Incumbents get wake-up call

All of St Johns County’s five constitutional officers were re-elected for another four-year term, without opposition; however, here, and elsewhere around Florida, that was not necessarily the case as an “anti-incumbent” movement has some political consultants scratching their heads.

Name recognition is the “holy grail” of political campaigns, and incumbents generally enjoy that edge — they’ve already been elected, at least once, and they have no problem picking up the phone and asking supporters for a check to become even more visible.

By contrast, in the St Johns County’s commission races, where a majority of the board is being elected, despite a political message that was predicated on the idea that “everything is great so don’t change leadership”, ex-chairman Mark Miner and interim-chairman Ken Bryan got a wake-up call.

After his election as the youngest commissioner in St Johns County’s history, Mark Miner, a member of the Florida National Guard, took a year deployment and his seat had to be filled by a gubernatorial appointee, retired Sergeant Major Ray Quinn. When Miner returned, Quinn stepped down. Miner has again cut short his elected term, this time by six more months, and he asked voters to elect Quinn to succeed him.

The stand-in commissioner, Quinn, failed in a three-way race, even with incumbent Chairman Miner’s endorsements. Commissioner-elect Bill McClure, who is a business executive and has never held elected office, defeated Quinn and homebuilder John Ruggerri.

Another Miner endorsement, Ken Bryan; who, in Miner’s absence is serving out the remainder of Miner’s chairmanship, never made it out of the Primary Election despite traveling the county touting “promises made, promises kept” — a message that flew in the face of the reality of his last four years on the board.

Likewise, Errol Jones, who has served on the St Augustine City Commission for ten years, ran fourth in a four-way race, although he had been badly damaged by a recent personal scandal.

Elsewhere around Florida, Republican Ted Yoho talked about greedy career politicians. The tea party-backed newcomer may be the biggest political upset of this week’s Florida primaries. His TV spot silently announced at the bottom of the screen, “Cliff Stearns, 24 years in Congress”.

“The congressional people really got a wake-up call,” Susan MacManus, a University of South Florida political science professor, said in a morning-after assessment of the primaries. “Even the ones who survived got the scare of their lives.”

MacManus, a veteran observer of state politics, said the influence of the tea party was “a mixed bag” in comparison to advantages of money and name identity. But, she said, “longevity in office is definitely not something to tout” this year.

“People are just in an anti-incumbency, anti-establishment mood,” said consultant David Johnson of Strategic Vision LLC. Former talk-radio host Trey Radel rode an anti-establishment message to a congressional primary win over state Representatives Gary Aubuchon, Paige Kreegel, and Chauncey Porter Goss; son of former Congressman and CIA chief Porter Goss. Radel’s message: “The politicians created this mess, but we the people can fix it.”

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