News Section: Environment
Race Analysis: Manatee County Supervisor of Elections: Republican Primary
In a crowded field that includes some familiar names, Republican voters will have to decide among a diverse field of candidates, each of whom would bring a unique body of experience to an office that will lose a highly-respected public servant to retirement.
Bob Sweat has set the bar high. There are some administrative positions in which the best thing that can be said about the person is that they are off the radar. Election supervisors usually come into the public spotlight when something goes wrong, and what candidates can tell you about Sweat's office is that it runs smooth elections, and it runs them by the book. As neighboring counties and our state at large have proven, pulling off a major election without significant controversies can be as challenging as playing chess in the pitch dark. Ballots get lost, major under-votes go unexplained, the Supreme Court gets involved – messy stuff that can undermine a democracy.
That being said, it can be tempting to set a goal of merely getting by without being delivered a subpoena, as even the best intentioned initiatives can blow up in your face and put you under that spotlight if they're bungled. Mr. Sweat's innovations and commitment to not only maintaining but improving the process in Manatee County is admirable and he'll leave big shoes to fill as a result.
Jane von Hahmann
The former Manatee County Commissioner can definitely claim the greatest degree of direct experience with the department and should have a very clear idea of what is needed to be a successful successor to Sweat. The high level of competence and commitment that she exhibited as a Commissioner from 2000 to 2008 suggests that she can and will get the job done.
Von Hahmann served under Sweat on the canvassing committee for two years, helping to oversee the election process. While working for the Manatee School District, she has been a member of the mandate committee, promoting voter outreach at district sites. Having been a candidate more than once, she's also been through the process on that side, and it should be noted that she's the only one seeking the office that took the time to qualify for the ballot by signature petition.
When discussing the recent voter purge issue, she's demonstrated a solid command of the law and has not only said she would have handled it by following it to the letter, she has proven herself capable of grasping and interpreting it to an impressive degree. When suggesting areas of improvement, she points to the need to change state law to gain greater flexibility in on-demand ballot printing, which would allow for the expansion of early voting in a way that was both secure and cost effective. As with most issues, she avoids talking points and platitudes, preferring to give direct and knowledgeable answers that demonstrate both her competence and an awareness of the challenges that plague bureaucracy, no doubt a result of her years in public administration.
Von Hahmann points to her experience working with state and national agencies while serving on the county commission and says that it demonstrates she not only understands the wheels of government, but proves she can thrive in the non-partisan world of an elections supervisor. She's also pledged to voluntarily reduce her pay by $20,000 in order to fund an outreach and education position.
Considering the opportunity for politics to undermine the credibility of such a post, von Hahmann's well-earned reputation of an ethical and honest public servant makes an already attractive candidate that much more so.
Bailey also brings pertinent experience to the post, while giving the voters a qualified candidate from the private sector who has been a political outsider for most of his life. As Manatee County President of the NAACP, Bailey gained experience in voter outreach in a non-partisan setting. For those that point out that the organization has been long-dominated by Democrats, the fact that they elected Bailey as the county's only Republican president ever, should not be overlooked in a position that requires non-partisan leadership.
Bailey's energy and enthusiasm are refreshing. He recognizes the need to continue Sweat's legacy of expanding the ease and access of voting and is most excited when discussing the need for things like additional locations for early voting. Bailey says that his experience working in the private sector and service in the Marine Corps give him a unique perspective.
“People talk about this being a 40 hour a week job as a way to emphasize that it's full time,” said Bailey. “When you're in the Marines or running a business in the private sector, there's no such thing as a job that only lasts 40 hours. You're on duty 24 hours a day and that's the commitment I'll bring to the office of Supervisor of Elections. If the people elect me, they're electing me for 4 years. There are a lot of hours in 4 years, but I will be available whenever I'm needed and plan to bring the same work ethic to this office that's helped to make me successful elsewhere.”
Senator Mike Bennett terms out of the state Senate this year and says that voters will benefit from his experience in both Tallahassee and the private sector if he's elected to the post. His most glaring disadvantage is his strong support of legislation that made it more difficult for citizens to vote and reduced early voting periods in the state, positions that seem at odds with an office in which voter outreach and the expansion of the ease and access of voting should be central tenets. Bennett said at the time, "I don't have a problem making it harder (to vote). I want the people in the state of Florida to want to vote as badly as that person in Africa who is willing to walk 200 miles for that opportunity he’s never had before in his life. This should not be easy.”
He's attempted to walk back such statements since filing to run for Supervisor of Elections, but the Senator nonetheless brings tremendous partisan baggage to a position that requires non-partisan leadership. Citizens for Urban Growth, a PAC founded by Bennett that raises money from development interests and distributes it to favored candidates, has remained active in the 2012 local elections. He's also received generous support in a local race from various special interest groups from as far away as Miami, whose issues he helped advance while serving in Tallahassee. None of that helps to cull an image of a non-partisan supervisor, should he be elected.
There's also the question of whether Bennett will bring the energy and enthusiasm required of an effective elections supervisor, whose position is very administrative and hands on. In the end, Bennett leans almost entirely on his Senate experience, while asking voters to overlook his past positions on our most sacred right as citizens. In attempting to do so, he hasn't managed to make a very effective case that he has the relevant body of experience that some of the other candidates can claim.
The long-time Manatee County Planning Commissioner has been a public servant in that capacity since 1992. Bedford says that this experience along with his private sector background as an architect/planner give him a blend of public policy and project management experience that are well-suited for the office.
There's no question that Bedford's background as a project manager, especially considering the scope of some of the developments he's been involved with including Riviera Dunes, have made him familiar with logistical operations on par with running an election.
He has attacked his opponents as two career politicians (Bennett and von Hahmann) out of a job and the other as tied to a special interest (Bailey and the NAACP) whom he suggested will play a significant role in elections if that candidate is elected. Bedford has rested his case on the idea that his skills and achievements in the private sector indicate that he is skilled and capable, making him the best-suited candidate, despite having the least amount of direct experience with elections, candidacies and voter outreach of the four candidates in the race.
The Republican Primary for Supervisor of Elections will take place August 14 (with early voting 8/4 – 8/11). The winner will face unopposed Democratic candidate Charles Williams on the November ballot.