Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The District 19 Candidates – Part 2

April Freeman
Last week, I looked at Republican candidate Curt Clawson’s background. Today’s post looks at Democratic candidate April Freeman. As with Clawson, I’ll start with biographical information from her campaign website and other web sources.

Freeman says she is running for Congress “to return dignity, decency and common sense to national life and Southwest Florida…. Like so many Americans, I just couldn’t go where the extremists were taking us.” Her LinkedIn page describes her as an “Activist, Grassroots Community Organizer, Writer, Publisher & Film Maker.”

She was born in 1964, grew up and attended high school and college in southeastern Michigan, and now lives in Cape Coral. She is married to David Freeman and they have two adult daughters.

According to her website:
In 2000, she founded a public relations marketing firm, changing focus to film and television production in 2005. From a single location in Macomb County, MI, Freeman expanded the her [sic] company to Los Angeles and Southwest Florida, producing or participating in productions such as “Rock Slyde,” “Cadillac Records,” and “Hemingway and Gelhorn,” along with a number of music videos for popular music groups, including Bon Jovi.
An IMDb “mini biography” states:
In addition to media production, … April is the author to a series of children's books, a published sports writer, currently authoring a self help book. April has also worked freelance in the advertising industry organizing promotional projects and was also a key player in the City of Detroit Anti-Arson Campaign created and headed by Mayor Dennis Archer, while able to work on the election campaigns of several Detroit area politicians. In addition to April's long public relations background, she also has musical, modeling and acting experience and has worked as a design stylist & master floral/food designer for several magazine and catalog photo shoots, television commercials, public service announcements, short and industrial films. 
Freeman says she has worked on political campaigns and organized community volunteers since "the Reagan days." According to her website:
For 30 years, Freeman was a loyal Republican. “Like most Americans, I accepted the politics I grew up with,” she recalls. She was active in the Republican Party, campaigning for Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, working local neighborhood precincts and making calls for state and congressional candidates. In 2005 her business and political activities were recognized when she was named “Businesswoman of the Year” by the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee. 
Because my Google searches were unable to find any third-party reference to this recognition, I have asked her campaign manager for more information.

Her website continues:
But it was when the financial crisis hit that Freeman lost faith in Republican policies…. "The policies being pursued by the Republican Party were devastating the American economy Millions of Americans were being hurt and losing their homes. I couldn’t support a party that would continue that.” 
She herself was affected. “'I had to walk away from a house in Michigan,’ she recalls.” In a January 2014 appearance on Naples Daily NewsMakers with Jeff Lytle, Freeman confirmed there was a foreclosure.

Ultimately, Freeman says, “I didn’t leave the Republican Party, the Party left me.”

Freeman became a volunteer with then-candidate Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, and served as a 2012 volunteer Organizing Fellow in Lee County, responsible for Northwest Cape Coral and Pine Island, and as the Northeast Cape Coral Get-Out-the-Vote Staging Location Director.

Following the  election, she continued her work on behalf of the Obama organization, serving as Deputy State Lead responsible for organizing community service events with non-profit partner organizations and volunteer workers, and as Press Contact Liaison in Florida for The Presidential Inaugural Committee - National Day of Service.

Her experience with the Obama campaign awakened an interest in running for political office. “While I was out working on the Obama campaign, I was working with the community and realized they needed a voice that reflects them,” she told Jeff Lytle on Naples Daily NewsMakers in January. “And I’m that voice.”

In January 2013, she filed with the Federal Election Commission to run for the House of Representatives to represent District 19, and later that year attended the Women’s Campaign School at Yale University. This is a 5- day, “non-partisan, issue-neutral leadership program, whose mission is to increase the number and influence of women in elected and appointed office in the United States and around the globe.” Tuition is currently $1500. In February 2014, after incumbent Congressman Trey Radel resigned, she filed to run in the special election to fill the seat.

As for her film/TV production business, she told Lytle she put it on hold. “I just felt such a passion for going after this office that I put all that aside for right now.”

An incident from Freeman’s past has received media attention. A January 2014 article in the Naples Daily News titled “SW Fla. candidate sued after Olympic skater’s family alleged harassment” says, “A [2010] lawsuit against [Congressional candidate April Freeman] has alleged trademark infringement and barred her from visiting the grave of an Olympic figure skater she claimed was her boyfriend.”

