Pinellas favors incumbents in local races during the Nov. 3 election

Incumbent Pinellas County Commissioners Janet Long and Charlie Justice won another term during the Nov. 3 election. County voters favored the local incumbents also voting to keep the long-time sheriff, t the two-term tax collector and property appraiser, and the supervisor of elections appointed to the job by the governor.

Pinellas County’s registered voters turned out in near-record numbers to participate in the Nov. 3 general election that decided the winners of national, state and local races.

According to preliminary numbers posted at the supervisor of elections website, the turnout didn’t quite reach the record set in 1992 of 85.17%. Bill Clinton defeated George H.W. Bush that year with 429,674 ballots cast out of 504,465 registered eligible voters that year.

Voter turnout for Nov. 3, 2020, was 79.19% with 563,384 ballots cast, including a record-setting 347,311 mail ballots or 61.76%. Another 112,200 or 19.92% voted early and 103,252 or 18.33% went to the polls on Election Day.

The previous second place record was set in 2004 with 77.47% turnout. George W. Bush defeated John Kerry for a second term as president. In that election 457,848 ballots were cast with 617,958 eligible to vote.

During the last presidential election in 2016, when Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton, voter turnout in Pinellas was 77.39% with 502,113 ballots cast, including 254,823 mail ballots — the previous mail ballot record.

The battle for votes in the presidential race was extremely close in Pinellas on Tuesday night with 49.46% checking the box for Joe Biden and 49.22% favoring Donald Trump. Early statewide results showed Trump on top with 50.85% of the vote to 48.26% for Biden.

Local races

For the most part, Pinellas County voters favored the incumbents in nearly all local races for constitutional officers and county commission, according to preliminary results with more than 95% of precincts reporting.

In the race for sheriff, the incumbent, Republican Bob Gualtieri took an early lead, taking 62.54% of the vote to his challenger, Democrat Eliseo Santana with 37.46%.

The incumbent property appraiser, Republican Mike Twitty, had 58.99% of votes cast to 41.01% for Democrat Trevor L. Mallory.

The incumbent tax collector, Republican Charles W. Thomas, had 59.55% of votes to challenger Democrat Joseph Saportas with 40.45%.

Republican Julie Marcus, who was appointed by the governor in June to fill the post of supervisor of elections, also took an early lead, garnering 57.52% of the vote to challenger Democrat Dan Helm with 42.48%

The races for county commission were close. Democrat incumbent Janet Long was ahead with 50.57% of the vote against challenger Republican Larry Ahern with 49.43% of votes for the at-large District 1 seat.

“Tonight’s victory reflects the confidence Pinellas voters have in their county commission, and it reaffirms we are headed in the right direction,” Long said in a press release.

Democrat incumbent Charlie Justice had 50.34% of the vote to 49.66% for challenger Republican Tammy Sue Vasquez for the District 3 at-large position. All registered voters were allowed to vote for the at-large seats.

Democrat Rene Flowers took an early lead, taking 67.37% of the vote to no party affiliate candidate Maria Scruggs with 32.63%. Flowers and Scruggs competed for the District 7, single-member seat, which was left vacant after long-time commissioner Ken Welch decided not to run for re-election. Only voters in District 7 were allowed to vote in that race.

School board

Two school board run-off elections were scheduled on Nov. 3 including the race for the District 1, at-large seat. Laura Hine had 55.61% of votes cast to 44.39% for Stephanie Meyer.

In the second run-off for single member District 7, Caprice Johnson Edmond garnered 56.66% of the vote to 43.34% for Karl Nurse. Only voters that reside in District 7 were allowed to participate.

Local referendum

Pinellas County voters said yes by 79.94% to continue the one-half mill ad valorem tax that goes to help pay for school operating expenses. Approval continues the tax until June 30, 2025.

Pinellas County voters have supported the renewal of the half-mill property tax every four years since it was first approved in 2004. An independent committee oversees the distribution of funds to ensure that money is spent as voters intended, according to information at https://www.pcsb.org/referendum.

The money helps recruit and retain teachers: Eighty percent of the Referendum revenue supplements teacher salaries. In 2020, each teacher received a salary supplement of $5,231 as part of their base salary.

The referendum supports students through new or expanded classroom libraries, additional supplies, increased training opportunities for teachers and updated computers and technology.

It funds intensive small-group literacy programs that help students read at grade level, instrument rental fees for students that can't afford them and paid admission for field trips to museums and art galleries.

It provides all schools with equitable funding for quality art supplies, equipment and technology that help students produce strong and award-winning works of art.

The referendum helps pay for music, theater and dance equipment, technology, sound systems, uniforms and materials that support Pinellas County Schools’ performing arts programs.

Municipal elections

A number of municipalities had charter amendments or referendum questions on the Nov. 3 ballot.

Belleair Beach voters said yes to five of five charter amendments. Belleair Bluffs voters said yes to three of five charter amendments.

More than 60% of Clearwater voters said no to a referendum question that would have allowed the city to lease The Landings Golf Course so it could be developed as a light industrial, research, technology and office park.

