Host: They have a 100% Republican County Commission since the last election, and the new commissioners have distinguished themselves in bringing culture war issues to the fore. But one year later, Manatee County voters and political activists are restless. Three seats are open for grabs in the 2024 elections, and six challengers – no less than four of them Republicans – are going against the incumbents. WSLR reporter Dania Hefley talked to all the challengers.
Dania Hefley: Diana Shoemaker, former Habitat for Humanity CEO, is running as a Democrat for the District 3 seat on the Manatee County commission, which is held by Republican Kevin Van Ostenbridge.
I asked her about the political and personal factors she considered before entering the race.
Diana Shoemaker: For the last year or so, I’ve been watching the activities of our county commission, and what really propelled me was watching how the commission unfortunately continued to really dismiss and ignore, and ultimately reject, comments and the concerns and opposition voiced by our constituency.
DH: These are the issues she hopes to emphasize:
DS: And the second one is really what I believe is necessary in the role of a county commissioner to consider the needs of the county, while we’re still managing inevitable growth and change that’s going to happen over time. I think it’s important to make well-informed and thoughtful decisions about development and expansion, and make decisions that manage the growth.
DH: Tal Siddique is running as a Republican in District 3, against incumbent Kevin Van Ostenbridge.
Tal Siddique: I’m young, I own a home, we’re gonna settle down and have a family here. We’re very much not the typical profile of a person that can afford to be here. For me, I just thought I want to see this community, that my wife was born and raised in, go in the right direction.
DH: We also talked about the main issues that he hopes to address if elected to office.
TS: I do think we have to fix traffic. I think in the five years that I’ve been coming down here and living here, … I’ve seen the growth destroy communities here. I don’t think I’m being too dramatic, when I say that. It’s hard to just get around town, it’s hard for businesses to stay afloat, because – especially on the islands – nobody, only few people want to start businesses or even work there. And then lastly, beyond fixing traffic, I think it‘s really putting together innovative ideas to plan for the future growth in the county. Every commissioner that’s run for this seat has talked about growth coming, and needing to plan for it. And yet no one’s really done anything to put a real plan together.
DH: Jennifer Hamey is an attorney with roots in Parrish running for the District 1 seat. I asked her about her personal and political considerations before entering the race. She is running as an independent, which pits her against Republican incumbent James Satcher and Carol Felts.
Jennifer Hamey: So I’ve considered a lot of different things. Actually. I started with the Parrish Civic Association several years ago. And that got me really involved with what was going on with the community. … Infrastructure is a big issue that we have going on in our district, .. because a lot of the growth has taken place in our district, District One.
DH: Hamey clarified that she is not anti-development.
JH: I am not anti-development, but I am for development that makes sense and not rubber stamping, developments coming through. … As an attorney, I believe we have to follow the law. I do support that, but I believe that there has been a lot of exceptions that have been made for certain special interests and certain developers that don’t need to continue to happen.
DH: Carol Felts is an 8th generation Floridian and has resided in Manatee County for over 30 years. She is running in District 1 as a Republican.
Carol Felts: I am extremely interested. I have just always been involved in some way. This was just the way that I saw that maybe activism could be translated into the process.
DH: She continued to discuss the key issues she wishes to emphasize as candidate
CF: My number one thing is always … having an educated public. [That] would streamline a lot of our misunderstandings or disagreements.
DH: Lastly, she addressed the topic of growth and development in Manatee County.
CF: We have always been a state that people come to. It’s always been a refuge, a respite. We know that people are coming. But we have environmental, geographical limitations, that we have to be cognizant about, and to plan for that in the future. And right now I don’t think that we have enough people in office who have a familiarity with the area innately.
DH: Keith Green is the only African American candidate. He is running as a Republican for the at-large District 7 seat, against Republican incumbent George Kruse. That means a three-way primary, since the chair of the Manatee County Republican Party, April Culbreath, also declared her candidacy. Green currently serves on the Bradenton city planning commission. I asked Green about his political and personal reasons for running.
Keith Green: I’m definitely wanting to push financial literacy for the overall community, not just in the underserved communities, but everyplace else, because it definitely taps in, and goes after the affordable housing aspect, as my opponent has been talking about that for quite some time.
DH: He expanded on the topic of affordable housing.
KG: Affordable housing is very vague, and that’s something that my opponent has said constantly, but it doesn’t tackle what’s wrong with that vagueness, what is the solution long-term to those individuals who need that level of help to be able to eventually springboard up to becoming homeowners. That’s something that my opponent has not really exactly discussed as a long-term plan.
DH: And on the topic of growth and development:
KG: Well, in my opinion that growth is basically inevitable. We have to learn to definitely come to terms with that. So, take for example, we have one of the largest developed communities in our county. Lakewood Ranch … [has grown] over the decades and actually sees its full potential currently. So, the question I have for those folks is that the same ones that move into Lakewood Ranch and some of these other planned developments, growth has benefited them. And so, in so many ways, growth is going to happen. There’s no way to really avoid it. And when a community doesn’t grow, it dies.
DH: April Culbreath, chair of the Manatee County Republican Party, declared her candidacy against George Kruse, reportedly to “uphold a conservative agenda”. She will face off with Kruse and Green in a Republican primary. She was unavailable for comment but provided us with a statement.
“April Allison Culbreath has been serving Manatee County since 1997 when she began her work as Sheriff’s Deputy. Over the course of her 26-year career in public service, she has served in almost every possible law enforcement capacity. She counts her greatest accomplishments to be her services as a Crimes Against Children detective and her work as Deputy Advisor to Manatee County youth. April entered the political realm in 2016 when she began volunteering locally for the Republican Party.”
This has been Dania Hefley for WSLR News.
WSLR News aims to keep the local community informed with our 1/2 hour local news show, quarterly newspaper and social media feeds. The local news broadcast airs on Wednesdays and Fridays at 6pm.
Friday, December 8, 2023
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