Vote for the tall one. Vote for the woman. Vote for the short one. Vote for the one with glasses.

typingmonkeylarge13.jpgBefore I get started let me say that I understand the electorate of southwest Florida as well as anybody. Better maybe.

I get that that group of people – sadly a much too small group – is not the same as We the People of southwest Florida. I get that to win an election you have to know who’s going to vote and target them specifically. The ability to do so – or act like you can – has put real money and political clout in some local pockets.

So vote for the tall one. Vote for the woman. Vote for the short one. Vote for the one with glasses.

Judging by the non-debate I was chump enough to watch on my laptop the other day it doesn’t matter.

You see these candidates – or their ‘people’ – understand the electorate. They know that in a special Republican primary election, held in an off month in an off year, perhaps 50,000 people will actually cast ballots. Maybe. Maybe fewer.

They know that there are four candidates on the ballot, and that all four will get at least a few votes.

So. The person who will be our next representative in Congress could get fewer than 15,000 votes.

Don’t laugh. The next guy’s predecessor Trey Radel won the Republican primary in 2012 with 22,284 votes. A panicked party hierarchy, sensing disaster, did everything it could to keep Radel away from Washington, but a 6-way split in a closed primary spat out the candidate who promised most loudly that he hated the current president more than the rest, that showed himself to be the most intransigent, the most vitriolic. That swore that he would personally slay the Obamacare dragon. In short that he was more the conservative caricature than the rest.

That was in a regularly-scheduled Republican primary. An election with other local seats hanging in the balance. In short an election in which voters could reasonably be expected to participate.

Not so this one. This one is a stand-alone scheduled for April 22.

And let us make no mistake about it. This is southwest Florida. Whoever wins the Republican primary will be our next representative. The last time a non-Republican was elected to a county-wide office in Lee County was 1988. Collier is even more Republican and even more conservative. I have nothing against Democrats, Libertarians, Independents, candidates without party, write-ins or anyone else who wants to make the effort, but here they don’t win.

When Radel inevitably spun in national pundits speaking gleefully about one more Florida political joke loved repeating the fact that Radel won with 62 percent of the vote, implying the people of the district were obvious idiots. Rubes.

In so doing they exposed their complete lack of knowledge of southwest Florida’s political landscape. Radel faced a Democrat and an Independent in November, that’s true, and the Democrat was by far the most qualified candidate.

But he was a Democrat. He was doomed.

So when the tall guy, the woman, the short one and the guy with the glasses take turns saying how much they hate Barack Obama and how quickly they will gut the Affordable Care Act, when they preach to the choir against the evils of entitlements and government overreach while railing against medical marijuana and supporting continuing federal flood insurance subsidies (huh?) it comes as no surprise.

They know what plays. They know what those people who are involved enough, excited enough, motivated enough to go to the polls in a closed Republican primary in a weird month in an off year – the electorate, remember? – want to hear. They know that with the vote split four ways they only need to convince 15,000 or so.

It worked for Trey Radel.

Note: Yes, I do know the names of all four of the candidates. I know a heck of a lot more than that about some of them. Most of it I don’t like.

Stewart Out, Stilwell in as Beach Town Manager

The town of Fort Myers Beach fired Town Manager Terry Stewart on Jan. 15, sending him packing with a benefit package worth just under $120,000.

Moving into the office at town hall will be Don Stilwell, the man who for 16 years headed Lee County government.

Stewart offered his resignation to Mayor Alan Mandel after a contentious Jan. 10 meeting that saw Stewart yell at a Beach resident who has made allegations over the town granting permits for elevated pools and angrily refuse when Councilman Dan Andre later wanted him to apologize.

Stewart said he’d become a lightning rod before he left his last job in Cape Coral, and Cape staffers had been negatively affected. With a council election looming and the elevated pools issue hot he said he didn’t want the same thing happening again.

With Councilman Bob Raymond out of town Mandel called an emergency meeting Jan. 15, where he asked for a motion to terminate Stewart’s contract cause without according to Section 6.02 of the town charter. The council quickly voted 4-0 to approve, leaving most of the 50 or-so in attendance scratching their heads.

Section 6.02 of the charter outlines procedure for termination without cause, granting the departing manager six months severance. Had Stewart resigned or had the council terminated with cause he would have walked away without severance.

The walk-away package started with six months salary or $60,000. State law caps severance at 20 weeks, but the agreement gave Stewart the equivalent of six weeks more. Stewart’s owed more than $52,000 for vacation and unused sick time, and the town will write a $6,300 check to the state for Stewart’s pension.

