Rooney for U.S. Congress
Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, who has represented Florida’s 16th District in the U.S. House of Representatives since 2008, faces Democratic challenger Will Bronson in the Nov. 6 general election for the newly drawn District 17, which encompasses all of Hardee, DeSoto, Highlands, Okeechobee, Glades, and Charlotte counties and portions of Polk, Manatee, Hillsborough, and Lee counties.
Rooney’s position on the House Agricultural Committee and his support of the passage of a long-stalled comprehensive farm bill is important to this area and its ag industry. As federal biofuel policies evolve away from a dependence of corn as the primary source for ethanol, Florida farmers will gain access to a new market for crops such as sorghum. Rooney’s influence on non-corn ethanol quotas and biofuel research and development will be critical.
Like his previous district, the new District 17 is expansive and Rooney has demonstrated a commitment to reaching out to constituents, being responsive to their concerns and keeping in touch with local officials. As we noted during his primary challenge, Rooney was a key player in the funding of U.S. 17, which runs through the heart of the new district. The roadway will give him a prime vantage point to gauge how federal policies impact everything from economic development to education to the environment.
We recommend Tom Rooney for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Denise Grimsley for State Senate
The race for Florida State Senate, District 21 pits veteran Republican lawmaker Denise Grimsley against Democratic political newcomer Stacy Anderson McCland.
Grimsley has served two terms as a state legislator from Highlands County. She is a registered nurse and a citrus grower.
As a state legislator she has focused on health and agricultural issues, two topics that are important to our area.
She is also a serious politician and campaigner. She amassed a campaign war chest that amounted to more than $850,000.
Her time as a state representative as a Republican in a Republican-dominated legislature should provide her with the opportunity to be an effective state senator.
McCland is a legal consultant for federal tax and banking issues for a tax software firm, Petz Enterprises Inc., with offices in Rome, Ga., McCland also serves as a corporate director for the family business producing orchids and growing trees near Kissimmee. She holds a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry, an MBA and a law degree.
We believe that Denise Grimsley will be able to hit the ground running as our new state senator. Her experience as a member of the House of Representatives should allow her to serve on important committees and serve her constituents well.
We recommend Denise Grimsley for State Senate, District 21.
George Lindsey for County Commission, District 1
The race for Polk County Commission, District 1, pits Lakeland-based developer and Realtor George Lindsey against Richard Castret, who is a real estate broker running with no party affiliation.
Lindsey is a Republican who says he has been preparing for this run for 30 years.
“My dad instilled in me many years ago a civic responsibility of being involved. Things are decided by the people who show up. So I show up,” told our editorial board recently.
Lindsey has served on the county’s charter review board and recently served as the board’s chairman.
He also served on boards for the Lakeland Chamber of Commerce, Lakeland Association of Realtors, Rotary Club of Lakeland Christina, Polk County Builders Association and the Peace River Community Mental Health Organization.
As a builder, Lindsey said he as “probably read more impact fee studies than any elected official in this county.”
He is a proponent of keeping the county’s moratorium on impact fees, at least for awhile.
“Both men are running good campaigns and have a firm grasp of the issues facing the Polk County Commission.
We think Lindsey’s service on the Polk County Charter Review Board and his years of community service make him the best qualified of the two candidates.
We recommend George Lindsey for Polk County Commission, District 1.
John Hall for Polk County Commission , District 5
John Hall has been working for Polk County government for 35 years. He was the director of three different county departments and now wants to be a county commissioner. The Republican is facing Democrat Ricky Shirah, who is making his fifth run at elected office in Polk County.
Hall started his career with Polk County digging ditches and worked his way to the top, serving in top management positions for the past 24 years.
When it comes to his view of county government he has a very positive attitude, stating that the current county manager, Jim Freeman is doing and excellent job.
Shirah ran for a seat on the commission in 2004 and 2008. He also ran two times for a seat on the Lakeland City Council.
He is a native of North Lakeland and says he truly enjoys campaigning.
“You have to work hard, you have to knock on doors, you’ve got to get out and make yourself available to the people,” he said.
He describes himself as a conservative Democrat. He worked for Publix for many years and became an independent business person when he purchased a towing service.
We think the county commission could use John Hall’s unique experience as a department head in three different departments. Even though Hall’s job will be to help develop policy and not manage the day-to-day affairs of government, it would be helpful to know how policy will affect those who actually do the work.
That’s why we recommend John Hall for a seat on the Polk County Commission.
Bill Sites for Circuit Judge,
10th Circuit, Group 7
In the race to see who gets to be a new Circuit Judge in the 10th Circuit, Group 7, there are two candidates vying for the position. The race is a runoff between attorneys Christine Trakas Thornhill and Bill Sites who competed in a three-way race in August. Neither one won more than 50 percent of the vote, forcing the runoff election.
Christine Trakas Thornhill is a 37-year-old attorney who grew up in Polk County and after graduating law school at St. Thomas University School of Law took a job in the Public Defender’s Office.
Bill Sites is a Polk County attorney who has been in private practice for 23 years. Sites looks at the courtroom as a big part of his life. “My life has been in the courtrooms. I’ve been a good lawyer and a good businessman, he said.
