MANATEE COUNTY -- Political newcomer Vanessa Baugh won an expensive and hard-fought Republican primary over John Colon in August. James Golden is a political veteran and easily fended off a challenge from rookie Franck Archino in the Democratic primary for District 5, which covers a very large portion of East Manatee. The seat is being vacated by Donna Hayes, who dropped out of the Republican primary before the election.
Baugh, who has been a long-time jewelry store owner in Lakewood Ranch, says that her business experience makes her well-suited for the office. To her credit, Baugh, who was the first person to file for the race, has been a regular presence at all of the various meetings and boards that concern the BOCC. She's been hard at work learning the broad swath of business the board oversees and has become consistently better at articulating something of a platform, though one never seems to get a very concrete feeling of what she stands for, no matter how often they hear her speak.
Baugh still has a tendency to speak in empty platitudes that sound overly-scripted and intentionally vague. In a recent debate, she started her opening statement:
“For me there's three big items: job creation, fiscal responsibility, we need limited government and you know, economic development. With the property revenues being down, we really need to be looking today at how we can increase revenue and what better way than by economic development?”
That's pretty standard fare when Baugh's in front of a mic: a bullet point or two for each of the hot-button issues and not much more. On more difficult issues like phosphate mining, land development and budgeting, Baugh can get into the woods a bit. Again, she's improved in the nearly two years she's been running for the seat, but such candidates often seem to be running for the seat, more than running for any greater cause. The county commission is already dominated by “politicians” who display limited interest in much of the more nuanced matters of municipal government, and if elected, Baugh would still be far behind the other new and returning members of the board in terms of comprehension.
Baugh has received strong support from the east county business community, much of which has been linked to developer Shroeder-Manatee Ranch. Obviously that raised questions as to whether she'll be another one of the “rubber stamp” commissioners who've been all too common in recent years, the ones who have never seen a comp plan amendment change app they didn't like and are all too quick to cloak any bad idea with its potential "economic development." Baugh said that while she is pro-growth, it's important to balance development with environmental concerns, though she couldn't say much about how that would be done.
Her opponent, James Golden, is an attorney, reverend and former Bradenton City Councilman. Golden also made a run at Vern Buchanan's congressional seat in 2010, though he was defeated in a landslide. Golden has been around local politics forever and can discuss most issues, though he hasn't been able to display significantly more command of county issues than his less experienced opponent, who clearly has the edge on being dialed in to the East County community.
If Baugh tends to talk in platitudes, Golden often speaks in circles, sometimes giving long and meandering answers that incorporate a lot of 13-cent words without offering much in the way of substance. Golden sometimes sounds like an articulate student who forgot to study for a test and is trying to dazzle you with the density of his answer, or else lose you somewhere along the way.
Voter demographics and campaign funds clearly favor Baugh. But credit Golden for doing the legwork needed to give voters a choice, and be grateful that there aren't very big shoes to fill in the District 5 seat. Click here to watch the two candidates debate.