Attorney David Potter said the extra six weeks pay was for a broader claims release Stewart agreed to.

Raymond was back for the Jan. 21 council meeting, and he was not happy. He said he didn’t want to lose Stewart, but he would have never voted to give Stewart a severance package and Stewart knew it. He said the emergency meeting happened too quickly.

“By doing it real quick you got rid of the one negative vote,” Raymond said. “You all knew I would vote against it.”

Raymond was upset Stewart will receive severance, and pointed out the check Beach taxpayers will write is well above the six months salary that was cited.

“That’s taxpayer money thrown to the wind,” he said. “You don’t run away from your problems and basically Terry ran away from his responsibility.”

Mandel insisted the meeting was not rushed to take place while Raymond was away. Councilman Joe Kosinski said he hopes Raymond wasn’t implying the other council members ‘railroaded’ it through.

But Raymond said if Stewart wanted to leave he should have walked away without severance.

“You don’t pay someone to leave and give them money just because they want it,” he said. “It’s not our money to throw away, and we just threw it out the window.”

Raymond voted against the separation agreement, losing 4-1.

Stilwell was on a list of four candidates for the interim job, which council members said they expect to last six months or less. A candidate for Lee County commission in District 4, Stilwell told council members he’d withdraw.

The other candidates were former Sanibel and Bonita Springs manager Gary Price, former Beach manager Jack Green and current Beach fiscal manager Evelyn Wicks.

The deciding vote was 3 for Stilwell and 2 for Price. The council took a second vote, up or down on Stilwell, to make it unanimous.

Stilwell does come with baggage. He was fired in 2010 after 16 years at the county when an FBI probe turned up lurid images on his county-owned computer. Council members said Stilwell got high praise from county officials, however, and Mandel read from a glowing endorsement Stilwell got from the Fort Myers NewsPress when he ran unsuccessfully for county commission in 2012.

Council said Stilwell was the right man to keep projects like Estero Boulevard improvements and a major potable water project on track.

Stilwell started work Monday Jan. 27. He’ll get the same $10,000 a month Stewart was getting. He said it’s a month-by-month open-ended contract.

“I think it’s wise, because it doesn’t bind another council,” Stilwell said.

Two council members, Raymond and Jo List, are termed out in March.

“I worked with the Beach for 16 years as county manager,” said Stilwell, who lives in Fort Myers. “It’s a special place. It’s where I take people when they come to town.”

Stilwell said he believes he’ll be a good fit, and he would be interested in keeping the job full-time.

“Absolutely,” he said.

Radel’s Party Wants Him Gone

TypingMonkeyLarge[1]The Lee County, Collier County and Florida Republican Party are all asking Trey Radel to resign.

The man national news outlets are calling Florida’s Cocaine Congressman bought an 8-ball (3.5 grams) of cocaine from an undercover cop outside a Washington, D.C. restaurant on October 29. He entered a plea agreement to a misdemeanor possession charge Nov. 20.

Radel has entered rehab in Naples, and has said he intends to keep his seat. His party in the two counties his District 19 represents and at the state level want him gone.

In a statement Terry Miller, chairman of the GOP executive committee in Radel’s home Lee County, said his prayers and best wishes are with Radel and his family.

Miller said the decision rests with Radel, but urged him to resign immediately and said if he does choose to stay in office and seek another term the party will not back him.

“His actions clearly disqualify the pursuit of another term and if he should run for re-election he would not enjoy our support.”

Radel has not answered questions about the frequency of his cocaine use, though official reports say he had bought the drug “several times” from a dealer turned informant. Local prosecutors said he was “routinely using and buying cocaine.”

Radel also told authorities he sometimes shared cocaine with friends, and could have been charged with distribution.

Calls for Radel’s resignation have come from all corners. So far he appears to be digging in, having hired a crisis management public relations firm. He even attended a pricey fundraiser is Naples two days after he was charged.

Radel Charged – What a Shock

The southwest Florida Republican hierarchy did not want Trey Radel to be a congressman, fearing the former right-wing radio talk-jock would be an embarrassment in Washington D.C.

I guess they were right.

The southwest Florida campaign trail was a strange place in 2012. I ran for a Lee County commission seat and lost. Radel ran for the District 19 Congressional seat and won. District 19 is most of Lee County and coastal Collier County, so Radel and I were at many of the same events. It was strange time for me because I walked the trail as a candidate, not as a reporter as I had so many times before.

