Pensacola, Florida
Monday September 1st 2014

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Primary Primer

by Jeremy Morrison

They lurk in the medians and gather near intersections. They line the roadsides. As the Aug. 14 primary draws near, they nip ever more desperately at the fenders of passing motorists.

During election season, campaign signs grow into a blur of names and promises. They collect in frantic huddles and plead with passerbys.

A good sampling of such signage could be found on a late July Saturday in the parking lot of Woodham Middle School. Urging voters to “elect” and “re-elect” and “select,” the signs did their best to simmer a candidate’s essence down into a slogan: “Experience Matters,” “Keep the Momentum,” “New Leadership, New Solutions,” “It’s Time!!”

The campaign signage ushered the way to Woodham’s gymnasium. Local office seekers had converged on the gym for The Candidate’s Breakfast, an opportunity for voters to get some face-time with the people behind the roadside signs.

The gymnasium was lined with tables, each manned by a candidate. They were armed with flyers and pamphlets and all sorts of campaign swag. Escambia County Commission candidate Jesse Casey had rigged his signs with a small motor to enable them to spin above his table like politically engaged wind chimes.

The candidates arrived well before breakfast was served. They readied for a day of smiles and handshakes, maybe even some hugs. It looked excruciating.

Why do they do it? Why do these people insist on waking up so early on a Saturday morning and throwing themselves on the alter of democracy?

“Our local election has such an impact on us,” said Gayle Whitehead, who’s husband, Mike, is running for Escambia County Tax Collector. “You just have to get involved.”

Sitting on Whitehead’s table were fingernail files emblazoned with the candidate’s name. A few tables down the line Escambia County Sheriff candidate John Russell Powell offered can koozies. Escambia County Commission Candidate Pat Burkett had tiny bottles of bubbles—“for the kids”—at her station on the other side of the gym.

Back in the corner, Logan Fink—a candidate for the Escambia County Utilities Authority, District 1 seat—explained why he had hunkered down for a morning of glad-handing with a gym full of fellow political hopefuls.

“A few more people hear that I exist,” Fink said.

Another ECUA hopeful was more to the point.

“Votes,” Clorissti Mitchell said flatly. “Besides the votes, the other thing is hearing from the community.”

The candidates are entering the home stretch of the election season. First, there’s the primary in August and then the general in November.

The November election is the sexier, of course—there’s the presidential contest—but the primary will prove interesting as well. Locally, voters have a number of choices to make at the polls this August.

At the state level, Rep. Clay Ford is defending his District 2 seat in Tallahassee against challengers Jeremy Bosso and Christine Bruha. Public Defender James Owens will also be asking voters to stick with him, while opponent Bruce Miller offers a new direction for the First Judicial Circuit.

Closer to home, the August primary features several local races. Here’s a brief introduction to get you slightly more educated than a campaign sign in your rearview mirror.

Escambia County Clerk of Court

Ernie Lee Magaha has been serving as the Escambia County Clerk of Court a few years longer than Pam Childers has been alive. It’s a bit of trivia Childers is fond of throwing out there. For 55 years, Magaha has held the county clerk’s position. Childer’s—who has worked for 21 years in the city of Pensacola’s finance department—seems intent on wresting it away from him. The race has featured a few tense public appearances together, as well as accusations of sign-stealing. The race also includes a write-in candidate, Henry John Misiak. The candidate is a Childers supporter, whose entrance as a write-in had the effect of closing the August primary to Democrat and No Party Affiliation voters.

Escambia County Sheriff

There are two candidates—and a write-in—vying for the Escambia County Sheriff’s seat. In the August 14 primary, incumbent David Morgan faces challenger John Russell Powell, with the winner going up against write-in candidate Mindy Lynn Pare in November. Morgan was elected in 2008. Prior to that he spent the past three decades working in various aspects of law enforcement, beginning as a patrolman in the U.S. Air Force. The sheriff also holds a Bachelors of Science in Criminal Justice from Southeast Missouri University, as well as a Master’s in Business Administration from Webster University. Powell grew up in Pensacola—where his father served as a policeman—and began his career with the ECSO in the 1980s. The candidate has served as a special agent with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, as well as serving as the chief of police for Hartsville, S.C., Wilson, N.C. and Dothan, Ala., respectively.

The Escambia County sheriff’s race is a particularly bitter contest. It has included everything from good ‘ol fashioned mud-slinging to charges of campaign finance oversteps. The candidates seem to have a genuine disdain for one another. Pare—the write-in—is a former Escambia sheriff’s deputy. She was fired by Morgan and has said she is running to give voters another choice.

Escambia County Commission

More than half of the seats on the Escambia County Commission are up for grabs this year. Districts 1, 3 and 5 are on the line—and only one of those races features an incumbent.
Current Commission Chairman, Wilson Robertson, is attempting to hold on to his District 1 seat; if he wins he’ll be looking at 16 years on the board. The chairman is being challenged by newcomer Jesse Casey, a local contractor. The winner of the primary will face Bobby Spencer in November. District 3 is the county commission’s most crowded field. Democrats Lumon May, Clinton Earl Powell, Sr. and Annie Thomas Walker will compete for Commissioner Marie Young’s seat in August, with the winner going up against a Republican, a write-in and two No Party Affiliations in November. The District 5 field is only slightly smaller. Commissioner Kevin White’s seat is being eyed by Sam Archer, Glenn Austin, Steven Barry, Pat Burkett and Jim Taylor. Whoever wins the primary faces Packy Mitchell (No Party Affiliation) in November.

Pensacola City Council

Five Pensacola city councilpersons will wrap up their terms this year. Only two of those seats are involved in the primary, with two others being decided in the general election and one—P.C. Wu’s seat—going uncontested. Council President Sam Hall is attempting to hold on to his At-Large B seat. The president is being challenged by Charles Bare, an Iraq war veteran and small business owner, and Victor Cross, a Political Science major and sales director, who’s father was killed in the line of duty with the Pensacola Police Department. The council’s District 7 seat is being vacated by Councilman Ronald Townsend. Robbie Andrews and Jimmie Perkins are going up against former city councilwoman Jewel Cannada-Wynn in the primary.

Escambia County Utilities Authority

Three of the five seats on the Escambia County Utilities Authority’s board are up. Following the ECUA’s relocation of the old downtown treatment facility, it might seem that a lot of the heavy lifting has been done. Not so. The authority has an aging infrastructure that is demanding EPA-mandated attention. Each race features an incumbent running on the board’s successful relocation of the treatment facility and aiming to make needed repairs to the system. The challengers, in large part, point to recent and future rate increases and wonder about the state of the ECUA’s budget.

Logan Fink is attempting to return to the board, taking back his District 1 seat from Elizabeth Campbell, who is a noted opponent of the ECUA’s use of fluoride. Fink will face Vicki Campbell in August. The winner of that race will head into November, where the incumbent, as well as two No Party Affiliation candidates, will be waiting. In District 3, Elvin McCorvey is running for re-election against Calvin Avant, Benell English and Clorissti Mitchell. Because all candidates are Democrats, the race will be decided in the August primary. Incumbent Larry Walker is again seeking his District 5 seat. He’s being challenged by Barry Tweedie and Charlou Williams. The race will be settled in the primary since all three are Republicans.