Incumbent Dunedin Mary Julie Ward Bujalski was ahead with 54.98% of the vote to 45.02% for challenger Heather Gracy. John Tornga garnered 53% of votes cast to 47% for Mike Quill for Seat 3 on the Dunedin Commission.

Eric Gerard took an early lead in his bid to replace incumbent Curtis Holmes on the Largo City Commission. Gerard has 54.21% of the vote for Seat 3 to Holmes with 45.79%. Largo voters said yes to one charter amendment and no to a second.

Madeira Beach voters said yes to four of six charter amendments.

In Seminole, voters were asked to pick two from a field of three for council member. Roger Edelman received the most votes, 37.43% to 35.64% for Tom Christy and 26.93% for James Joseph Quinn.

Tarpon Springs voters said yes to a referendum question.

Special districts

Voters than live in the East Lake Tarpon Special Fire District will have two races for seats on the commission.

MaryEllen Crowder received the most votes for Seat 3 with 48.61% to 32.74% for Tom May and 18.66% for John Cattel.

Incumbent James Dalrymple had 45.60% of the vote to 32.33% for Michael Peasley and 22.07% for Peter Nehr to keep Seat 5.

Voters that live in the Clearwater Cay Community Development District will see two races on their ballots. Steve Whitehurst received 56.88% of votes cast to 43.12% for Jeffrey Wilson for Seat 1 on the board of supervisors. Alan Glidden received 62.89% of the vote for Seat 2 to Ronald Schulte with 37.11%.

State races

In the race for state senator District 19, Democrat incumbent Darryl Rouson received 76.22% of the vote to NPA-candidate Christina Paylan with 23.78%.

Republican Traci Koster took in 55.73% of votes cast in the race for state representative District 64 to 44.27% for Democrat Jessica Harrington.

For state representative District 65, Republican incumbent Chris Sprowls garnered 61.15% of the vote to 38.85% for Democrat Kelly Johnson.

Republican incumbent Nick DiCeglie will keep his seat receiving 58.58% of the vote to 41.42% for Democrat Patricia Plantamura for state representative District 66.

Republican incumbent Chris Latvala received 56.79% of the vote to Democrat Dawn Douglas with 43.21% for state representative District 67.

Democrat incumbent Ben Diamond also will keep his job taking in 53.92% of votes to 46.08% for Republican Matt Tito for state representative District 68.

Republican Linda Chaney took the majority of the vote, 52.46%, for state representative District 69 compared to only 47.54% for the incumbent Democrat Jennifer Webb.

Voters said yes to retain Drew Atkinson, Morris Silberman, Daniel Sleet and Andrea Teves Smith on the Second District Court of Appeal.

Federal races

While the race for president is still too close to call, it was easier to pick winners in the congressional races.

Incumbent Republican Gus Bilirakis received 61.62% of the vote to 38.38% to Democrat Kimberly Walker 38.38% for the job of U. S. Representative for District 12

Incumbent Democrat Charlie Crist garnered 53.09% of votes cast to 46.80%R for Republican Anna Paulina Luna 46.80% for U.S. Representative for District 13.

Constitutional amendments

Voters in Pinellas said yes to amendment one which will mean that only United States citizens who are at least 18 years of age, a permanent resident of Florida, and registered to vote, as provided by law, would be qualified to vote in a Florida election.

Voters also said yes to amendment two that would increase the state’s minimum wage to $10 an hour effective Sept. 30, 2021 and continue to increase the wage by $1 every year on Sept. 30 until it reaches $15 an hour on Sept. 30, 2026. After that, future minimum wage increases would be adjusted annually (on Sept. 30) based on inflation.

According to information with the ballot question, approval of amendment two is estimated to have a net negative impact on the state’s budget and may result in higher taxes or loss of government services.

The majority also said yes to amendment three which would end closed primaries for state offices. All registered voters would vote in primaries for state legislature, governor and cabinet regardless of political affiliation. All candidates would appear on the same ballot and the two highest vote-getters would be to advance to the general election. If only two candidates qualify for an election, no primary would be held and they would both advance to the general election. Candidates’ party affiliation may appear on the ballot as required by law. However, the amendment required 60% approval to pass but only 55.78% voted yes in Pinellas and 57% statewide.

According to information with the question, the change could cost additional costs to local governments with little effect to the cost of elections to the state.

Voters said no to amendment four, which would have required future amendments or revisions to the state constitution to have to be done by voter approval in two elections, not one election as it is now.

Voters said yes to amendment five, which will increase the time during which accrued Save-Our-Homes benefits could be transferred from a prior homestead to a future homestead from two years to three years, effective Jan. 1, 2021.

Voters also said yes to amendment six, which means an additional homestead property tax discount given to certain veterans with permanent combat disabilities would carry over to their surviving spouse who holds legal or beneficial title to and permanently lives on the property until the spouse remarries or disposes of the property. The spouse could transfer the discount could transfer the discount only under certain conditions. If approved the discount would take effect Jan. 2, 2021.

Tampa Bay Newspapers will update the vote on the amendments after all the vote comes in statewide.

For more information on the Nov. 3 elections, visit votepinellas.com.

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

Revised to clarify that amendment 3 did not receive enough votes to pass.