Local voters who decided to forgo the August 26 primary election and just “wait until November,” might be disappointed. Not only were several races decided last month, but the three representatives who make up the vast majority of Manatee County's representation in the state legislature are unopposed, while the fourth faces only nominal opposition.
State Senator Bill Galvano (R-Bradenton) is unopposed in this year's election. The biggest reason might be that he's sitting on a $300,000 campaign war chest, the likes of which tend to go a long way in scaring off potential rivals.
Galvano is the leading candidate for the chamber's presidency in 2018 (a highly-influential two-year gig) and raising campaign cash is one measure of influence when it comes to such posts, which are typically decided before the candidate has even secured the election prior to ascending to the role.
Two-term state representative Jim Boyd (R-Bradenton), who represents west Manatee, is also unopposed. Boyd too has amassed a considerable campaign account, raising a little more than $136,000, despite not having an opponent in the insurance magnate's bid for a third term in Tallahassee.
East Manatee state representative Greg Steube (R-Lakewood Ranch) likewise faces no opposition in this year's race. Steube, who was elected to office with Boyd in 2010, has raised just under $90,000 for his solo race.
Rep. Darryl Rousson (D-St. Pete), whose ridiculously gerrymandered district 70 is primarily in Pinellas but slices a thin line through both Manatee and Sarasota Counties, faces only an obscure independent candidate in the general election, after going unopposed in his party's primary.
Phil Garret paid the $1,187.88 qualifying fee to get on November's ballot but hasn't had any real presence in the race. Garret hasn't reported any campaign finance activity and was slapped with three letters from the state, threatening fines for failing to meet three financial reporting deadlines. Aside from a website built on a generic template that is riddled with grammatical errors and contains little by way of a platform, Garret doesn't seem to have a campaign apparatus to speak of and would appear to be a long-odds opponent at best, even with the recent endorsement of Pinellas Libertarians.
Meanwhile, Rousson has over $80,000 in contributions. Not that I'm belittling Garret's efforts. The last thing I want to do is discourage someone from running, and it's refreshing to see anyone jump through the hoops and give voters at least the choice to vote against whomever might otherwise walk into their incumbent office (though asking someone for a quick proof read of a 1-page website wouldn't seem much to ask).
The lack of opposition in these races is understandable, if disappointing. Despite a constitutional amendment meant to end gerrymandering, most districts are distinctly carved to give one party or the other a clear advantage. The only time they seem to be competitive is when term limits force out an incumbent and there is a primary within the advantaged party. In fact, we might be approaching a day when the offices are only actually contested in earnest every eight years when an incumbent terms out.
Once a winner becomes an incumbent member of their party's delegation, armed with a vote on how to spend about $75 billion, they are sure to draw considerable financial support, the kind that someone seeking to unseat such an opponent is unlikely to raise. Who wants to go door to door collecting signatures, subject themselves and their families to vicious attacks and basically upend their personal and professional lives for at least a year, when the best case scenario might be a 30-1 fundraising disadvantage in a race where they already face an uphill battle in terms of party registration numbers in the district?
Apparently, not many people at all and therein lies the rub. But while voters, activists and fans of a healthy democracy cringe at this reality, the small cadre of politicians, lobbyists and special interests who benefit from the status quo clearly like things just fine the way they are. Seeing as how they're the ones who make and/or influence the rules, the situation doesn't seem likely to change, especially considering that we keep removing legal barriers to unlimited campaign spending. At the rate we're going, it won't be long at all before the notion of choosing our elected officials will seem like a quaint and antiquated relic of our past.
Dennis Maley's column appears every Thursday and Sunday in The Bradenton Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Click here to visit his column archive. Click here to go to his bio page. You can also follow Dennis on Facebook.
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