Get Ready to Vote for Board of County Commissioners: An Update

In a post last May, I explained that some – but not all – Collier County voters will have the opportunity to vote in one of the BCC primary elections in August. By now, you should have received your Vote-By-Mail or sample ballot and know if you are one of them. If you have not received it, check the status here or call the Collier County Supervisor of Elections at 239–252-VOTE.

Early voting began last Saturday, August 20, and continues through this Saturday, August 27. There is no voting on Sunday or Monday; Election Day is Tuesday, August 30. You can vote at any of the early voting locations, regardless of where you live, but on Election Day, you may only vote at your precinct polling place.

Commissioners are elected to four-year staggered terms, with Districts 1, 3 and 5 on the ballot in presidential election years. Find your commission district here.

This year, since no one challenged incumbent Donna Fiala (R) for her District 1 seat, she will be automatically reelected. Due to District 2 Commissioner Georgia Hiller’s decision to run for the Clerk of Courts, this seat is on the August ballot for an abbreviated two-year term. With only Republicans qualifying to run, all District 2 voters can vote in that race. Also on the ballot, for registered Republicans only, are seats representing District 3 and District 5.

In this post, I will share my research on the candidates. I relied heavily on their responses to the League of Women Voters of Collier County (LWVCC) Environmental Affairs Committee Survey of Candidates and Candidate Profiles, the SWFL Citizens’ Alliance (SWFLCA) Voter Guide for Collier County Commissioners and the Naples Daily News endorsements.

District 2

The three Republican candidates in District 2 are James CalamariJim Carter and Andy Solis. See Calamari’s LWVCC profile here, Carter’s here and Solis’ here. Calamari’s community engagement has been in the area of security and emergency management services, while Carter’s and Solis’ service has been more broad-based. I think the latter is preferable in this role, so I focused my research on Carter and Solis.

I compared Carter’s and Solis’ answers to the LWVCC and SWFLCA surveys. Where they differed, Carter’s indicated a more libertarian approach. For example, in response to the question “Would you support the creation of a Collier County trash ordinance designed to minimize human-bear interaction,” Solis gave an unqualified “yes;” Carter wrote, “I’m not going to try and regulate bear behavior. Owners know what to do. They just need to do it.” 

Andy Solis

Further, Solis’ responses to the SWFLCA survey indicated more of an open-mindedness than Carter’s. For example, in response to “Do you support reducing Florida intake of federal dollars to our total state budget over the next 5 years,” Carter said “yes;” Solis said “undecided.” In response to “Will you champion an Ordinance banning sanctuary cities in Collier County,” Carter said “yes;” Solis said “undecided.” In response to “Do you support eliminating the Florida Corporate income tax,” where “undecided” would not be an acceptable response for me, Carter said “yes;” Solis said “no.”

The Naples Daily News endorsed Solis. In their endorsement, they  wrote, “Carter’s service was yesteryear. Today’s and tomorrow’s challenges lie east of District 2. Solis’ current service give him the edge to grasp that critical growth-management decisions in inland regions of Collier directly affect district residents.”

District 3

The three Republican candidates on the closed primary ballot in District 3 are Ron Kezeske, Burt Saunders and Russell Tuff. See Kezeske’s LWVCC profile here, Saunders’ here and Tuff’s here. Both Saunders and Tuff have long histories of service to Collier County, while Kezeske moved here in 2009 to attend Ave Maria Law School. Because there are two other excellent choices who would bring important qualities, connections, knowledge and experience to the job, I eliminated the relative newcomer.

Saunders knows the workings of the county commission and state legislature from the inside: he served as Collier County Attorney from 1982 – 1986, as a Collier County Commissioner from 1986 – 1994, in the Florida House from 1994 – 1998, and the Florida Senate from 1998 – 2008. A shareholder with the GrayRobinson law firm, Saunders now “lobbies for various governmental entities and serves as the Village Attorney for the Village of Estero, Florida.”

According to a 2008 Naples Daily News article about Saunders’ service in the Florida Legislature, “Nowhere was Saunders more effective than on the environmental front. A fiscal conservative, Saunders reflected the region’s environmental sensitivity and used his influence – especially as chairman of the Senate Environmental Preservation Committee – to promote a progressive environmental agenda, colleagues and environmentalists agree. During his final year, Saunders shepherded legislation to further protect the Everglades, and to continue the state’s land-buying efforts. On energy, he shared the governor’s belief in alternative fuel use and promoting energy efficiency.”

Russell Tuff

Tuff is what the Naples Daily News calls “the local guy.” He won their endorsement because “this is a district race, not a countywide contest… Through decades of civic service, Tuff already is the face of District 3, centered in the densely packed, working-class Golden Gate community. He not only knows the agenda for the district, he’s been actively leading the way in setting it.”

District 5

The three Republican candidates on the closed primary ballot in District 5 are Randolph Cash, William McDaniel and Douglas Rankin. See the LWVCC profile of Cash here, McDaniel here and Rankin here.

Continuing with my approach of focusing on candidates with long track records of service to the community, I eliminated Rankin, whose commitment has been more to the Collier County Republican Party than to serving the needs of his rapidly-growing community and its many challenges. Further, Rankin did not respond to the LWVCC’s Environmental Affairs Survey while the other candidates did.

Cash and McDaniel had similar responses to the LWVCC survey. Their answers on the SWFLCA survey differed on only six of 25 questions; four of them are important matters of policy to me:

  • “Will you support fracking in Eastern Collier County?” Cash: no; McDaniel: undecided
  • “Do you support reducing Florida intake of federal dollars to our total state budget over the next 5 years?” Cash: undecided; McDaniel: yes
  • “Do you support offshore drilling in Florida outside the 10-mile limit?” Cash: undecided; McDaniel: yes
  • “Do you support developers be required to provide affordable housing as part of their development plan?” Cash: yes; McDaniel: no
Randy Cash

The Naples Daily News endorsed Cash. It said, “In a group dynamic, five headstrong people all wanting to lead, disinclined to follow, would create repeated clash that accomplishes little. Cash convinces us that he has the savvy to discern when it’s better to lead or follow.”

They also liked Cash’s “more realistic and affordable ideas for the Immokalee airfield, especially considering the airport’s proximity to panther habitat,” as opposed to McDaniel’s “grandiose plans for the Immokalee airport’s transformation with substantially widened roads, rail, a shipping hub and passenger traffic.”

The Naples Daily News commended McDaniel for his leadership of the Collier County Housing Authority, saying he “can be an asset going forward as a task force and consultant begin shaping a housing affordability plan for commission review.” I hope he will continue his efforts in this important area.

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