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By LOU ELLIOTT JONES
Almost two weeks ago the Bronson Area Chamber of Commerce political rally was a pretty calm affair with candidates talking about themselves and what they would do to be elected.
Last Friday, in a political rally sponsored by the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5625 the words were more heated in several races.
With three weeks left until the Aug. 14 party primaries, the candidates are making their final pitches in political forums around the county. One publicly announced forum remains, the Inglis Recreation Advisory Board Activities Committee's Candidate 'Meet and Greet' on Aug. 2.
In the race for the newly created Congressional District 3, write in candidate Kenneth Willey of Orange Park, Democrat J.R. Gaillot of Fleming Island, Republican Steve Oelrich of Gainesville and a representative for U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns of Ocala spoke.
Willey, who will be on the general election ballot, said, “I am of the political philosophy that we want to be left alone” by government. He said if he wants to go to Washington, D.C., to send governing to the state and local government.
Gaillot, who will also not be on the ballot until the general election, said he is in the race because he is “fed up” with government. “No veteran should be homeless or without a job,” he said to applause. He said the main need now is for jobs. He said he believes in Second Amendment gun rights, and that the Federal Reserve should be audited. He said he does not support the farm bill currently before Congress.
Stearns’ campaign aide, April Marie Fogel, spoke for the representative because Congress is in session. “He isn't a Johnny-come-lately to conservative issues,” she said listing his investigation of Planned Parenthood's use of federal funds, the loss of $500 million in federal grants by Solyndra, a solar panel manufacturer, opposition to the No Child Left Behind Act, the government bailouts of businesses and the TARP bill that bailed out the financial sector and his passage of a concealed weapon “recipirocity act” for states to honor another state's concealed weapons permit when the permit holder travels. “He sees to it that your family values are promoted,” she said.
Oelrich, a state senator who represents part of Levy County, said Stearns “has been in office 24 years after he ran on term limits for officeholders.
“He drives around in a Lexus that was not made in the U.S. … and that costs you $800 per month,” Oelrich said. He also said Stearns claims to be a fiscal conservative, “He just likes to trim around the edges.” Oelrich got a loud positive response when he asked the crowd, “Who thinks we couldn't get by with two-thirds of the government that we have?” And he warned the audience that if elected they should not come asking for federal funding of items like a swimming pool. “We're just living way over our heads,” he said, noting the community should pay for the pool if it wants one.
Ted Yoho and James Jett are also candidates in the primary. Others on the general election ballot will be Philip Dodds, no party affiliation and Michael Ricks, a write-in.
James “Tim” Browning and Cyndee Munkittrick, whose race is nonpartisan and whose campaign behavior is governed by a set of judicial rules, politely pointed out their differences.
Munkittrick said she has practiced all types of law, not just criminal law, in the two political forums. She has also noted she served in the military and has been a local resident for 40 years.
Browning, on the other hand, stressed that while he was a criminal prosecutor before being appointed to the bench, he has handled all types of law while on the bench. Both candidates stressed their teaching credentials — her in schools at the behest of the state Supreme Court and him at the University of Florida's Levin School of Law. Browning, stressed that he started his law career in Levy County and “grew up in the courtrooms of Levy County.”
Supervisor of elections
Both candidates for the office are Republicans and all voters can cast ballots in this race in the primary.
Tammy Jones, an 18-year employee of the elections office, faces Brooke Ward, an educator. Both have their roots in Levy County.
“I am not a politician. I am an elections official,” Jones said, stressing her experience and training. “My job is to ensure every eligible voter is able to cast a ballot.”
Ward has stressed her experience in the business, agriculture and education sectors. “I will go into the schools and educate students on voting responsibilities and pre-register high school students,” Ward said.
Three candidates are seeking the Republican nomination — Noel Desmond, Bobby McCallum and Evan Sullivan, and while a fourth, Lee Sullivan — with no party affiliation — will be on the general election ballot. As in past years, this race has generated the most heat.
Desmond, a former police officer in New York and Miami, said, “The Levy County Sheriff's Department is permeated with political nepotism and outside political pressure.”
He went on, “The Levy County Sheriff's Department needs to be cleansed — reorganized and morale needs to be brought to the highest level possible... In house cliques — and any form of outside political interference — will not be tolerated.”
He mocked the Police Benevolent Association endorsement of Sullivan saying the group endorsed “an inappropriate candidate” for a county office two years ago and the head of the local chapter is a sheriff's office employee.
He said Evan Sullivan “hasn't divulged that he once worked for Marion County's Sheriff's Department as a lieutenant and was — terminated for — violating those standards of professional conduct.”
McCallum, a former sheriff's major and highway patrol officer, said if elected “I will have a servant's heart.” He promised to manage budgets efficiently, eliminate waste and “return money to the taxpyers.” He said he would go back to posting deputies as school resource officers in the elementary schools to provide drug education and “deal with the bullying problem that we have.”
