suspect this was true, based on what I knew at the time. Since then, someone kindly pointed out to me that Martin has received some important endorsements as well, and it looks like that maybe his website was updated. Here is what I know about who has endorsed/supported/or otherwise given a nod each of these two as of 8/19/16: Mr. Martin has the support of the East Polk County Association of Realtors, Congressman Tom Rooney, the West Central Florida Labor Counsel (firefighter union), and the Polk County Sun/Democrat. Mr. Braswell has the support of the Polk County Builders Association, the Lakeland Chamber affiliated Business Voice, and the Orlando Chamber affiliated Business Force. He also has the support of Grady Judd. Both candidates have been deemed “qualified” by the Lakeland Association of Realtors. I do not recall what those lists looked like at the time I actually drafted this section.

The bottom line on these guys is that when I look at videos of both of them on their sites and facebook pages, and read what they have written, Mr. Braswell is someone I feel has a more balanced and down-to-earth approach, a more logical and systematic approach to his thoughts, and I have a more favorable impression of his intellect and demeanor.)

County Judge Group 8 – Susan Barber vs. Carson Bassett

Info: Ledger Q&A, Barber finance reports, Bassett finance reports

This race was particularly difficult, and I even changed my mind after this article was published. I will be voting for Susan Barber. Here is why.

chool Board District 1 – Berryman vs. Shoemaker vs. Townsend

Other info: Kiwanis Club Candidate Forum QuestionnaireLedger Q&A, League of Women Voters Forum

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.

School Board District 2 – Clark vs. Cunningham vs. James vs. Kitto

Other info: Ledger Q&ALeague of Women Voters Forum

I am voting for Ronnie Clark.

I will approach this one by process of elimination. Kitto lost my vote with his terrible responses to the Kiwanis questionnaire for the race. (His is the only Kiwanis questionnaire published for this seat — not sure why.) A serious candidate needs to know how to type (not hand write) complete sentences. He also gave, by far, the least useful answers to the Ledger’s questions in their Q&A write-up.

Tim James has a good resume, but he is not a serious candidate. To date, he has reported donations of only about $3,000 dollars, as compared to $17,000 and $20,000 for Clark and Cunningham. A serious candidate has to plan ahead, work the phones, and raise some real money to be competitive. If he is not willing or able to do that to get this job, I have doubts about whether he is willing and able to put in the kind of work necessary to do this job.

The two candidates left are Clark and Cunningham, and I’ll turn my attention to more substantive concerns.

Public perception of our school system is at a low point. There have been scandals and firings, resignations, and missteps galore. Teacher morale is terrible. Many of these failures are well-documented in the press. One of the most serious problem facing our school system right now is recruiting and retaining teachers. We need to transform our school district into a place that is not a terrible place for teachers to work.

Mr. Clark correctly identified that concern in his Ledger Q&A responses. Ms. Cunningham did not. Ms. Cunningham is the incumbent, and bears partial responsibility for the problems we are facing. Mr. Clark is not. It’s time for a shake-up. Mr. Clark is the shaker, and the existing board, including Ms. Cunningham, is the “shakee”.

When I go to Mr. Clark’s website, I see solid evidence of someone who has real energy and thoughtfulness that he intends to bring to bear to solving our problems. When I go to Ms. Cunningham’s website, which is devoid of any detail or plans, it seems she is phoning it in and relying on her existing connections and fundraising capacity to see her through. Perhaps she is working hard behind the scenes, but technology matters. Can we really trust someone who can’t even be bothered to build a decent campaign website to be in charge of a school district in 2016?

The bottom line is this: I see no evidence that her leadership in the next term would be any different than her leadership during the preceding term, and that is patently unacceptable. There is a viable opposition candidate. Ronnie Clark seems intelligent, thoughtful, hard-working, and motivated for the right reasons. Ronnie Clark has my vote.

School Board District 4 – Reynolds vs. Ricks (no website) vs. Smith vs. Troutman

Other info: Ledger Q&ALeague of Women Voters Forum

I have a personal connection to someone in this race; I am chairman of the board for the employer of Sarah Beth Reynolds. I am incapable of being objective. Notwithstanding, I encourage you to consider voting for Sarah Beth Reynolds or Becky Troutman, and I encourage you to do your own research.

Lake Region Lakes Management District (Canal Commission) Seat 2 – Tracy Mercer vs. Mark Remmel

Other info: Ledger Q&A

I intend to vote for Tracy Mercer.

This 3-member board oversees the body that manages some of the lakes in the Winter Haven area. Information about this race is scant. The Ledger Q&A does not provide much that distinguishes the candidates. Neither candidate has a website, but Mercer has a Facebook page. As far as I know, there has been no candidate forum.

Neither candidate has done much fund-raising to speak of, but Tracy Mercer has donated a few thousand dollars of her own money to her campaign and has a few donors.

Mercer appears to have a wealth of government experience in water management in her career. However, her posts are extremely vague about what she actually did as her job. I defy you to read over her Facebook posts and describe for me what her actual most recent job was. According to her campaign finance reports, she is now retired, but that is not mentioned on her Facebook page. A google search reveals that she was most recently the public utilities director in Clearwater. I believe she may have had a similar position locally.

I have been unable to locate any information at all about Mark Remmel.

I have asked around of people who might know the candidates, and have heard only good things about both of them.

Mercer wins my vote by default on this one, simply by virtue of the fact that she has put a little more effort in, but it sure would be nice if it was easier to find out more about both candidates. These days, a complete novice can have a website up and running from scratch to complete in about 30 minutes for tens of dollars. That is not an exaggeration. What are candidates without websites thinking?

Amendment 4 – Tax Breaks for Solar Energy

Other info: An Opposition PAC’s website

This is an easy YES vote. This amendment will provide tax breaks for solar panels and equipment. Florida has the potential to be a solar energy leader, but we have not reached that potential. This amendment will help get us there.

The opposition claims that this is just a tax break for big business. I think that’s disingenuous. I’m happy to give tax breaks for companies that use green energy.

There is a lot of political nonsense in Florida over solar. I will spare you the details, because they are pretty widely reported elsewhere and a google away. Another solar amendment, sponsored by utilities, is on the ballot in November, and I’ll be voting NO on that. I encourage you to do the same.


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