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Flagler’s Primary Results: Shocks, Coronations and Probabilities

| August 31, 2016

elections 2016 pierre tristam analysis

At least that mess is over. (© FlaglerLive)

Tropical Depression Nine can’t get here soon enough: after the endless election that culminated Tuesday, we need a good cleansing. It’s not an illusion that these election cycles are beginning sooner, much sooner than they need to. The pain and suffering they inflict is evident in the turnout. By voting time, the majority of people are justifiably sick of the noise. They don’t vote.

pierre tristam column flaglerlive That’s the shock—or ought to be the shock—of yesterday’s results: for all the length of the campaign, the supposed excitement of several superheated races (the busload of sheriff’s candidates started filling more than a year ago), the alleged new voters Trump or Sanders brought on, two weeks of early voting, plus voting by mail, all of 27 percent of the registered electorate turned out.

That’s barely discernible from the 25 percent of the 2012 primary, or the 24 percent of the 2008 primary, and well below the 34 percent of the 2004 primary, before the early-voting craze. And, let’s face it, before the GOP assault on non-existent voter fraud by way of voter-ID hurdles. It’s not a coincidence that voting by mail outnumbered Election Day voting in Flagler yesterday: the electoral process is further skewing toward older, better-off voters who were already casting ballots in disproportionately larger numbers, compared to younger, poorer voters. The emphasis on voting by mail combined with the whiff of inquisition in in-person voting is creating a cynically subtle two-tiered system reminiscent of the more blatant voter-discrimination methods before the Voting Rights Act. The Supreme Court’s evisceration of the Act hasn’t helped.

As for the actual results, the shocks were few, and only one should be surprising: how the ethically challenged Maria Barbosa could come out on top of a four-way field in the race to replace Sue Dickinson on the school board. Barbosa has an epic attraction to plagiarism, and her cavalier indifference to school policy was illustrated by her illegal campaign sign on school grounds at the Buddy Taylor Elementary precinct most of the day Tuesday: it went untouched by elections or school authorities, giving the impression she had the endorsement of the school district.

Her lapses would make sense if she were running for the sort of government office where a degree of knavery is part of the job, but she’s running for school board, where at least pretending to be a respectable role model to students should be part of the job. As a student she’d have been expelled by now. As it is, she may well sit on the expulsion board by November. She’s in a run-off against Myra Middleton Valentine, whose education credentials are more proven and whose presence on the board might be a helpful reminder that Flagler isn’t as white as it pretends to be.

Speaking of which: Larry Jones—the only local black candidate to win anything other than intra-party seating arrangements yesterday–beating incumbent Sheriff Jim Manfre should be a shock. But it’s merely a replay of 2004, when Manfre limped to the primary on what was left of his own feet, having shot them off with the same knack for self-destruction he brought to his second tenure even though, all told, he’s been a better sheriff than given credit for. He lost that 2004 primary to an unknown Democrat. He lost it to a more beloved one this time around, but not one who can take on Rick Staly’s money or affinities for Machiavelli: Jones is an unwitting proxy.

It was Staly who beat Manfre Tuesday, having likely learned exactly how to do so when Staly was Manfre’s undersheriff for two years. The Republican race for sheriff was always a three-way contest between Staly, former Sheriff Don Fleming and John Lamb. Fleming’s pitch for the nostalgia vote was never convincing. Lamb unexpectedly descended from Jacksonville on what increasingly took on airs of Christ riding into Jerusalem on a year-long Palm Sunday, oblivious to the crucifixion ahead. I thought Staly’s barrage of attack ads in the closing days of the campaign would—if he’d been ahead until then—cost him the election, and it very nearly did. The numbers bear it out: Staly, who for much of the campaign had conducted himself well and had an heroic biography to run on, had built a lead in mailed-in votes that eventually saved him, just. But Lamb beat Staly in Election Day votes and early voting, when the Staly assault had its biggest impact. Staly’s barrage had nuggets of truth but it was mean-spirited, unfair, and what truths it peddled were not nearly the sinister conspiracy of deception he made Lamb out to be. It was more like an overzealous arrest affidavit before it got scrubbed by the state attorney, while the archival hit on Fleming looked like something out of the 1868 campaign against Andrew Johnson.

milissa holland dennis mcdonald

The smile won out over the frown. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

But what should we expect? These are cops whose profession is a maze of gray areas. Add politics in the mix and the result can’t possibly be attractive (another argument for doing away with the absurdity of electing sheriffs, judges and state attorneys). That’s not a criticism, necessarily: it’s pointless to impose our cushy world’s saintliness on one of the most harrowing jobs in the land (I don’t mean the job of sheriff, which is more cushy than not, but that of cop) and expect cops running for the top job to be more St. Francis than Freddie Heflin. At any rate, Staly pulled it off. Let’s hope he learned the lesson he apparently didn’t in the first year of the Manfre administration: leading by demolition bolt is distasteful.

