Pensacola, Florida
Tuesday September 2nd 2014

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ANALYSIS: STATUS QUO VOTES BUCK NATIONAL TREND

ESCAMBIA COUNTY INCUMBENTS HOLD ON TO OFFICES IN AUG. 24 PRIMARY
by Rick Outzen

Escambia County isn’t ready to kick out the incumbents, according to the 2010 primary results. Unlike years ago when Sheriff Ron McNesby, County Commissioner Mike Whitehead and ECUA Board Member Logan Fink were all booted from office, the Aug. 24 elections saw incumbents either win or make it through to the November elections.

All three Escambia County School Board members that were up for re-election were returned to office, with Linda Moultrie, District 3, having the closest race, beating Charlie Nichols, 3,469–3,087.

The Emerald Coast Utilities Authority Board received loud votes of confidence when its two board members were returned to office by overwhelming margins. Longtime District 4 board member, Dale Perkins, received 73.7 percent of the votes cast against three opponents. Lois Benson, District 2, got 66 percent of the votes in a three-person race.

Escambia County Commissioner Grover Robinson had little trouble defeating newcomer Dennis Green in the District 4 race, winning 6,355–2,071. Robinson had stumbled slightly in the beginning of the year over a motion to rebid a drainage contract at the request of Roads, Inc. However, his leadership during the BP oil crisis helped to propel him back into office.

The defeat, however, didn’t dampen the spirits of Green. “I’ve been known to take a beating, but I think it’s a good start for me, especially with a lack of campaign funds,” Green told the IN. “I’ve got four years to campaign for that position. I do believe I’m the best suited for the job and I believe I’ll be the county commissioner in four years.”

Robinson faces another newcomer, Danny Lewis, in the November general election.

The other major local races were far from landslide victories.

ESCAMBIA COUNTY COMMISSION, DISTRICT 2

Gene M. Valentino: 1,812

Karen Sindel: 1,660

Dave Murzin: 1,195

George Touart: 595

There are 15 precincts in District 2. Valentino won all but five. His stronghold was the Perdido Key area, where he had his largest margins over Sindel, 731-498. Despite attempting to get a bingo casino on the Key and not voting for an overlay district, Valentino still won Perdido Key and Innerarity Point.

Sindel’s second place finish is a huge surprise for the rookie candidate who raised the least amount of money, but probably had the best ground game. She had the endorsement of the IN and the daily newspaper. She will be a contender if she chooses to run again in 2014.

The combined vote totals of the two veteran politicians, Dave Murzin (state representative, 2002-2010) and George Touart (county administrator, 2002-2007) wouldn’t have beat Valentino. Once again, solid ground games overcame dollars. Both Murzin and Touart had huge war chests but few supporters to walk the streets, man the polling places and get out the vote. Campaign dollars don’t translate to votes—ask former Sheriff Ron McNesby.

Touart was gracious in defeat. “I wish Gene well. Congratulations and I wish him well,” Touart told the IN. “That’s all I’m going to say.”

Murzin is out of politics and government work for the first time since graduating from college. His last-minute advertising push wasn’t enough in a race where battle lines had been drawn months before he switched from the state Senate race.

Like Robinson, Valentino benefited from the daily coverage of the BP oil disaster. He also got a boost when Okaloosa County Judge James Ward dismissed 10 days before the primary the charges of using his county office to solicit campaign contributions.

Valentino faces Myra Simmons and Paul Redman in the November election.

PENSACOLA MAYOR

Mike Wiggins: 4,806

Ashton Hayward: 4,360

Diane Mack: 2,054

Charles Bare: 1,765

People like Mayor Mike Wiggins, but he now faces a runoff against challenger Ashton Hayward knowing that three out of five Pensacola voters didn’t want to give him another term. Conventional political wisdom holds that an incumbent must receive at least 45 percent of the vote in the primary to win the runoff. Wiggins got barely 38 percent.

Wiggins and Hayward split much of the city. District 4 was the only city district that Hayward won, which is supporter City Councilman Larry Johnson’s district. The districts of the African-American council members had a much lower voter turnout than the others, 28 percent to 41 percent, but those that voted did so heavily for Wiggins, giving him 359 more votes than Hayward.

Councilwoman Diane Mack had counted on a stronger finish in those districts, but only received 22 percent of the votes cast in Districts 5, 6 and 7. The door-to-door effort that helped her defeat Jack Nobles in 2008 failed to get her into the runoff this time.

Charles Bare took on the Community Maritime Park and the Pensacola Bay Area Chamber of Commerce in his campaign and received less than 14 percent of the vote. He was the only mayoral candidate who failed to qualify by the petition method and had to pay $3,000 to be placed on the ballot. He did beat Mack in his own District 3, 445-342, but was beaten two to one by Hayward and Wiggins there.

Based on past years without presidential elections, the voter turnout is expected to be between 50-60 percent, which means Wiggins and Hayward need to come up with another 6,000 votes if they want to be Pensacola’s first strong mayor.

Wiggins believes his experience will be the key in November. “We are pleased with the results,” Wiggins said after the primary results were announced. “For the general election, we will continue to do the grassroots effort. That’s what it is all about. I think the people will see I have the experience and leadership to move us forward.”

In 60 days, we will find out if that’s true.

rick@inweekly.net