By LOU ELLIOTT JONES
Four candidates — two for Levy County Court judge and two for Levy County Supervisor of Elections — made their introductions to about 35 Cedar Key residents at a political forum sponsored by the Cedar Key Lions Club last week at the Cedar Key Community Center.
Dale Register, president of the Lions, introduced the candidates — incumbent James T. “Tim” Browning and challenger Cyndee Munkittrick for Levy County Court judge, and Tammy Jones and Brooke Ward for supervisor of elections.
He said the Lions chose to feature candidates in the two races because the officeholders could be determined in the Aug. 14 primary. Qualifying is over for the nonpartisan judge’s race and the two candidates for Supervisor of Elections are both Republicans, although qualifying is not over until noon on June 8.
While some political forums have a lot of give and take between candidates seeking the same office and the audience, this was a low key event.
One reason could be that candidates for judgeships are governed by a set of rules on how they can campaign.
Or it could have been provided by Register, who in his opening said, “This should give at least the voters in Cedar Key some information on the candidates” in the two elections that could be decided in the Aug. 14 party primaries.
Browning stressed his experience in sitting on the bench since being appointed in 2010 by then Gov. Charlie Crist.
“You are going to deal with large dockets” as the county judge, said Browning, who begins most mornings with bond hearings for people arrested the day before, followed by traffic, domestic or juvenile court. He said the job also includes listening to law enforcement and prosecutors’ requests for warrants.
In the last three months he said there have been 912 cases on his docket (schedule of cases). He said 80 percent were criminal cases.
“You are going to be dealing with people’s lives,” Browning said. “You are going to be dealing with inexperienced attorneys and newer attorneys.” He said a judge will hear cases “that will break your heart.”
Browning said he began his career in 1989 as a young prosecutor in Levy and Gilchrist counties before moving to the State Attorney’s office in Gainesville where he handled drug and violent crime cases. Recently, he was approved to be a mentor to new judges coming onto the bench.
“It is the broad foundation that has prepared me,” Browning said. “I have the experience and commitment to Levy County.”
Munkittrick outlined her experience in serving in the U.S. Army Reserve, the insurance industry and as an attorney.
She said anyone seeking the office, “should have experience in all areas of the law,” and said she has the broad legal background to bring to the job. “If 80 percent of the cases are criminal, then that’s 20 percent in other areas of the law,” Munkittrick said. She also stressed her experience in working with juveniles through her legal work.
“It takes a certain temperament,” to sit on the bench, she said. “Everybody deserves to have their day in court and everyone deserves respect.”
“It’s a tough job. It’s a strenuous job,” she said. “I have the honesty, integrity and temperament.”
In response to an audience question, both candidates said they would like to see more innovative programs for juveniles in the court. And they also endorse the idea of having a drug court where offenders get rehabilitation to prevent a return to drug use.
In response to another question about favoring incarceration over rehabilitation for adults who commit crimes, both said they favored rehabilitation. But Browning pointed out that a judge has to follow the law on sentencing, and he and Munkittrick acknowledged that lack of funding is the issue in getting rehabilitation.
Tammy Jones opened the portion on the Supervisor of Elections race, followed by Brook Ward.
Jones stressed her 18 years experience working in the supervisor’s office where she is assistant supervisor of election planning and overseeing elections, including absentee ballots. “I have been the main coordinator of the absentee ballots,” she said. “It means a lot to me to make sure our military votes.” One reason, she said, is she is a military wife and she appreciated receiving a ballot when she and her husband Jimmy were stationed in Maryland.
Jones said when she started in the office, everything was done by hand and the records were kept in filing cabinets. Now the records are kept electronically and the office is preparing for an update to its voting system from the optical scanner system now in use to new equipment. She said she favors getting the new system installed and tested with the 2014 elections, rather than waiting until the 201y6 presidential elections.
“I’m not a politician. I’m kind of a shy person,” Jones said. “But I will make sure your rights are protected.”
Jones said the office has not had problems with voting — even during the infamous 2000 presidential election. “Levy is growing and it takes tremendous experience to deal with that,” she said.
Ward said she is local noting her family has operated Ward Farms for several generations. She has been active in agricultural groups including FFA, FFA Alumni and the Suwannee River Fair where she is an annual volunteer.
She also outlined her work experience saying she has been in management for a retail corporation, owned a successful business, and is an early childhood educator. She is an education specialist monitoring the level of care and daily operations at local child care facilities.
Ward said she will bring an understanding of finance to the elections office.
In response to a question on the optical scanning system used for election ballots in Levy, Jones said the system is getting outdated and needs replacement. But she said she was not a big fan of touch screen voting, except for voters with disabilities. Ward, while not familiar with the inner workings of the optical scanner, said she would look for what is best and said she would work within the American with Disabilities Act to provide voting for those with disabilities, like ballots with larger print.