There was a second tier to the sheriff’s race of course. I recall the humble and honorable Chris Yates, but don’t much recall blessedly more forgettable names even if the din from their blare is still ringing in Flagler’s ears. And the best-tempered and likely most qualified of the bunch never ran: that would have been John Pollinger, who ran four years ago and fell to the intramural eye-gouging of Republican Party “purity.” He ended up as Fleming’s closest aid in this campaign.

There were quite a few anti-climactic races. That Milissa Holland won the coronation to Palm Coast’s mayorship or Robert Cuff won the council seat is as unsurprising as August thunderstorms. Anger is not opposition, and all Holland had against her was anger. Cuff replaces Bill McGuire, who resigned this month, thus ensuring that McGuire’s equally sparkling intelligence and wit have an apt successor.

Holland’s 63 percent win against three opponents is still a point short of the top winner of the night, Colleen Conklin, whose 64 percent rout of Jason Sands is as clear a mandate as any. That’s nothing unusual for Conklin: in 2012 she was the county’s most decisive at-large winner, too, with 61 percent. (Keeping in mind that Conklin had only one opponent to Holland’s three: there’s a mandate there, too.) Kaiti Lenhart’s big win to keep the supervisor of elections office was also about as much news as her office has made since she took it over from Oliver Cromwell, a.k.a. Kim Weeks, which is to say, none. And for that, Ms. Lenhart, we in media thank you. She had noble opposition from Abra Seay, but Seay’s place is, if anywhere in government, on the school board.

None of the Republican primary results for county commission were surprising, given the sharp contrast between compelling candidates and either unconvincing or absent opposition. The only thing I can say about these Republican winners, the Palm Coast council’s included, is that there’s hope yet for the GOP. It’s not all God, guns and mammon. Then again, I have no idea what Milissa Holland and Charlie Ericksen have been packing.

conklin sands

Colleen Conklin and Jason Sands. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

That still leaves the one Palm Coast council race to be decided: Pam Richardson and Nick Klufas are in a tight runoff this November, and if third-placer Anita Moeder hands over her votes to Klufas (she spent the entire race in his shadow anyway), this year’s 10,000-watt boy-wonder of local politics may be Richardson’s latest election surprise: her two previous runs for office—supervisor of elections—were twice derailed by wild cards. More to the point: This race will be a referendum on City Manager Jim Landon’s future. Current council members Steven Nobile and Heidi Shipley—make that senior council members Nobile and Shipley, for all their two years on the council—are not exactly on Landon’s shill list, as other members of the council have tended to be. Richardson is a friend and proxy for County Commissioner Nate McLaughlin, who, dating back to his days on Palm Coast’s planning board, has about as much love for Landon as Landon has for, say, media. McLaughlin would get his revenge through Richardson. Her addition on the council would turn city hall’s mail room into a missile battery for Landon’s resumes, and probably not just his. Then again, his longevity is testament to the skills of a master manipulator. McGuire and Jason DeLorenzo weren’t Landon fans when they joined the council, either. He corralled them quickly.

Having run out of crack to snort, inject, smoke or suck, I’ll skip the congressional electoral circus and its foregone conclusions: Clinton’s appointment of Obama to the Supreme Court and the overturning of Citizens United can’t come soon enough.

A side-note: there were 35 candidates in contested races for local offices in five major governments. Six of them did not take part in the Live Interview, their most expansive chance to present their arguments and defend their positions at almost any length they chose to the broadest audience they could reach online. None of the five won (just as no candidate who’s not taken part in the interview, going back to 2010, has ever won). Those candidates’ average margin of the votes they got did not break 20 percent. I’m not saying this proudly, but imploringly: it helps no one to duck questions or skip a chance to speak to the electorate. And ducking questions is the surest sign that some candidates have no business running for public office, where measly reporters’ questions will be the absolute least of their worries, assuming they make it that far.

Depressingly—as TD9 is reminding us—it’s not over. Not only was this just the primary. But the true madness is ahead, though for me I can go back to normal in at least one sense. I had recently discovered what Linda Blair’s head-spinning felt like in “The Exorcist” when I switched my registration to Republican, so I could at least have an electoral voice in this undemocratic state of closed primaries. They don’t allow microscopes into the voting booth, so hunting for Democrats was out. That left me with joining the Party of Trump. It’s been real. But it’s time to reclaim my independence.

