BOND: “I tell you, M, once is happenstance, and twice can be coincidence. But the third time, it’s enemy action.”
While it’s not clear who the enemy is, it was not coincidence that swept a half-century of experience out of office this week along Florida’s southwest coast. Professionals will scrutinize this election, because the results were sharp and compelling.
Five county commissioners up for re-election lost their seats in Charlotte, Lee, Collier and Manatee counties. There were only two common threads among them – they were incumbents, and they are Republicans.
The big shocker was in Lee County, where Ray Judah was ousted after 24 years on the County Commission. The mayor of Fort Myers Beach, Larry Kiker, beat him by taking nearly 70% of the vote in Tuesday’s primary.
Judah had been a critic of the Okeechobee sugar industry. He claimed it was a major source of pollution in the Caloosahatchee River, which flows through Lee County and Fort Myers. The sugar industry attacked Judah through a political action committee called “Florida First.”
Manatee County’s Joe McClash suffered a similar fate, minus the sugar interests. Betsy Benac, a former county planner now working for Benderson Development, KO’d McClash by about 500 votes out of 25,000 cast. She ended McClash’s 22-year reign on the Manatee County Commission, where he was often skeptical of pro-development initiatives. McClash, too, suffered an ugly PAC-driven attack that might have tilted the balance just enough.
McClash and Judah between them had almost a half-century of experience in governing two rapidly growing Florida counties.
Down in Collier County, Tim Nance bested incumbent county Commissioner Jim Coletta. The Naples Daily News noted, “It was the first time in two decades a sitting commissioner had lost an election.” It wasn’t close. Nance picked up 65% of the vote, an almost 2-to-1 victory margin.
Call it the “incumbent pox.” It rolled through Charlotte County, too. Incumbent Commissioners Bob Starr and Robert Skidmore lost their seats after the primary ballots were counted. Starr lost with 43% of the vote, while Skidmore picked up only 30%. Both were first-term commissioners.
Only in Sarasota did the tide flow the other way. A three-term elections supervisor robustly beat a challenge from a term-limited county commissioner. Kathy Dent won a fourth term with a 3-to-1 margin over county Commissioner Jon Thaxton.
The incumbent county commissioners in Sarasota faced no opposition, and therefore were immune from the “incumbent pox.”