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Hutson and DeSantis Are No-Shows as Holland and Beaven Stress Flagler’s Voice

| October 25, 2012

Milissa Holland did not pull a Clint Eastwood with Travis Hutson’s empty chair at Wednesday’s forum. (© FlaglerLive)

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.”

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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, 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.”

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12 Responses for “Hutson and DeSantis Are No-Shows as Holland and Beaven Stress Flagler’s Voice”

  1. Robert Lewis says:

    I must express my disappointment in the Republican Challenges for their no – show appearance. If you want to win my vote, you show that you want to come here and work for it. Especially in public forums. When a politician skips out on a Forum, it shows they have something to hide. I will probably vote for Melissa Holland.

    I can not vote for Ms. Beaven. I might have to do a write in for Mickey Mouse. This race is like choosing the lesser of evils. My reason against Ms. Beaven is due to her comment regarding Celico way last December.

    Ms. Beaven made a snide comment regarding Celico Way for the beloved Sgt. Frank Celico. Her comment to the City of Palm Coast renaming Kings Way to Celico Way was “Seriously?”

    Please review her post:

    I would like Ms Beaven to please respond to this and why she felt it was appropriate to comment, “Seriously” when dedicating a road to a humbled public servant who was taken from us way too early.

    • w.ryan says:

      Why would you not vote for Heather Beaven. She is on of us despite her supposedly not understanding this emotional outpouring. Wouldn’t she look out for Flagler County? Vote your interest and not your emotions. For the most part this would help everyone living in this county giving us an ally in Washington.

  2. DWFerg says:

    When asked what was the conflict in Mr. Hutson’s schedule, the reply was a “business meeting”—If this lack of regard to face his constituents is evident before the Election, what would his priorities be relative to Flagler county interests After Nov. 6th. ? Not encouraging sign to avoid debate and voter interface—Maintain that the Hutson influence in Tallahassee can be maintained / retained even with a setback in this race.How much mr. Hutson really wants this will be if he chooses to run again in two years should Ms. Holland prevail in 2012.

  3. Ella says:

    I hope that all of the facts concerning these forums will be brought to light. Things are not always what they appear to be. Setting up forums when council members have important issues to address and other such tactics give the appearance that one candidate cares more than the other when it is really a scheduling conflict. I hope the absent candidates will be given the same opportunity to respond.

  4. Nancy N. says:

    I have to take exception with the author’s derision towards Ms. Beaven’s comments about entrepreneurship and the new economy in Flagler/Palm Coast. Yes, the economy as a whole in this area is still struggling, but a large portion of the jobs that we DO have are attributable to the vibrant group of entrepreneurs in this community. Relative to the size of this community, we have a very strong culture of entrepreneurship in this community. As a part of that growing force in the community, I applaud Ms. Beaven’s recognition of our positive influence on the community’s otherwise lagging economy. We are the future of this community, and we need someone representing us who recognizes our importance in the local economy!

  5. glad fly says:

    vote travis hutson. vote straight republican ticket as well.

  6. Will says:

    glad fly – voting a straight ticket isn’t a very original thought.

    Why not encourage people to vote for the best candidate? That might better serve the community, state, and nation.

    Neither of the major parties supports the best candidate all of the time – though they try to make it sound like they do.

  7. tulip says:

    @Ella The candidates know of these forums well in advance and there is plenty of time for them to notify the people that they have a previous committment, or to cancel that committment if it’s not that important, in order to attend the forum.

    Hutson is spoiled rich kid involved in father’s business and could really care less about Flager and is of the opinion that money wins.

    Milisss is not a spoiled rich kid, has lived here most of her life as well as being totally involved in the county’s issues and has constantly sought ways to improve things and knows its people. People may not always agree with her opinions, that’s normal when some one is in public life, but on the whole she has done a good job for Flagler and deserves our vote. JMO

    It’s also nice to see that both Dem and Rep are supporting her.

  8. Magnolia says:

    I’ll stick with the absent Travis Hutson. He is a businessman, not a career politician. Ms. Holland has had years to turn this community around, but her track record is about as good as our Mayor’s.

    Take a long and careful look at her supporters and you will know who it is that is also responsible for the inability of this community to develop for the betterment of anyone but the builders and developers here.

    We need new leadership here or nothing will change.

  9. confidential says:

    Magnolia; Mr. Hutson I understand, is the son of a wealthy Jacksonville developer and you can see him on his TV ad, while visiting Watson’s Realtor office in Palm Coast. Please correct me if I am wrong.
    As we do not want any more developers ruling the county, Holland representing us in Flagler has our vote.
    His absentia shows how little he cares for us or our vote, same for De Santis. Maybe they think that we are the 47% of the district only. Are we?

  10. Ella says:

    Tulip, Travis has a broad understanding not only of Flagler County issues but St. Johns as well. The combination puts him in a position to do what is best for our district as a whole. Flagler County needs someone who can work with Tallahassee by building bridges and relationships. Get to know him and I guarantee you will have a different opinion.

  11. unconfidential says:

    I find it hard to believe that a debate moderator felt it was necessary to repeatedly attack a candidate for a respected office who was not present. I could understand an opponent using it but the moderator? If it was truly an unannounced absence by Hutson I would think the moderator might be more concerned with why he did not show. Coupled with the fact that Holland is endorsed by the the parties putting on the forum I can see major issues with fairness here. I probably wouldn’t show up to an ambush either!

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