The 2017 elections in Seminole County have left us wondering whether or not the local Republican and Democratic parties will continue their policy of a hands-off approach in nonpartisan elections.
By Ed Young
The morning after Election Day this November, the talking heads will be comparing statistics and talking about who won and who lost and what impact this has on the 2020 presidential election.
But you would be hard-pressed to find any in-depth or statistical coverage of the 2017 Municipal elections. Every year we have elections here in Seminole County. Sometimes they are for the County Commission or Soil and Water District seats or municipal elections, but these local seats do matter as they set the tone for the next election cycle.
When looking at the results for 2017, the winner is…. the Libertarian Party?
For more than a quarter-century, Seminole County has been considered a Republican stronghold. A county that could be counted on to vote Republican in most, if not all elections. Before that, it was for decades a stronghold for Democrats, but now some experts are questioning if Seminole County is “Blue” or “Red” or “Purple”?
2017 began with Republicans holding 95% of elected County and municipal positions, but this would not be how the year would end. By the close of the year, the Republicans would hold 91%, the Democrats 5%, the Libertarians 2%, and the remaining 2% would be represented by No Party Affiliation elected officials or NPA’s.
The Libertarian Party would be the only political party to gain elected positions while Democrats’ numbers stayed the same and Republicans actually lost seats. When asked about the Libertarians gaining ground, former Libertarian Party of Seminole County Chair Matt Hasty had this to say…
“It really energizes me when old party devotees say Libertarians cannot win. To say the Libertarian Party cannot win is a direct admission that politics is a lemming-like crowd mentality that isn’t far removed from picking the winner of a horse race or sporting event. Is that truly what politics and government is about?”
Typically, off-year municipal elections are quiet affairs with a minimum of campaigning but this would not be the case this year. While Oviedo voters chose the status quo and vote to keep the current mayor and a city commissioner in office, such would not be the case in Altamonte Springs and Longwood. Residents in Altamonte Springs would see five term City Commissioner Gardner Hussey replaced by retired businessman Jim Turney. While Mr. Turney is a newcomer to elected office, he is not a political newcomer as he served as the national chair for the Libertarian Party from 1985 to 1988.
Turney and his supporters had prepared an extensive and detailed ground game to win this election; something quite unusual in a city where municipal campaigns are typically done solely by political mailers and yard signs. However, in the end, only one vote would actually count the incumbents. A few hours before the end of qualifying, Commissioner Hussey decided himself not to seek a sixth term, and at 4:30pm on September 5th, Jim Turney was the District 1 Commissioner-Elect by default.
The elections in Longwood would not be as simple and clear cut as Altamonte Springs were. Longwood elections saw four political outsiders entering into three races that would have establishment backing pushing hard for incumbents.
Accountant and longtime resident Abby Shoemaker would take on perennial city commission member John Maingot. Two political newcomers, Richard Drummond a retired sheriff’s deputy and security expert and Mike Dodane an architectural engineer, would compete for the District 2 seat that was held by Mayor Joe Durso who was stepping down.
Two-term District 4 Commissioner Mark Weller possibly had the biggest challenge both figuratively and literally in the form of former pro wrestler Matt Morgan. The elections would soon take the form of two political slates, pitting Commissioners Maingot and Weller along with Mr. Dodane, versus political newcomers Shoemaker, Drummond and Morgan.
The campaigns would soon be that of a three-ring political circus with mailers and social media posts rife with accusations of high stakes casinos, Tallahassee money, and political operatives attempting to manipulate the vote in the background. In the end, when the votes had been tallied, the three newcomers had easily defeated their establishment-backed opponents.
The six campaigns in Longwood showed a level of ground game campaigning rarely seen in municipal elections. Some observers compared the local races to that of a congressional race.
Hasty added, “Most voters are sick of what politics have become and the reason they vote Libertarian is because we want to vote for positive change, and to defeat the status quo that the old parties have become.”
This past election cycle has led some to wonder if Mr. Hasty is right, and whether or not the local Republican and Democratic parties will continue their policy of a hands-off approach in nonpartisan elections.
In years past, while both Republicans and Democrats have run for nonpartisan offices which include school board, soil and water conservation district, and all municipal elections, the political parties have not offered endorsements or campaign support… preferring to focus on partisan elections such as county commission, county constitutional offices, state representative and senate races, congressional races, and statewide races.
But in an election cycle where almost thirty elected offices, both county and municipal level, are up for election, one wonders in the wisdom of continuing a hands-off policy for non- partisan elections if either party is serious about helping its members win local elections.
Ed Young holds a Masters in Education from Stetson University and a Florida teacher certificate in English, Social Studies, ESOL, Exception Student Education, Reading, Middle Grades Integrated Curriculum, and Educational Leadership. He has worked in public and private schools in Central Florida for the last fourteen years. His professional focus is working with learning disabled kids as well as students considered high risk. He is a longtime Seminole County resident, financial conservative, and advocate for conserving Florida’s natural resources. He serves as an elected Supervisor for the Seminole County Soil & Water Conservation District where he represents Group 4 and currently serves as their treasurer.