Pierre Tristam is FlaglerLive’s editor. Reach him by email here or follow him @PierreTristam.

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30 Responses for “Flagler’s Primary Results: Shocks, Coronations and Probabilities”

  1. carol says:

    What a sad day for Palm Coast. How unfortunate it is when you run for office to have some income. That income is what motivates some of these candidates that have won a seat. Political position should go to those that have a real job!!!

  2. A Little Common Sense Please says:

    MAKE VOTING A LAW NOT A PRIVILAGE! 100% turn out is needed for this democracy to survive!

  3. KERMIT says:

    My vote was for Valentine. I am BEYOND perplexed as to how Barbosa won the majority vote for school board. Has anyone read her interviews, BOTH of them? Help us, and pray for the rest of the school board because I certainly wouldn’t have the patience or the constitution to deal with a person who clearly doesn’t know what they are doing and hasn’t a clue how the school board runs.

  4. Jack Howell, PhD says:

    As always, well stated my friend!

  5. Justin says:

    If you didn’t vote, you cannot complain!

  6. Robert Lewis says:

    Maria Barbosa has run a great campaign. She never spoke or made appearances. Her hiding allowed her to advance. It will Myra who will deliver the final election vote. As for Pam Richardson, third time is a charm, or she hopes. The boy wonder will best her in November.

  7. Andy P says:

    I was going to criticize Barbosa; but I’ll wait til someone else does and then I’ll copy and paste their comments as my own.

  8. Fredrick says:

    Pierre could you be anymore cheery? We are still waiting for that no holes barred editorial about Hillary. How much longer to we have to wait?

  9. Steven Nobile says:

    Pierre, it amazes me how you can take such a dull subject and with a banquet of words hold my interest to the end…even with your very left leaning opinion (had to get a shot in) I enjoy reading your work. Thank you for doing what you do.

    • Pierre Tristam says:

      Thank you Steven. Of course I can say the same thing about what you’ve done with the city council: you’ve made the dullest, most predictable local government in Flagler interesting again. Unanimity is democracy’s biggest enemy.

  10. Dan Potter says:

    I am a republican at heart but yet cannot stand for one republican trying to beat another republican to the ground in mail warfare. What “Rick the _rick” did is inexcusable. I will be contacting Larry Jones to lend my support to his campaign. First time ever for going blue.

  11. Anonymous says:

    I wanted lamb. It’s a sad day for all that wanted him to be the nominee. Now, I’m voting for Larry Jones. I will get everyone to support a nice, honest black gentleman. He wants to improve Palm Coast. Staph is another Manfre all over again. Who ever voted for Staley, just giving heads up if he gets in.

  12. BlueJammer says:

    Ditto, Steven, and well said.

    Now, about Barbosa. Nothing should infuriate an academic more than billboard confession of plagiarism. Maria, shame on you.

  13. Algernon says:

    Flagler Live, I must wonder why you made no mention of the third candidate in the Supervisor or Elections race, Kimble Medley. Having known her for years I think she was the most qualified of the three, although Ms. Lenhart and Ms. Seay were very good candidates too. I don’t mean to ask for an answer, but I do want to commend Ms. Medley for positions well stated, for her energy, and for the high level of her campaign.

  14. Paul says:

    I would expect Staly will pull his ads from this poor excuse of a website after its attempt to butcher him during the election. Way to take money out of your own pocket Pierre.

    • Pierre Tristam says:

      Paul, If Staly pulls his ad for that reason he won’t be the first nor, I hope, the last to do so, though Staly knows me and this site enough to know that I would not disrespect him (or anyone in this town) with pandering flattery: the day I start calibrating coverage to the fear of losing an advertiser will be the day when FlaglerLive becomes a poor excuse of a website. I can assure you that that day is not in FlaglerLive’s future as long as I’m the poor excuse running it. Of course you’re perfectly welcome to contribute your tax-deductible donation to the site and join our Friends of FlaglerLive who know the importance of independent journalism: they’re our hedge against skittish advertisers. And misinformed readers.

  15. IMO says:

    I/M/O any Police Oficer who believes an Oficer should have “Dicreation” as to aresting a DWI suspect does not possess the integrity or judgement as to the necssarey qualifications to run a Sheriff’s Department.
    And I quote: “…Letter of Reprimand-Failure to arrest a person with a .18 or over BAC. This involved a 17-year-old male who was stopped for a faulty headlight. The teen had never been in trouble, was a good student in school and was headed for college. He was cooperative and rather than have him be followed by an arrest record for the rest of his life, his father was called and came to the scene to pick him. This is an example of officer discretion…”
    So tell me Larry Jones as the Sheriff will you still rationalize that letting a DWI suspect go is going to be “Officer Discreation?” You going to turn our roads over to those who drive while intoxicated?