A May 2010 Detroit News article titled “Skater Bowman's troubled life to play out in court” provides more detail:
… Bowman's family declined to comment on the suit, but Freeman contends the claims are false and amount to harassment. She claims she and Bowman were intimate for six years and planned to marry…. Freeman, who is married and still lives with her husband, said Bowman had lived in Lake Orion with her and her husband and two daughters for the last six years of his life. She said she met Bowman at the Detroit Skating Club, where he coached her daughter. “We became friends, then intimate friends and also business partners,” she said, adding her marriage was “one of convenience.” 
Asked about the incident in a May 2014 Naples Daily News Editorial Board meeting, Freeman said she is legally prohibited from discussing it, although “there’s a lot of inaccurate information out there.” When pressed by interviewer Jeff Lytle, she said, “All the people of Southwest Florida need to know is I’m a hard-working person, an honest person, a fighter in causes I believe, and that situation is one of those causes.”

If you get the chance, watch the NewsMakers interview and the Editorial Board meeting.

Freeman’s website lists endorsements by 20 organizations, including the Lee and Collier County Democratic Parties, Florida State Senator Dwight Bullard, The International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW), The United Steelworkers Union (USW), The Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees (SOAR), Southwest Florida Chapter of the AFL-CIO, UA Plumber Pipefitters Local 725, and the bipartisan Women’s Campaign Fund.

My bottom line: I am troubled that Freeman did not graduate from college, “walked away” from a mortgage, and was apparently involved in a long-term extra-marital affair. At the same time, I am impressed by her volunteer work with the 2008 and 2012 Obama campaigns and her subsequent work with The Presidential Inaugural Committee. Those are things I have personally been a part of and can relate to. And I give her much credit for being willing to endure the hardships of a political campaign, especially knowing that her life will be closely examined and harshly talked about. For these reasons, I believe she is sincere and passionate about wanting to serve the people of Southwest Florida who she believes need a voice in Washington, D.C.

And importantly, from what I can tell, she is more likely than her opponents to vote in line with my values if elected to Congress.

If I missed something about Freeman that you think is relevant to readers' voting decision, please post a comment and website reference to let us know.

In the interest of more quickly getting to the other candidates and issues that will be on the ballot in the August 26 election, I will not be writing about the other two District 19 candidates, Libertarian Ray Netherwood and write-in candidate Timothy Rossano.

I will be watching carefully as the campaign progresses in the few short weeks between now and the June 24 Special Election. I hope you will, too. And I hope that if you live in District 19, you take the time to vote.

Remember: you must be registered to vote by today - May 27 – to vote in the Special Election, and early voting begins June 14. For more information about polling places, voting hours, etc., click here.

Monday, May 19, 2014

The District 19 Candidates – Part 1

In my last post, I promised to delve into the candidates for the Congressional District 19 Special Election to be held on June 24.  Since then, I’ve found myself struggling with a dilemma. Ideologically, who to vote for is an easy decision, because the candidates’ parties are so polarized. If you're a Republican, you'll want to vote for Curt Clawson. If you're a Democrat, you'll like April Freeman. If you're looking for someone less "establishment," you might consider Libertarian Ray Netherwood or write-in candidate Timothy Rossano. But if we have a responsibility to look beyond the sound bites at the candidates themselves, their backgrounds, prior experiences, how they’ve lived their lives, then the task is much more difficult.

If I'm to add value with this blog, I owe it to my readers to do the work. I'll try to do so with an open mind, though I make no effort to hide the fact that I am a political progressive.

So here goes. I’ll start with Curt Clawson, with some biographical information from his website.

Curt Clawson
Clawson bills himself as “the outsider for Congress: a business leader, former college basketball player and hardworking American who is fed up with the revolving door of career politicians, lobbyists and special interest groups in Washington, D.C. He is running for Congress in the Florida District 19 Special Election to change the direction of our country and improve opportunities for future generations.”

He was born in Tacoma, WA, in 1959, went to high school in Indiana, graduated from Purdue with degrees from Krannert School of Management and the School of Liberal Arts (Spanish) in 1984, then spent a year on a Rotary International scholarship doing graduate MBA studies in Monterrey, Mexico. In 1986 he went to work for Arvin Industries, a global manufacturer of automotive exhaust systems, as a supervisor on a muffler production line in Columbus, IN. In 1990, he got his MBA from Harvard, paid for by Arvin, then returned to the company for a “variety of management positions of increasing responsibility.”