“There will be no intimidation, no pressure” for deputies to support his campaign, as was intimated with an unnamed opponent. He also said he is a taxpaying resident of the county. In the past McCallum has mentioned that Evan Sullivan lived in Marion County while working for the Marion and Levy Sheriff's office.
Evan Sullivan, who said he makes his home in Williston where he grew up, said he will implement a prison farm program for inmates to have them grow their own food and learn how to do so when they get out, and to implement a “scared straight” program for at risk youth. “Right now we are doing nothing for our children,” he said. “They will get to see the jail...they will get to smell what jail is...and they will have their space invaded by an inmate…to see what it is like to be in jail.” He also promised to create a sheriff's civilian advisory board to oversee operations. He also acknowledged that he is not perfect and has made mistakes and learned from them. Sullivan has attended the FBI National Academy for training.
Lee Sullivan, a Marion County sheriff's officer, like the other candidates, said he will bring transparency to the office and be accessible. “I will treat people the way you want to be treated,” he said and pledged to improve operations. Like McCallum, he mentioned that he has college degrees in criminal law and has been a law enforcement instructor.
This race will not be on the primary ballot but in the general election ballot. While incumbent Danny Shipp, a Democrat, attended the Bronson forum, he was absent from the VFW event due to a family obligtion. Wilbur Dean, a Republican and former county commissioner, spoke at both events, but became more assertive in Friday's forum.
“I realize the clerk's office has been hit by the Legislature,” Dean said. “But it is more important than ever that you have someone in the clerk's office that knows the budget.” Dean was referring to the clerk's request for the same amount of money as last year despite a commission request to cut the budget.
The school superintendent's race, which won't be on the general election ballot has incumbent Bob Hastings, a Republican, and Cindy Roach, a retired educator and Democrat.
Hastings has been making a point of mentioning Roach's role as president of the teacher's union, the Levy County Educators Association. “There is a war on public education,” he said. “And a lot of it is by unions.
“And we're not the only game in town,” he said, referring to online, charter and hone schooling as being competition for public schools and school money. Hastings has stressed that he is the only candidate with administrative experience at the school and district level. He has also stressed his leadership in the past four years as county schools coped with cuts in revenue from the state and federal governments and declining revenues from property taxes.
Roach has stressed in speeches her career as a classroom teacher. She said the schools need to empower educators and maintain a safe and healthy environment for students and teachers.
Commissioner, District 3
Republican Joe Cino, an Inglis businessman and a representative for District 1, Commissioner Mike Joyner, and Democrat Al Macri attended the VFW forum.
Scooter Joyner, Mike Joyner's son, said his father was still recovering from a procedure and was unable to attend. “He's 62 years old and he can work me in the ground,” said the younger Joyner. “He's got a strong back and once he has made up his mind people don't sway his decision.”
Joyner said his father will not support a property tax increase but does support putting a 1-cent sales tax increase to a vote and felt it was a fairer tax because it is paid by everyone, unlike the property tax which has exemptions that llow some folks to not pay any tax.
Cino, who owns Fear No Evil gunshop in Inglis, said, “Now is not the time to raise any taxes.” He also said the county must attract clean industry and must consider all solutions to its water situation.
Commissioner, District 1
Republicans and businessmen John Meeks and Jason Kennedy and Democrat Jamie Griffin are seeking the office.
Meeks, who manages the Bronson Ace Hardware, joked about going to the University of Florida for seven years, but not obtaining a medical degree which is a seven-year program. He said “every commissioner has told you for 20 years they are going to bring jobs,” and said he would use his experience in heading the Bronson Chamber of Commerce to bring jobs.
Kennedy, who owns Complete Sleep and is a Bronson town councilman, said he would bring efficiency to county government. “Why not get a little better customer service,” he said. Kennedy said he sees the need for better communication between the county and state.
Griffin, who resigned as mayor of Bronson in 2003 before being imprisoned for stealing from the town, said, “I am grateful to even be here tonight. I would like for you to give me the chance to do something better for Levy County.” He asked the audience to think of the good things he did for Bronson like bringing in sewer service, and “give me a second chance. I won't let you down.”
School board, District 4
This is another non-partisan race with former teachers Kyle Quincey, Chris Cowart and Marissa DeHaven, businessman Avery Baker, and child protective services investigator Sandra Worthington Hodge all said their backgrounds would make them suited for the school board.
Baker, Quincey and Cowart have stressed they have been attending school board meetings this year in preparation for the election.
Baker said as a business owner he has the flexibility to devote to board meetings and activities, and to be a voice for the schools with the state.
DeHaven said she has been a teacher and stay at home mother, who can be flexible. “I will be a good steward,” she said.
Cowart, who has coached as well as taught, is president of the Levy Schools Foundation and stressed he is invested in the system as a volunteer and the father of a student.
Hodge, who said she has been in contact with educators, said she has heard a lot of concerns “and I will be visible in the schools.”