Field of candidates set for August primaries: Some moving on to general election

Pinellas County Commissioner Karen Seel and Clerk of the Court and Comptroller Ken Burke won their elections without opposition when the qualifying period for the August primaries ended June 12.

Pinellas County residents have until July 20 to register to vote in the Aug. 18 primary and nonpartisan elections.

All the county’s constitutional officers are up for election this year, including clerk of the circuit court and comptroller, sheriff, property appraiser, tax collector and supervisor of elections, as well as four county commission seats.

Nonpartisan elections include four school board positions, four county judges and four fire districts.

The candidate qualifying period ended at noon June 12.

Constitutional officers

Only one constitutional officer won without opposition: Republican Ken Burke, who was elected to the position of clerk of the circuit court and comptroller in 2004.

Property Appraiser Mike Twitty, another Republican, was first elected in 2016 and is seeking a second term. He is opposed by Democrat Trevor L. Mallory of St. Petersburg. The race will appear on the Nov. 3 ballot.

Tax Collector Charles W. Thomas, a Republican, also was first elected in 2016. He is opposed by Republican Joyell Bobala of Palm Harbor, a 21-year employee at the tax collector’s office, and Democrat Joseph Saportas of Clearwater, as well as a write-in candidate Dan Dahlberg.

Republicans will choose between Thomas and Bobala during the primary to compete in November.

Sheriff Bob Gualtieri was appointed to the job by former Gov. Rick Scott in 2011 to replace former Sheriff Jim Coats. He was first elected in 2012. The Republican has two challengers: Democrats Eliseo Santana of Clearwater, a retired communications maintenance supervisor at the sheriff's office, and James McLynas of Madeira Beach, who also ran for the job in 2016.

Democrats will pick either Santana or McLynas during the August primary to run against Gualtieri in November.

The race for supervisor of elections attracted several candidates wanting to replace long-time Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark, who retired March 31 after serving as supervisor since 2000. Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed Clark’s deputy chief deputy Julie Marcus to that position on May 19.

Six candidates, including Marcus, had announced intentions to run for that position, but three withdrew from the race and one failed to qualify. Only two remain. Marcus will appear on the November ballot with Democrat Dan Helm, a lawyer from Pinellas Park.

County commission races

One county commissioner was elected without opposition. Republican Karen Seel, the longest-serving commissioner on the board, has represented District 5 since former Gov. Jeb Bush appointed her to that position in January 1999.

Democrat Janet Long, who has represented District 1 since 2012, had been running unopposed until June 10 when Republican Larry Ahern of Seminole announced his intention to run. Both Long and Ahern are former state representatives. They will compete for votes in November.

Incumbent District 3 Commissioner Charlie Justice also has a challenger. The Democrat and former state representative has served on the board of county commissioners since 2012. Justice is opposed by Republican Tammy Sue Vasquez of Treasure Island. They will vie for the seat in November.

Perhaps the biggest race in August is the one to replace long-time commissioner Ken Welch, a Democrat who has served District 7 since 2000. Welch did not seek re-election due to plans to run for St. Petersburg mayor.

Three Democrats from St. Petersburg are vying for Welch’s job, including Rene Flowers, Wengay "Newt" Newton, Frank Peterman Jr., as well as no-party-affiliate candidate Maria L. Scruggs also a St. Petersburg resident, and a write-in candidate, Anthony Hart of St. Petersburg.

Flowers currently serves on the county school board, Newton serves as a state representative, Peterman is a former state representative and Scruggs is president of the St. Petersburg Branch of the NAACP.

Nonpartisan races

Four county judges were elected without opposition, including Edwin B. Jagger for Group 3, James V. Pierce for Group 10, Robert G. Dittmer for Group 14 and John Carassas for Group 15.

School board races

In the nonpartisan races for school board, Carol J. Cook won without opposition. Cook has served District 5 since 2000.

Eileen M. Long, who has represented District 4 since 2016, had a last-minute challenger. Chris Hardman announced his intention to run and qualified on June 12 by paying a fee.

District 1 representative Joanne Lentino, who was first elected in 2016, withdrew soon after announcing. Three candidates qualified to run for her District 1 seat: Laura Hine of St. Petersburg, Stephanie Meyer of Seminole and Tom Topping of Clearwater.

Five candidates from St. Petersburg qualified to compete for the District 7 seat being vacated by Flowers, who has served since 2012. Caprice Edmond, Corey Givens Jr., Sharon D. Jackson, Karl J. Nurse and Ricardo “Ric” Davis are competing for her job.

Fire Districts

Incumbent Kevin Kenney ran unopposed and will keep Seat 1 on the East Lake Tarpon Special Fire District. Maryellen Crowder, Tom May and Peter Nehr are running for Seat 3, currently held by David Root. Incumbent James E. Dalrymple is opposed by Michael Peasley for Seat 5.

In the races for Lealman Special Fire Control District, all the incumbents won without opposition, including Ronald F. Kemerer for Seat 1, Jay D. Alexander for Seat 3 and Vivian Diane Campbell for Seat 5.

Three seats were up for election at Palm Harbor Special Fire Control District, including incumbents Casey Cane for Seat 1 and Debbie Buschman for Seat 3, who both won without opposition. Kelli Snow ran without opposition to take Seat 5, currently held by Jim Nelson.

In the Pinellas Suncoast Fire & Rescue District election, all the incumbents ran unopposed and will keep their seats, including Lawrence “Larry” Gordon Schear for Seat 1, David B. Ardman Seat 2 and Lou Snelling for Seat 5.

Election information

Florida is a closed primary state, so only registered Democrats and Republicans, can vote in their respective primaries. The same goes for a minor party or those registered with no party. All registered voters can vote in nonpartisan races and on ballot questions. The last date to change a political affiliation is July 20.

Elections officials are encouraging residents to vote by mail during the upcoming election. According to information on the Elections website, more than 270,000 voters have already signed up.

Voters can request a mail ballot by emailing mailballot@votepinellas.com or call 727-464-VOTE (8683). The deadline is 5 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 8.

The tentative schedule for mailing ballots to military and overseas voters is on July 3 and to domestic voters on July 14.

Early voting is scheduled from Aug. 8-16.

For voter registration information and to submit an application online, visit https://registertovoteflorida.gov/home.

For more information, visit VotePinelllas.com.

Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at sporter@tbnweekly.com.