Sunday, November 18, 2018

Recap and reflections on the November elections

Once again, Florida’s elections made national news. I assume you've seen the results (click here for the state’s and here for Collier County’s), so in this post, I’ll dive a little deeper. First, I’ll share my thoughts about their implications for public policy and for the people of Florida. Then I’ll briefly comment on the results of the local races I wrote about on Sparker's Soapbox. Finally, I’ll point out significant differences between how Collier County voted and the state- or district-wide results to show Collier County in a broader context.

My goal is to give you a deeper understanding of our midterm elections — what the results say about Collier County, and how they might affect our local and state government, both now and in the future. And with this understanding, I hope you'll want to continue to read Sparker's Soapbox in the months ahead. Why? Because if we don’t monitor what our elected officials do and don’t do while in office, we won’t be informed enough to reward or hold them accountable come the next elections!

Implications of the election results


The outcome of the federal elections has been the focus of much recent attention as what some are calling a slow-moving Blue Wave gave the Democrats control of the House, gaining 37 seats as of November 17. (But see So, Was It A Wave?) But the two Democrat pickups in Florida (the Miami-area’s District 27 and south Florida’s District 26) were not enough to flip the state’s congressional delegation. And after a manual recount, Florida Democrats lost a U.S. Senate seat to Republican former governor Rick Scott.

At the state level, Republicans won the governorship, two of the three Cabinet seats (Democrat Nikki Fried won the Commissioner of Agriculture race following a manual recount), and the majority of the Legislature. So there will be a continuation of the agenda that outgoing Governor Rick Scott, House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron championed. Their successors will be Ron DeSantis, Jose Oliva and Bill Galvano, respectively.

About DeSantis, the new (July 2018) online state-news website Florida Phoenix writes:
“His far-to-the-right ideology will help reshape the Florida Supreme Court for decades to come.... His campaign agenda includes signing “pro-life legislation into law,” defending Second Amendment rights to keep and bear arms and defending “First Amendment speech rights against those in academia, media and politics who seek to silence conservatives.... He is likely to battle teacher unions over expanding voucher programs and support more public charter schools run by private groups, rather than focusing on traditional public schools. He is a foe of the Affordable Care Act and favors tough immigration measures.”

The 2019 Florida Legislature will look much like it did in 2018. While Democrats picked up six seats in the House, Republicans retained control of 73 of the 120 seats, or 61 percent (see here).

In terms of policy, of note is that incoming Speaker Oliva has named Rep. Jennifer Sullivan to head the House Education Committee. She has been an ally to conservative education groups and their concerns, championing home schooling and tax credit scholarships in previous Legislative sessions. In addition, Oliva named Rep. Travis Cummings to chair the powerful Appropriations Committee. He was one of 67 legislators to pass the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Act as a standalone bill in the 2018 Session, and in the 2013 Session, he sponsored a bill that narrowly expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

In the Florida Senate, too, Republicans retained control. In the 2019 session, they will hold 23 of the 40 seats, or 57.5 percent. Democrats picked up one seat and will hold 17 seats, or 42.5 percent (see here).

Incoming President Galvano has not yet named committee leadership, but recently said he wants to consider changes to the election laws in view of the issues that arose during the unprecedented three state-wide recounts. Regarding Amendment 4, which restores voting rights to former felons, he said that while some aspects might require legislative implementation, lawmakers would not “slow-walk” putting it into statute.

At the local level, incumbent Penny Taylor was elected to a second term on the Board of County Commissioners. With no change in Board make-up, expect a continued focus on the Board’s current priorities and issues.

