Political parties influence non-partisan elections

The political campaigns of Bill McClure, Catherine Brandhorst, Chris Ellis, Undine George, Victor Raymos, Gary Jurenovich, Scott Nyman, Johnny Kuca, Robert Och, and Jill Flores, may have received some publicity during the last five-days of Early Voting that does not conform to the requirements of Florida’s election laws related to disclosure of its source.

In St Johns County, the Republican Party represents the greatest share of registered voters and greatest share of elected officials.  That is not necessarily the case in the City of St Augustine or the City of St Augustine Beach where elected officials hold their seats without party affiliation.  Likewise, elected members of local taxing authorities such as the airport authority, mosquito control district, community development districts, port and waterways, as well as judicial candidates at all levels, hold non-partisan offices.

Consequently, every two years it appears one party or the other, in this case the Republican Party of St Johns County, feels compelled to recommend candidates who belong to their party but that are seeking a non-partisan seat.  No matter how many times it is attempted, either as a “Voter Guide”, candidate “recommendation”, or flat-out endorsement, it is routinely decided in Tallahassee to violate the sovereignty of non-partisan political elections.

This year’s version comes in the form of a printed “Endorsement of Conservative Candidates in Non-Partisan Races”.  Two years ago, it was a “Voter Guide” that properly listed partisan candidates, but improperly included non-partisan candidates.

These electioneering “tip sheets” allege some authority to declare “These Are Races With Only One Republican Running”, implying a direct relationship to the Republican Party.

But when Historic City News reached out to the new chairman of the St Johns County Republican Executive Committee (REC), Jerry Cameron, we were told “The REC has not produced any printed materials for public distribution except for those mailed out to Absentee Ballot holders.”

Jerry Cameron

A local reader reported that when they went to vote at the St Augustine Beach City Hall location on Wednesday, they encountered Bruce Strauss at the Republican Party tent handing out an attached flyer.

The flyer names the listed candidates, with a disclaimer in the race for Seat 3 on the St Augustine Beach City Commission stating, “Although her opponent (Tom Reynolds) is now a registered Republican, he only switched parties on June 14th.  We would not consider him a Republican for the purpose of support until after he has been a registered Republican for at least 365 days.”  Again, implying a direct relationship to the Republican Party.

Chairman Cameron, however, told us, “Since the REC was not involved in the production of any printed materials being distributed at polling places, we cannot say what is the source of any such items.”

The flyer went on to say, “In addition, he (Tom Reynolds) has been attacking the REC, which would lead to support of a legitimate Republican opposing him.  We had sufficient votes and members present under RPOF Rule 8 to support Ms. George.”

Unclaimed political endorsement flyer

Cameron wrote, “The REC will support candidates who embrace Republican principles, but will do so in accordance with RPOF rules and advice, and applicable state law.”

The witness at the scene told us that, in addition to Strauss, Dr. Michel Pawlowski was handing out the “endorsement” flyer from the Republican tent at the Beach City Hall polling place.

“When he (Strauss) gave it to me, I asked him who was this endorsement from?” the witness wrote in their statement.  “He (Strauss) said the Trump Club”.  The witness went on to say, “After I voted, I went back.  He (Strauss) forgot what he said earlier, so I asked him again, and he said the Republican Club”.  Later the same afternoon, the witness stated that they returned to the polling location and found volunteer Republican poll worker, Dr. Pawlowski, on duty at the Republican tent.  According to the statement made by the witness, Pawlowski identified the Republican Executive Committee as the source.

Historic City News reader and witness

Regardless who the author of the endorsements is, and whether the Republican Executive Committee approved of the endorsements or not, campaign finance laws require the printed disclosure of who approved and paid for the campaign material and a clear statement indicating the involvement of any political committee, campaign or candidate.

It is easy enough to comply with state law on these matters; but when 2020 rolls around, it will be a Presidential election year and I suspect we will hear about more of the same.  Before taking anyone’s advice on something as important as selecting a political candidate in a local election, you should at least know the source of the recommendation.

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