  16. Joe A says:

    @ Andy P, very funny, as I recall another board member plagiarized in his last run for school board also, how soon we forget, I don’t know to much about Barbosa and did not vote for her but you are going to criticize her for it we you should remember that another Andy plagiarized as well!

  17. Donald Trump's Tiny Fingers says:

    People are actually surprised that Barbosa won? This is florida, guys. In order to run for office you HAVE to be ethically challenged.

  18. Aggitated Voter says:

    Robert Lewis: “Maria Barbosa has run a great campaign. She never spoke or made appearances.” Do you live under a rock? She was everywhere! She practically chased me down in the parking lot of the library when I went to vote. I have personally met her on a couple of occasions (although I doubt she would remember) and to say I was less than impressed would be a monumental understatement. She is NOT qualified to be on the school board, and I hope voters will smarten up in the November runoff.

  19. Mark says:

    Obama ins’t qualified to be where he is either. Shows that voters are pretty dumb for the most part.

  20. CLS says:

    “Lamb unexpectedly descended from Jacksonville on what increasingly took on airs of Christ riding into Jerusalem on a year-long Palm Sunday, oblivious to the crucifixion ahead.” Well, then there you have it – he would have been the perfect sheriff for Flagler, since we need someone who believes in ethics and morals, unlike crooked millionaire Staley, who fired over half the Flagler police force while over them and under Manfre, then put it all on his boss. The Tennessee vacation home trick on Manfre was what did it for me…

  21. Brian Riehle says:

    Pierre….Here’s an alternative hypothesis to why the voter turnout is so small here in Flagler County and it has nothing to do with the reasons you put forth in the first 3 paragraphs of this piece. There was no “whiff of inquisition” when I voted. Just had to show them my Florida Drivers license. It’s easier to vote here in Flagler County than any other place I’ve ever lived, and there are more options which give anyone who really wants to vote an opportunity to cast a ballot.
    To think that this skews the process toward older better off voters is pure nonsense. If voting was limited to in person, on election day only, from 7am to 7pm then you might have an argument that the younger poorer didn’t or couldn’t vote, but that’s simply not the case here. They don’t vote because they don’t care and don’t appreciate what they are giving up. And I’m sure they don’t even comprehend the the meaning of civic responsibility or citizenship, but that’s another story better explained by the local Board of Education.
    In one of your recent commentaries you seemed to celebrate the fact that the “older, graying” part of the electorate was quickly becoming the minority. Well guess what…those are the people who still vote, and whether it’s by mail, absentee ballot, early voting, or in person on election day will continue to keep voting.
    The “cynically subtle two-tiered ” system you describe just doesn’t exist here in Flagler County. What may exist is a group of what you describe as “younger poorer voters” who just don’t care.

    Brian Riehle

  22. Shawn Penn says:

    Government jobs’ income is now about 30% higher on average than those in the private sector. (skills and education being comparable). It’s sad that the two main motivators for candidates is their own new higher steady income they never had in the private sector and some power over their fellow Americans’ individual lives.

  23. OhISee says:

    @ IMO,

    Ask Staly the same question. If you think for one minute there haven’t been times in every cops career where they’ve secured a ride home for someone rather than arrest, you’re kidding yourself.
    To ask if Mr. Jones is going to turn our roads over to intoxicated drivers is ridiculous.

  24. tulip says:

    To A LITTLE COMMON SENSE It wouldn’t make any difference if it became law that you had to votenot. I say this because, if you look at the tallies, out of 19,000 people that voted, most of those races only had totals of 5000 or way less. It just goes to prove that every voter doesn’t vote on everything on the ballot, only the thing they are interested in. So, what’s the point of having a law if people only vote on one or 2 things.

    However, I do think that if Independents were allowed to vote in primaries, it would make a huge difference in the way things turn out. Flagler county has over 20,000 Independent voters, and that’s a lot of people who are denied the right to vote in a primary and a lot of lost votes for the candidates.

  25. Slim jim says:

    Imo. Im sorry during my long career I allowed several people to get a ride home. One story in particular was a disabled vietnam veteran who was “inpaired” the night after his wife of 40 years died. He left the VFW and after I stopped him on Old Kings Road North bound he wept. I drive him home and went back with a fellow deputy to dive his car to his house. I don’t feel guilty at all. Thank you Larry Jones for using descretion. It’s well deserved at times.

  26. gmath55 says:

    Oh good! All the stupid signs will come down. (GO AWAY!).

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