Implications of the constitutional amendments


Only one of the twelve amendments — Amendment 1 - Increased Homestead Property Tax Exemption failed, receiving two points less than the required 60 percent of the vote. The eleven that passed have varying effective dates

Here are my thoughts on those that will have the greatest effect:

Results of the local races


About 8.2 million votes were cast statewide; Collier County represented less than 2 percent of them. Here, 157,097 ballots were cast.
  • County Commission District 4 — Incumbent Penny Taylor was challenged by Democrat Gary Petit-Dor. Unknown Petit-Dor received 30 percent of the vote, which was surprising; Taylor’s win was not.
  • Mosquito Control Seat 1 - John Johnson will return to the Commission after his defeat in 2016. He won with 48 percent of the vote in a three-way race with Victor Dotres (29 percent) and Dennis Sanders (22 percent).
  • Mosquito Control Seat 2 - Sandra Lee Buxton received 76 percent of the vote, crushing challenger John Shuey (24 percent).
  • County Judge Group 2 - Blake Adams narrowly defeated Jim Moon by just 102 votes in a race that was ultimately confirmed in a manual recount. Each candidate received just over 57,000 votes; over 42,000 people left the race blank, a 27 percent undervote.
  • The sales surtax - Surprisingly, given the conservative nature of the Collier electorate, the sales tax narrowly passed with 50.87 percent of the vote, a margin of 2,498 votes. 

Collier County in the broader context


It’s no surprise that the majority of Collier voters overwhelmingly chose the Republican candidate in each of the partisan races on their ballots. Collier County has been dominated by the Republican Party for some time. As of the official book closing for this election, 50.7 percent of Collier voters were registered as Republicans, 23.8 percent were registered as Democrats and 25.5 percent were all other, including No Party Affiliation. For the state as a whole, 35.4 percent were registered as Republicans, 37.2 percent as Democrats and 27.5 percent as all other, including NPA.

In state-wide races, the results were much closer for the state as a whole than they were in Collier County; the margins in three of them — U.S. Senator, Governor and Commissioner of Agriculture — were less than 0.5 percent, necessitating a recount by state law. Note the significant difference in the Commissioner of Agriculture vote, which went to the Democrat after a manual recount, but which overwhelmingly supported the Republican in Collier County.




On the amendments, also not surprisingly, Collier voters more strongly supported those that gave them more tax benefits (Nos. 1 -- which did not pass -- and 2) or limited future tax increases (No. 5) than did voters state-wide. Another significant difference between Collier and the state-wide results was the eight-point difference on the amendment to automatically restore voting rights to former felons (No. 4). Had Collier’s 57 percent favorable vote rate been mirrored statewide, the amendment would not have passed.



In district-wide races, the Collier vote was much closer to the vote of the district of which it is a part, but in all but one case (State Attorney) went more strongly for the Republican candidate. In races that had an incumbent on the ballot, s/he was overwhelmingly supported for another term.


* * * * * * * *

So there you have it: my thoughts about the implications of the election results and constitutional amendments, some comments on the results of some local races, and a look at how Collier County voted, but in a broader context. I hope this was helpful ... and thought-provoking. Let me know if I accomplished my goal!

Monday, November 5, 2018

Local News in Review - October 2018

More than a year after Hurricane Irma devastated Southwest Florida, our County and City governments are still dealing with its effects ... the County Commission continued its efforts to facilitate more affordable workforce housing and to reach agreement on whether to make the zoning changes necessary to allow medical marijuana dispensaries in the County ... and the Naples City Council decided not to appeal a court's ruling on creating an ethics panel, and they were unable to reach agreement on what to do about its fertilizer ban.

Why should you care about state and local news? Because if we voters don’t monitor our government in action and what our elected officials do and don’t do while in office, we won’t be informed enough to reward or hold them accountable come the next elections!

So with that, here’s my October 2018 Local Government News in Review:

Irma recovery

  • Collier County approves $250,000 campaign to lure visitors back after red tide. County officials will tap into an emergency advertising fund for the “Beaches Are Open” and "Return to Paradise" marketing campaigns and place ads on travel websites, with news outlets and on social media platforms. Naples Daily News, 10/9/18
  • Collier replacing Irma-damaged wall on Vanderbilt. Construction is scheduled to start this month and be completed by Jan. 10, according to County Commissioner Andy Solis, whose North Naples district includes that stretch. Naples Daily News, 10/15/18
  • Hurricane Irma destroyed almost 2,000 trees in the City of Naples — when and how will they be replaced? FEMA and insurance reimbursement won’t be enough; grants and donations are welcome. Naples Daily News, 11/1/18

