Hutson and DeSantis Are No-Shows as Holland and Beaven Stress Flagler’s Voice
FlaglerLive | October 25, 2012
Two-thirds into the forum segment that was to feature Democrat Milissa Holland and Republican Travis Hutson Wednesday evening, WNZF’s David Ayres said: “Question No. 7 was prepared for Travis Hutson, who’s not here tonight. The question was: you have lived all your life outside of Flagler County. Please tell us why you should represent Flagler County in Tallahassee. No representative? The question goes unanswered.”
It wasn’t Ayres’s first dig at Hutson’s absence. It was only well into the forum that Ayres was told that Hutson, a candidate for the newly created Florida House seat representing district 24, would be a no-show. The majority of District 24 is in Flagler, with slivers of Volusia, Putnam and St. Johns, where Hutson is from. Wednesday’s forum, the second of two organized by the Flagler County Chamber of Commerce, the Flagler County Realtors Association and the Flagler County Home Builders Association, under the aegis of Flagler Votes and broadcast live on WNZF, is among the more broadly attended (or heard) of the many forums of the season.
Not on Wednesday, when Ron DeSantis, the Republican candidate for the newly created congressional District 6, which also includes all of Flagler County, also did not attend. The DeSantis absence was not a surprise: he wasn’t at the Flagler Women’s Club forum in Flagler Beach the evening before, either (Hutson attended that one, and pledged to Holland that he would seek a “hugging” relationship with her when the election was over), and has attended few such forums in the county, at times dispatching his wife in his place.
Both Holland and Heather Beaven, the Democratic candidate for the congressional seat, took full advantage of their opponents’ absence to underscore their connection with the county and its voters, though both also mostly refrained from taking any shots at either: Beaven, more aggressive and attacking in a face-to-face debate with DeSantis in DeLand last week (but also less focused), was more comfortable Wednesday, taking a conversant tone and fielding questions on the mortgage interest deduction (which she doesn’t support cutting), her support for veterans, investments in infrastructure and what committees she’d serve on should she be elected (veterans affairs and education and labor).
“Those are minor committees. There’s no lobbying money associated with those committees,” Beaven said she was told by party higher-ups in Washington. “And I said, yeah, that’s probably the problem and how we got exactly where we are. So yeah, I’m going for the minor committees that feel minor in Washington but are really major on the ground here in Flagler County.”
The notion that either of these committees are minor, or involve no lobbying money, would be news to any of the representatives who serve on them, or the lobbyist who lobby them: according to Opensecrets.org, which tracks lobbying money in Washington, both committees’ members are awash in millions of dollars in lobbying. “All businesses big and small watch the decisions of the House Education and Labor Committee on minimum wage, worker safety and compensation, and employee protections,” Opensecrets notes. “The committee is equally important to labor unions lobbying to ensure the best working conditions for their members. Frequent clashes between business and labor can turn this committee into a battleground.”
Beaven pressed her local connections. “I raise a family here, have a business here, my life is in Flagler County. So I think I know hands-on what Flagler County is going through,” she said, “but I also think I can take Flagler County to Washington in a very meaningful way.” She spoke about the new economy that will be “centered on webs of small businesses and really innovative entrepreneurship.” She then improbably described Flagler County, whose unemp,oyment rate remains among the nation’s highest for small counties, as having “done that organically, we’ve created small businesses, we’ve created webs of partnerships and networks, we have one-person shops, we have five-people shops, and I think I can take that back to Washington which is just as important as bringing Washington back to Flagler County.”
Colleen Conklin, the school board member, had been in an audience of about 65 in the earlier portion of the forum (Beaven was its fourth and last segment), but was not in the assembly hall itself by the time Beaven spoke, when the audience had dwindled by half. Conklin had been an executive at Beaven’s largely state-funded non-profit education company until Beaven fired her when Conklin, who’s a Flagler County school board member and a staunch Democrat, proposed suing the state for inadequately funding education. Conklin’s name now appears among the “likes” on DeSantis’s Facebook page.
That’s about the extent of Conklin’s party crossover, however: her name appears among the innumerable endorsements the Holland campaign published in a Palm Coast Observer centerfold Wednesday, and that Holland boasted of at the forum when she was asked about her ability to win the seat—or to be effective in Tallahassee as a junior Democrat in a GOP-dominated Legislature.
“I’m a consensus builder, I work hard to make sure not only we’re dealing with issues in this district but on statewide issues, so I don’t buy the argument,” Holland said, referring to the notion—frequently hawked by Hutson—that a Democrat can’t be effective in the Legislature. “I guess if my opponent was sitting here tonight, what I would ask him is, if there was a Democratic controlled Legislature does that mean you wouldn’t run for this district? I’m running for this district because I love this county. I’m running for this district because I want goo representation for this county for the first time in 48 years.”
Hutson did not return a call today.
John Thrasher, the powerful Republican state senator who represents Flagler County, was at the forum, and was asked about that very notion. He dismissed it, saying that “good Democrats” can be very effective in Tallahassee, “if they work hard.” Thrasher said he had himself been in the minority for four years in his earliest Florida House days: he wouldn’t have been where he is now had thought that being in the minority led nowhere.
The Holland endorsements include those of many Republicans, including Palm Coast Mayor Jon Netts, school board member Andy Dance, Tax Collector Suzanne Johnston, Commissioner Alan Peterson, former Palm Coast City Council member Mary DiStefano, Bunnell City Commission members John Rogers, Elbert Tucker and Jenny Crain-Brady, Jim Ulsamer and Frank Zedar (members of the county’s economic development council), Flagler Chamber of Commerce President Garry Lubi, former chamber president Lea Stokes, former Superintendent Bill Delbrugge (a Republican exile in Egypt who nevertheless still votes in Flagler), and Jo Ann King, the former mayor of Bunnell. Ed Caroe, another local Republican who’s managed the campaigns of many Republicans over the year, went a step further Wednesday at the entrance to the Knights of Columbus hall, where the forum was held, handing out a long statement he’d written in support of Holland.
The forum also featured Thrasher and his Democratic opponent, Kathleen Trued, and county judge candidates Craig Atack and Melissa Moore-Stens, whose race has become increasingly tense.
Moore-Stens is making as much as she can of the contrast in experience between her and Atack, delivering one of the evening’s sharpest jabs: “In 2006 I became a board-certified criminal trial attorney, which means I’m considered by the Florida Bar and the Florida Supreme Court to be an expert in criminal trial law. That is the same year that my opponent started practicing law, so I’ve been considered an expert for the same number of years that he’s been an attorney.”
Atack, who’s made a point of contrasting his temperament with Moore Stens’s, refrained from a direct attack, relying instead on the local equivalent of a jackpot endorsement, at least for that race: “I’m proud to say I’ve been endorsed by someone that knows what it takes to be a great judge in our community,” Atack said, “and that person is retired judge Kim C. Hammond. Kim Hammond served our Flagler County community for 30 years, actually he became a judge when he was younger than I am.” He added: “I don’t think there’s a better person that can speak to what it takes to be a great judge in this community than Kim Hammond.”