With new districts and new voting method in effect, County Commission races set for August Primary and November General Election

Republican primaries to be conducted for seats representing Districts 1 and 5, with Detert just facing a Democrat in the fall

Alternative Map 4.1, which won commission approval on a 3-2 vote on Nov. 19, 2019, shows the new district lines. As of June 17, county staff had not produced a newer version of the map for the county’s Redistricting webpage. County Media Relations Officer Drew Winchester told the News Leader that staff has been at work on that initiative. Image courtesy Sarasota County

With the Sarasota County Commission’s new district lines in effect, following a favorable federal court ruling in May, a number of candidates qualified by the June 12 deadline for the three races that will be on the ballot this year.

Among them, Republican incumbent Nancy Detert of Venice will face no primary challenge. However, she will have competition for the District 3 seat in the General Election, as Democrat Cory Hutchinson of North Port also qualified.

In late February 2019, Detert was the commissioner who asked that county staff undertake the necessary research to determine whether new district lines should be implemented before the end of the year. “We should probably look at redistricting our own districts, just because of the balance in population,” she said on Feb. 26, 2019. “There’s a pretty noticeable disparity,” she added, referring to growth in South County.

Detert’s comments came a little less than a month after Sarasota County Charter Review Board member Donna Barcomb of Sarasota noted during her board’s Jan. 30, 2019 meeting that she had learned of an imbalance in voter registration figures for the districts since the lines last were changed in June 2011.

Detert and her colleagues — except for Commissioner Christian Ziegler — contended throughout the redistricting process that their actions were necessary because of the November 2018 voter approval of a county Charter amendment that implemented Single-Member Districts starting with the 2020 elections.

That amendment restricts citizens to voting just for County Commission candidates who reside in the same districts they do. Previously, all county commissioners were elected countywide. A winner in his or her home district might not necessarily prove the overall victor.

With concern that they needed expertise for the initiative, given data county staff had produced, the commissioners agreed in late May 2019 that they should hire a consultant.

Finally, after a series of public meetings and a public hearing on Nov. 19, 2019, the commission voted 3-2 to approve the new district lines, with Detert and Commissioners Michael Moran and Alan Maio in the majority.

Federal Judge William F. Jung presided over the redistricting lawsuit. Image from the ballotpedia.org website

After the county won the class-action redistricting lawsuit filed in December 2019, the backer of that complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, in Tampa — Palmer Ranch developer and former federal prosecutor Hugh Culverhouse — paid the court costs the commissioners unanimously authorized the Office of the County Attorney to pursue. That expense added up to $20,066.96, county staff told The Sarasota News Leader.

Additionally, as of June 3, the total amount the county had paid to its outside counsel for the case — attorneys with the GrayRobinson firm — was $355,303.82, staff said.

By early June, the court costs issue had been resolved, as noted in the U.S. District Court docket.

As for the consultant’s pay: In response to another News Leader question, county Media Relations Officer Brianne Grant reported on June 8 that Kurt Spitzer & Associates of Tallahassee received $38,750. When the firm was hired in late June 2019, a county Procurement Department document estimated the total fee would be $50,000.

Asked whether any accounting was kept in regard to the expense of staff time devoted to the redistricting initiatives — including conducting a public meeting in each of the five districts last year — Assistant County Administrator Brad Johnson told the News Leader in early June via email, “[W]e do not track time this way and it wouldn’t be feasible to determine it at this point.”

The other two County Commission races

Along with the District 3 race, the November ballot will feature contests in Districts 1 and 5.

Because of term limits, Commissioner Charles Hines will step down from the District 5 seat in November.

Ron Cutsinger. Image from his campaign website

As a result, Ron Cutsinger of Englewood, a past member of the county’s Planning Commission, will face North Port Commissioner Christopher Hanks in the Republican Primary in August.

Hanks is the co-founder and managing partner of CAD Media Holdings LLC in Punta Gorda, his campaign LinkedIn account says. The firm does business as Shop Local Media Group.

Hutchinson was elected to the North Port post in November 2018.

Cutsinger is a financial adviser at Waypoint Wealth Management in Englewood. When he applied for a 2016 appointment to the Planning Commission, he also noted in his application that he is a real estate investor and developer.

The winner of that primary will face Democrat Alice White, also of North Port, in the General Election.

In her candidate statement, White focuses on her advocacy for the environment, noting that she founded the nonprofit People for Trees in 1997. She retired after almost 30 years of teaching in the Charlotte County public schools, she adds.

In District 1, Commissioner Michael Moran will square off against Mike Hutchinson in the Republican Primary in August.

Both are Sarasota residents.

Hutchinson says on his campaign website that he “came to Sarasota in 1973 to work for EMR Telemetry,” where his first job was as a software engineer. Later, he joined Harris Controls in Melbourne, where he worked on software used to monitor “large power grids,” his website continues. Hutchinson returned to Sarasota in 1999 to work on black box flight recorders at what was then L-3 Communications.

Mike Hutchinson. Image from his campaign website

His website adds that he is treasurer of the East County Republican Club.

The winner of the District 1 primary will face Democrat Mark E. Pienkos of Sarasota in November.

A Chicago native, Pienkos says on his campaign website that he was an educator for 45 years, having served not only as a teacher but also as a principal and a school district superintendent. He describes himself as a lifelong Democrat, noting that he served the party through a number of leadership roles in Wisconsin. From 2009 to 2013, the website points out, he was the Democratic Party chair of Wisconsin’s First Congressional District.

In regard to Moran: His county webpage says he “is a self-made businessman who understands the struggles of meeting a payroll, paying taxes and dealing with governmental red tape.” He is a Certified Insurance Counselor, the webpage points out. “After selling his payroll and insurance firm in Michigan,” the webpage continues, “Moran moved to Sarasota in 2002 with his wife of more than 26 years, Lori, and their two children, Laina and Mike, Jr.”

Prior to his election in 2016 to the District 1 seat, he served on the Southwest Florida Water Management District Board, to which former Gov. Rick Scott had appointed him.

Moran also was a volunteer with the Guardian Ad Litem Program in the 12th Judicial Circuit. As its website explains, that program “recruits, trains, supports and supervises court-appointed volunteers” to represent children who have been removed from their homes because of allegations of abuse, neglect or abandonment.