Housing

  • Affordable housing proposals are moved forward by Collier County Commission. Commissioners approved, in some cases by 3-2 votes, recommendations ranging from regulatory relief to increased density, and unanimously rejected a mixed-income housing program, often called inclusionary zoning. Naples Daily News, 10/9/18
  • More or less traffic? Apartments planned for North Naples intersection worry residents. According to a traffic impact statement presented during a County Commission meeting in September, the new complex would bring 24-hour two-way volume down by more than a thousand vehicles. Naples Daily News, 10/19/18
  • Future Habitat for Humanity project to have a wall, at the request of Collier neighbors. County Commissioners unanimously approved rezoning to allow a new project off Greenway Road in East Naples after Habitat agreed to neighbors' calls for a wall to be built between them and the new housing. Naples Daily News, 11/2/18

Other County government action

  • Economic development zone proposed for Golden Gate. Commissioner Burt Saunders proposed the Innovation Zone to develop or improve local infrastructure, fund projects for industrial or manufacturing plants, lease or convey property, and provide grants to existing businesses or to attract new ones to the community. Naples Daily News, 10/3/18
  • Brent Batten: Gas pump locks proposed in Collier to prevent credit card theft. Commissioner Burt Saunders suggested the county follow Cape Coral's and Charlotte County’s lead and adopt an ordinance to deter gas pump skimmers. Naples Daily News, 10/11/18
  • Collier to reconsider allowing medical marijuana dispensaries. But with at least four votes needed to make needed amendments to the county’s land development code, and continued opposition by Commissioners Donna Fiala and Penny Taylor, it is unclear if the renewed push to will come to fruition. Naples Daily News, 10/23/18
  • Sales tax dispute fails to upend economic development deal with Chamber — for now. Commissioners voted 3-2 to strike down Commissioner Bill McDaniel’s proposal to end the agreement early, which would have saved the county $66,667. Naples Daily News, 10/23/18
  • Collier commissioners put off stormwater fee proposal until after election. County staff is working on a revamped plan to fund the $120 million in capital needs that address concerns raised by residents about the plan earlier this year. Naples Daily News, 10/25/18

Naples City Council

  • Naples City Council split on how to revise a fertilizer ban meant to stem water pollution. Councilman Gary Price wants a full blackout during the rainy season; others want to stop use during the winter. Naples Daily News, 10/15/18
  • Naples floats changes to beach boat storage program amid environmental concerns. Councilors support doubling the storage locations while halving the number of watercraft at each, keeping the same total of 31 beachfront boats. Naples Daily News, 10/15/18
  • Naples Council won't appeal ruling on creating ethics panel, will seek compromise. The council has scheduled a special meeting in November with Ethics Naples to find a compromise on some of the city's issues with the proposal. Naples Daily News, 10/17/18
  • Naples approves $207,500 to give first responders control of traffic lights. The Opticom system, which is already in place in parts of Collier County, reduces response times. FOX4now.com, 10/17/18
  • City Council considering additions to long-awaited Baker Park. They include a nearly $3 million main building, restrooms and picnic shelters. The park has an estimated completion date of October of next year. NBC-2.com, 10/31/18

City of Marco Island

  • Marco public works director accepts blame for not notifying public of roadwork. City Council Vice-Chair Charlette Roman asked for an explanation after a large throng of residents made their displeasure known when their commute times were multiplied by unforeseen challenges commuting on and off the island. Marco Eagle, 10/18/19
  • Increased testing the first step to solving Marco Island water quality issues. City Council will hold a water quality workshop after elections in November. Marco Eagle, 10/23/18
  • Marco officer promoted to supervisor after sex scandal has not performed duties. The police department has come under intense scrutiny over the past few months after multiple violations of police policy were sustained against officers after the allegations surfaced. Marco Eagle via Naples Daily News, 10/12/18
  • Marco police investigating another officer for misconduct while on duty. Two police sergeants resigned earlier this year as internal affairs investigations were launched as a result of allegations that they separately had engaged in sex on duty with the same woman. Marco Eagle, 11/2/18

Collier County Public Schools

  • Ex-treasurer of the Mason Classical Academy public charter school alleges lax financial oversight, verbal abuse. A complaint filed with the Florida Department of Education states the school’s top administrators, under the guidance of Mason Principal David Hull, “knowingly and willfully created an environment … where fraud can occur without detection.” Naples Daily News, 10/6/18



Sunday, November 4, 2018

State News in Review - October 2018

Tuesday, November 6, is Election Day! The polls will be open from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. You may vote only at your assigned precinct based on your legal residence. Use the Collier Supervisor of Elections’ Precinct Finder or call (239) 252-VOTE.