Sites has been endorsed by Larry Helms, a Winter Haven attorney who has been practicing law for 37 years and was the loser in the October three-way race. Sites also said he would have his courtroom proceedings start on time. “There is no reason why court can’t start on time,” he said. Everyone involved in a court case has other things that they should be doing and making sure court starts on time respects everyone’s time, he told our editorial board.
We were impressed by Sites’ demeanor and candor. He exhibits a visible love and respect for the law that would serve the court and the county well.
Both candidates in this judge’s race are intelligent, thoughtful attorneys.
We believe that Bill Sites has the experience and temperament that would be well suited to sitting on the bench and would make an excellent judge.
We recommend Bill Sites for Circuit Judge, Group 7.
Vote yes on county
Business tax proposal
Voters will once again be asked if our county commission should be allowed to approve property tax breaks that would encourage new and existing businesses to expand and create jobs. The commission has asked voters this question in two previous elections.
We have not always been in favor of the county’s efforts in this regard but now think the third time just might be the charm for Polk County.
The referendum would give the county the power to OK property tax exemptions to businesses locating to Polk County. Existing businesses could get in on the action if they expand and create new jobs.
We have had reservations about his scheme before. We did not think previous attempts were specific enough.
We think the county has come up with a plan that is more specific and would help to create jobs and allow businesses to expand.
The referendum says the county will be able to grant the exemptions to businesses if they meet the following criteria:
— Create 25 or more new, full-time jobs in the state while selling more than half of its goods out of the state.
— Create 10 or more new, full-time jobs with pay rates more than the Polk County average, at an industrial or manufacturing plan or in a business in one of the following industries; life sciences or medical services, research, engineering or high-tech, logistics agribusiness or agriculture-tech.
— Only property taxes levied by Polk County on improvements to real property and purchases of new tangible property would be eligible.
— The scheme can only last 10 years. Commissioners would have to ask voters in another decade if they want to continue the program.
We are always wary of giving the government the power to award special privileges to any entity but agree that Polk County needs to be competitive when it comes to attracting new business and creating jobs in our county.
That’s why we recommend a yes vote on this charter amendment.
Vote no on all Amendments
Eleven amendments to the state constitution, all of them proposed by the Florida House and Senate, will appear on your general election ballot. Each of them pose constitutional and fiscal problems of which voters should be wary. All but one could be handled legislatively, but are being pushed as amendments to hog-tie future legislatures from rolling them back should the current political winds shift.
The irony of this amendment overreach is that the Legislature only six years ago put a referendum on the ballot to increase the vote margin required to pass an amendment to 60 percent. It passed. The amendment was a response to successful citizen ballot initiatives, many of them unworthy of inclusion in the constitution, ranging from pregnant pigs to cast net restrictions. We supported that amendment because of our long-held belief that the constitution should be the framework for state government, not an instrument of lawmaking.
Here are shortened versions of the lengthy and often confusing ballot language for the 11 proposed amendments.
Amendment 1 would have no application under current law. It would prevent the state from creating a substitute health care law if the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, is repealed.
Amendment 2 expands homestead property exemptions for veterans beyond what is currently offered.
The constitution requires the state to pass a balanced budget, but it can incur debt. Proposed Amendment 3 would limit future lawmakers from raising more revenue than the previous year plus adjustments for inflation and population growth.
Amendment 4 further extends homestead exemptions to new homebuyers, a plus for Realtors if it increases sales, but a loss of millions in tax revenue to schools and local governments who might have to make up for the loss by raising rates. Local governments and the Florida Association of Counties and the Florida League of Cities rightly oppose this amendment as an encroachment of Home Rule.
Amendment 5 is in response to a failed effort in 2010 to split the state Supreme Court into two jurisdictions, civil and criminal, and add additional justices. It gives the Legislature the authority to repeal court rulings by a simple majority. It also requires Senate confirmation of justice appointments by the governor. The latter is similar to the way the U.S. Senate confirms justices, the former is a clear violation of separation of powers central to the state constitution.
Amendment 6 prohibits state funding for abortions, which is already illegal under state and federal law.
There is no Amendment 7 on the ballot.
Amendment 8 would repeal the current constitutional prohibition against funding of religious organizations.
Amendment 9 is one of those feel-good propositions. It would exempt the homestead property tax of the spouses of deceased veterans or first responders killed in the line of duty.
Amendment 10 would increase the personal property tax exemption for small businesses by exempting the tax on personal property valued between $25,000 and $50,000.
Amendment 11 is another homestead exemption. It would allow local governments to grant tax exemption to those over 65 with incomes of less than $27,000 whose home value is less than $250,000 if they have lived there 25 years or more. Amendments 4, 9, 10 and 11 would further squeeze local government’s ability to fund services and infrastructure, and put an increasing burden on an ever-shrinking pool of non-exempted taxpayers. Florida TaxWatch found that the breaks provided in these amendment would cost the remaining taxpayers $500 million a year more.
Amendment 12 broadens the base for selecting a student to sit on the Board of Governors of the state university system.
The Florida League of Women Voters recommends voting no on all 11 offerings of the Legislature. The League’s position: the constitution should be kept simple and straightforward. Those we elected for that purpose should do the year-to-year lawmaking.
A No vote on all 11 amendments will speed up the voting and put lawmaking back where it belongs.