In 1995, he went to work for AlliedSignal (now Honeywell) as President of the Filters and Spark Plugs Group, eventually becoming President and Chief Operating Officer of American National Can, the largest global manufacturer of beverage cans. From 2001 (at the age of 42) until 2012, he was Chairman and CEO of Hayes Lemmerz International, Inc., the world’s largest maker of steel and aluminum wheels for cars and trucks, with facilities in over a dozen countries around the globe.  During Clawson’s tenure as CEO, the company filed for bankruptcy twice, and in 2012 was acquired by Iochpe-Maxion, a publicly-traded Brazilian conglomerate.

Clawson did quite well financially during his business career, and spent quite of bit of his personal wealth on his primary election campaign.

Googling “Hayes Lemmerz bankruptcy Clawson” turned up a March 2014 article by WGCU News titled “Local newspaper [Naples Daily News] investigates Curt Clawson’s spotty business record”  and an April 2014 Fact Check by the Fort Myers News-Press titled “Critics question Clawson’s actions at Hayes Lemmerz.”  The lead-in to the News-Press piece says, “The race for the Republican nomination for the 19th Congressional District seat has turned into a decidedly negative affair, with hyperbolic accusations and character assassination floated freely in television ads, mailers and news stories.”

The Hayes Lemmerz CFO during Clawson's time at the company is quoted as saying, “It is an utter shame that the article failed to take into account that Curt Clawson was brought in to fix a problem he didn’t create.  When he took over there was already $2.2 billion in debt and already safety problems at the company.  He made the tough decisions to save hundreds of good paying American jobs and safety was world class when he left.  This is an American success story and he deserves a tremendous amount of credit.”

If you get the chance. listen to Clawson's 30-minute interview with the Naples Daily News Editorial Board (click here). I was impressed by his discussion of  the business situation he inherited ("the company had more debt than sales") when he took the job at Hayes Lemmerz and how he dealt with it. You can read both press stories (and more) if you’re interested, but as a former finance person, I tend to agree with the News-Press's characterization of the accusations as hyperbole.

During the editorial board interview, Clawson was asked about his positions on many of the issues of the day, including the Affordable Care Act, immigration reform, taxes and flood insurance. He was given the opportunity to explain his Economic Plan. His said what one would expect from a fiscally conservative former CEO of a global manufacturing company, so I didn't agree with most of it. But what I found refreshing was his manner of speaking. He was calm, deliberate, thoughtful, and his comments were values-based. He struck me as a reasonable person I might be able to talk to, and someone who might be willing and able to work across the aisle in Congress to get things done.

Another story about Clawson that circulated before the primary concerned his ties to a convicted sex offender. You can read the Naples Daily News story here and the Fort Myers News-Press story here.  This kind of innuendo really upsets me. Does anyone really think Clawson condones sex offenses? If you care to know more about this, read the stories and judge for yourself.

Following the sale of Hayes Lemmerz in 2012, Clawson moved to Bonita Springs, where his parents have lived since 1993. According to the News-Press,  “Clawson visits them every evening and the three attend church on the weekends at the Estero Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints chapel…. Clawson was married from 1995 to 2009 but has no children. He does have, though, nieces and nephews from six brothers and sisters, including seven nieces up in Tarpon Bay. A nephew works in his campaign office.”

Why is he running for political office? He said in the NDN interview he's running because he thinks Washington can benefit from someone with his business experience in dealing with a company in trouble and having to make tough decisions. He said he came to Southwest Florida to be near his elderly parents. He said he got involved in local (Bonita Springs) governmental issues, and has not ruled out the possibility of running for local office. He said he only thought of running for Congress when Trey Radel got into "trouble."

Tea Party Express endorsed Clawson  in the CD19 primary, citing his outsider status, Harvard MBA, and career as a “successful businessman and turn-around specialist.” The endorsement press release included this quote from Jack Tymann, co-founder and member of the Leadership Council of the Naples Tea Party:
“As a retired CEO, I am disgusted when candidates who call themselves conservative Republicans tear down those who have been successful in the private sector.… Demonizing achievement and condemning capitalism is what liberals do. We should be holding candidates like Curt Clawson up as an example of what it takes to turn things around: like he did as CEO. Curt Clawson is a true conservative who will exert his talents and leadership skills to get America back on track.”
Other endorsers in the primary, according to Ballotpedia, included former Rep. Connie Mack, Rand Paul, Michele Bachmann and The Eagle Forum.