With elections top-of-mind, I’ll begin with the latest on voter turnout and campaign finance that Collier voters might want to know. But elections aside, the business of government did continue in October, and there were some developments you should be aware of. Among them: Hurricane Michael made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane near Mexico Beach, FL, on October 10, affecting residents’ ability to vote and putting a strain on state reserves, and the debate over who gets to appoint Florida’s next three Supreme Court justices continued to play out.

Voter turnout


  • States’ early turnout setting records ahead of Election Day. Associated Press via Miami-Herald, 11/3/18

Voter Turnout


Campaign money


I reviewed the campaign contributions and spending reported through Saturday for each of the candidates for federal or state office on Collier voters’ ballots (summarized here). Of particular note:
  • U.S. Senate - Rick Scott's bid to unseat Democrat Bill Nelson is “this year's most expensive Senate race, as control of the chamber hangs in the balance.” (CNBC.com, 10/31/18) Nelson has raised and spent $28 and $25 million, respectively, none his own money. With one week to go, Scott had contributed more than $64 million of his own money to his race, nearly reaching the $70 million he spent to win the governor’s race in 2010. (Tampa Bay Times, 11/1/18)
  • U.S. House District 19 - Incumbent Francis Rooney has refused to debate and is barely campaigning, while challenger David Holden seems to never stop. Holden raised $.5 million to Rooney’s $.7 million, and spent $.4 million to Rooney’s $.9 million. (FEC.gov, 11/03/18)
  • Governor - Big-money donors give DeSantis slight lead in fundraising for Florida governor's race. (Naples Daily News, 10/25/18; dos.myflorida.com, 11/03/18)
  • Agriculture Commissioner - Given that this was the most contested of the three Cabinet offices during the primaries, I was surprised that it raised and spent the least of the three in this election. Nikki Fried (D): $1.0 and $1.6 million, respectively; Matt Caldwell (R): $1.8 and $1.5 million, respectively. (dos.myflorida.com, 11/03/18)
  • Chief Financial Officer - Well-connected Scott appointee/incumbent Jimmy Patronis (R) raised and spent three times his opponent, Jeremy Ring (D). Patronis: $2.4 and $2.3 million, respectively; Ring: $.8 and $.8 million, respectively. (dos.myflorida.com, 11/03/18)
  • Attorney General - This was the biggest-money Cabinet race. Ashley Moody (R): $5.2 and $4.0 million, respectively; Sean Shaw (D): $2.7 and $1.9 million, respectively. (dos.myflorida.com, 11/03/18)
  • Senate District 28; House Districts 80, 105, 106 - In their heavily Republican districts, it’s no surprise that incumbents Kathleen Passidomo, Byron Donalds and Bob Rommel raised and spent far, far more than their Democratic challengers Annisa Karim, Jennifer Boddicker and Sara McFadden, respectively. McFadden came the closest, raising 84 percent of Rommel’s $.2 million and spending 48% of his $.1 million. In District 106, with no incumbent running, Republican Ana Maria Rodriguez crushed Democrat Javier Estevez in funds raised and spent. (dos.myflorida.com, 11/03/18)

Responding to Hurricane Michael


  • Major policy issues may arise out of the storm. The state has nearly $4 billion in reserves to help address the immediate needs of communities impacted by Michael, but the Legislature likely will be asked to appropriate other funds to help with various hurricane-related issues. Herald-Tribune, 10/13/18
  • After Hurricane Michael, Florida election chiefs look at 'Plan B and Plan C' for voters. From Leon to Okaloosa, election supervisors are confident the November election will proceed with voters having access and ballots getting counted. Tallahassee Democrat via Naples Daily News, 10/17/18
  • Scott emergency order expands voting opportunities, doesn't delay election. In-person and absentee voting opportunities were expanded for residents of the eight counties hardest hit by Hurricane Michael, but the order stops short of extending the Nov. 6 general Election Day in the counties. Politico Florida, 10/18/18
    • RelatedHurricane Michael's devastation in GOP-rich FL Panhandle could affect midterm elections. Naples Daily News, 11/3/18
  • Senator Bill Nelson calls on Florida Legislature to reverse construction code law. Before visiting areas devastated by Hurricane Michael, Nelson called out the Legislature and Governor Scott for a 2017 law he says allows builders to strip international building standards from Florida codes. WFSU Public Media, 10/17/18

The battle over the State Supreme Court


As we reported in The upcoming battle over Supreme Court appointments, three of Florida’s seven state Supreme Court justices reached the mandatory retirement age of 70 this year, raising the question, “Who gets to appoint their successors: Governor Scott, as he completes his term, or the successor governor?” Scott first claimed the authority last year (see my July 2017 post Florida League of Women Voters and Common Cause sue Rick Scott) and in September 2018 ordered the Judicial Nominating Commission to start interviewing candidates. In October, the League and Common Core won their lawsuit, but a question remained.

  • Florida Supreme Court ruling raises stakes of governor’s election. The state Supreme Court said the job of replacing three retiring justices belongs not to lame-duck Gov. Rick Scott but to his successor. Miami-Herald, 10/15/18
  • Scott can’t make ‘midnight appointments,’ but can his appointees do so? All nine Judicial Nominating Commission members are Scott appointees. Florida Watchdog, 10/16/17
  • New lawsuit filed over Florida Supreme Court picks. The League of Women Voters of Florida and Common Cause asked the Court to block the Judicial Nominating Commission from interviewing candidates. APNews.com, 10/26/18

Public education


One of the first things the newly-elected governor will have to do is develop a state budget to submit to the Legislature by February 3 — a month ahead of the 60-day legislative session. (See Transition for new governor will be challenging, News Service of Florida via Herald-Tribune, 11/2/18). Since education is the second-biggest expenditure in the state budget (see Fiscal Analysis in Brief), expect more articles about public education in the coming months:


The environment


  • Everglades restoration must deal with rising ocean, new report says. Eighteen years into the multi-billion-dollar restoration of the Everglades, a scientific review committee has called for a broad re-examination of future projects in view of changing climate conditions in Southwest Florida. Sun-Sentinel, 10/17/18
  • U.S. Senate authorizes $1.6 billion reservoir to cut Lake O discharges; President Trump expected to sign legislation. Getting the federal money, though, could take a couple of years. TCPalm via Naples Daily News, 10/11/18
    • Related: President Trump Signs Water Resources Bill into Law. Sunshine State News, 10/23/18
    • Related: Statement by Senate President Negron on President Trump signing America’s Water Infrastructure Act. Senate Press Release, 10/23/18
  • State Sen. Kathleen Passidomo (R-Naples): To stop algae problem, get serious on septic tanks. “We need to do more than focus on a few large polluters,” she said. Florida Politics, 10/15/18

Other news of note


  • Mayors score a victory in court battle over the NRA-backed state law which blocks local firearm regulations. A Leon County judge is allowing a lawsuit to go forward over whether local Florida officials have the right to pass gun laws in their towns and cities. Florida Phoenix, 10/18/18
    • RelatedFlorida forces towns to pull local laws limiting guns, New York Times, 9/10/11
  • Florida opens investigation into priest sex abuse against children. Attorney General Pam Bondi encourages victims – including anyone who was victimized at any churches, youth groups, schools, and other institutions - to report the crime, no matter how long ago it occurred. Florida Phoenix, 10/4/18
  • Fakahatchee strand preserve will get $1.3 million upgrade. The Florida legislature appropriated the funds to upgrade the park’s Big Cypress Bend boardwalk along US 41 and improve access, accessibility and viewability of the natural surroundings. Marco Eagle via Naples Daily News, 10/18/18
  • Florida probably won’t get permanent Daylight Saving Time. The Florida Legislature approved it this year, but it's been met with steep opposition in Congress. Tampa Bay Times, 10/31/18