I think I’ll stop there on Clawson. I’m impressed with the fact that he double-majored in business and Spanish, lived outside the U.S. for a year in his twenties, the fact that after two years with the company, Arvin thought enough of him to pay for a Harvard MBA, and what I’ve read about his business background. I don’t hold his financial success in business against him. I’m not happy that he seems to have used it to buy the primary election, but that’s the way it’s going to be from now on in the post-Citizens-United world, so we better get used to it. In today’s Naples Daily News, editorial page editor Jeff Lytle wrote that Clawson “is declining debates with June 24 election foes,” which is disappointing. But if you were Clawson, would YOU debate?

My bottom line: I'm surprised by what I learned doing my research today. He's not the caricature of a Tea Party candidate I was expecting. I don't agree with his positions on the issues (and I've seen nothing about his positions on social issues). But if CD19 has to be represented by a Republican (and I'm by no means conceding that point), we could do worse.

If I missed something about Clawson that you think is relevant to readers' voting decision, please post a comment and website reference to let us know.

And by the way, in Lytle's column today, he also reported the following about Clawson’s Democratic Party challenger April Freeman, setting up my next post: “Freeman is declining to comment on Detroit news reports, which she calls inaccurate, about her romance with and alleged exploitation of a champion figure skater, now dead of a drug overdose.”

Stay tuned.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Something for your radar screen

Are you a caring, civic-minded Collier County voter? If so, you’ll want to be aware of the literally dozens of individual political races and ballot initiatives to be voted on in the next six months. These are the three election dates:

June 24 – Special election for Congressional District 19
August 26 – Federal, state and local primary elections
November 4 – Federal, state and local general elections

Put these dates on your radar screen - and your calendar - now and start preparing to be an informed voter when the time comes. I’ll help by researching the candidates and the issues, and writing about them over the coming months in this Sparker's Soapbox blog.

For now, a bit about the June 24 Special election for Congressional District  (CD) 19.

This election is for the seat in Congress formerly held by Republican Trey Radel. Radel resigned in January after being arrested for cocaine possession, reaching a plea agreement, undergoing substance abuse rehabilitation treatment, and returning to Congress.

The primary election for that seat was held on April 22.  Only registered Republicans living in CD 19 were eligible to vote in it, and only 35% of them bothered to do so. Curt Clawson won with only 38% (26,897) of the votes cast.

In other words, Clawson won his party’s nomination with only 13% of the registered Republicans in District 19. Hardly a strong show of support.

While only registered Republicans could vote in the primary, all 451,000  registered voters in Congressional District 19 can vote in the June 24 General Election. Will they (will YOU) let the will of the 13% decide, or will they (will YOU) get out and vote?

The four candidates who will be on the ballot on June 24 are:
Curt Clawson - Republican Part of Florida
April FreemanFlorida Democratic Party
Ray NetherwoodLibertarian Party of Florida
Timothy J. Rossano - write-in

To find out if you live in CD 19, click here.

And whether you do or not, this is a great time to make sure your voter registration is up to date with your current name, address and signature.  Simply click here, call 239-252-VOTE, or stop by the Supervisor of Election’s office at the Collier Government Complex, 3295 Tamiami Trl E, Naples, FL 34112, or the North Collier Government Center, 2335 Orange Blossom Dr, Naples, FL 34109. Or complete, sign and mail in a new voter registration form (click here).

Election dates on your calendar?
Know if you live in CD 19?
Confirmed that your voter registration (including signature) is up to date?

Great! You’re on your way to being an informed voter this year.

My next post will begin to delve in to the candidates for the CD 19 General Election.

I'm back!

It's almost a year since my last Sparker's Soapbox post, and Organizing for Action - Naples has had an amazingly productive and effective year.

Please visit the blog at www.ofanaples.com to read about all we accomplished.

OFA-Naples' activities have ramped down for the spring/summer/fall as many volunteers have headed back "home" and/or gone to work on political campaigns for the critical upcoming midterm elections. Those continuing with OFA will be working specifically on Affordable Care Act education and outreach in anticipation of the next enrollment period (11/15/14 - 2/15/15), as well as voter education. If you'd like to know more about either of those volunteer opportunities, please email ofanaples2012@gmail.com and someone will be in touch with you.

Meanwhile, I'm back to my Sparker's Soapbox blog with the goal of helping Collier County voters prepare for the many political races and ballot initiatives facing us in the coming six months.

If you have suggestions of topics for me to cover, questions or comments, please don't hesitate to let me know. Simply post a comment online (www.sparkers-soapbox.blogspot.com) or, if you're an email subscriber, simply "reply" to one of the email posts you receive. If you're not already a subscriber, click here to subscribe.

I hope you'll find my posts helpful.