But that wasn’t the only reason.

Radel was one of six Republicans looking to replace Connie Mack, who was moving on to run against Sen. Bill Nelson. Dark horse Joe Davidow was on the ballot, and Naples banker Byron Donalds had his supporters, but the party faithful schooled mostly around former State Representatives Gary Aubuchon and Paige Kreegel and Chauncey Goss, the son of former Congressman and CIA chief Porter Goss.

The wild card was Radel, and he scared the establishment Republicans to death. He had some name recognition, based first on his stint as a reader of TV news and then on his time on local talk radio.

Radel polled consistently at around 30 percent before the election.
Party leaders were afraid that the presence of three mainstream candidates on the primary ballot would split what was expected to be a paltry turnout, leaving Radel to ride the Tea Party vote into the General Election.

Each of the three mainstream candidates, any of whom was far more palatable to the party leadership than Radel, got a visit. Each of them, Aubuchon, Goss and Kreegel, was asked to step aside.

None would blink.

I haven’t gone back to the people who told me the three were approached. I heard the story a lot, and from solid sources. When you’ve spent most of three decades as a reporter people tell you things. I am a registered Republican myself, though I ran without party.

The way they explained it was the Radel voters would be Radel voters regardless. Their belief was Radel couldn’t beat any of the other three face to face, and if any of the three dropped out his supporters would go to one of the other two. The fear was Radel’s Tea Party faithful could carry him through a fractured Primary.

The Primary played out precisely as the party leaders had feared. Only 30-some percent of the district’s GOP voters went to the polls. Radel’s passionate 30 percent came through, as he got 32 percent of the vote. The other 68 percent of District 19 Republicans chose someone else.

If any one of the other major candidates had backed down southwest Florida might have been spared Trey Radel.

What happened next was sad, but predictable. Radel stood against Democrat Jim Roach, a Vietnam vet and retired GM researcher. Roach is intelligent and well-spoken, but not Republican. No non-Republican has won a partisan southwest Florida election since the 1980’s.

The party hierarchy held its collective nose, ignored the pornographic domain names Radel’s company had registered and the phony sites he’d set up to lampoon his opponents and circled the wagons around ‘their’ candidate. Reliably Republican Lee County and even more reliably Republican Collier simply searched out the ‘R’ on the ballot and made their mark. They sent Radel to Washington.


Flyovers Perfect for Sports – Bad for News

First of all a confession.

I was reading something in USA Today this morning.

No – I didn’t buy the Gannett flyover news. I bought the local rag. A couple months back the local daily added a USA Today section to the paper and doubled the size of its sports section by inserting national coverage from you-know-who. It’s part of the continuing dumbing-down of American newspapers.

But my opinions on USA Today and the current state of local coverage and the news business in general are no secret. I offered them in a commentary (OK diatribe) on “McNews” when the local rag boosted the sheer bulk of its ‘content’ by adding more flyovers – these from USA Today.

But to mangle Shakespeare I am here not to bury the local rag but to praise it.

As bad as flyovers are for coverage of ‘real’ news, they are perfect for sports. In the artificial worlds of the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball (and I assume in other sports I don’t pay much attention to) simply printing box scores and tossing in a few comments about highlights is, in fact, perfect. Context, history, balance, detail, nuance…none of these matter much in sports coverage.

More confession:

I don’t watch the NBA. I grew up in Kentucky, and basketballs bounce in my brain. I played in high school and in college. I played league and pick-up ball until it became obvious even to me it was time to hang it up. I will spare you all my curmudgeonly reasons for not watching the NBA.

But the other day I was going through the box scores in the USA Today sports section of the local rag. Yes, I’m still a hoops geek. Can’t help myself.

Anyway I was looking at the box for the Toronto Raptors. I noticed right away that there were lots of shots taken by guards and damn few by forwards and centers. And the ‘bigs’ (the taller guys that play closer to the basket, for the uninitiated) made a much higher percentage of their shots.

This is typical for the generation – actually two generations in basketball terms – that learned to play by watching SportsCenter.

But I stray from my point. My point is that flyover coverage is perfect for sports.

So I checked a few Raptor box scores, purely as an academic exercise. I do recognize a name or two on that roster, but not most. What I noticed was a trend: guards shooting 4 for 15 on a regular basis and big men shooting 6 for 8.

This again is not uncommon. A player with the ball in his hands is far more likely to shoot it than one without. The guards bring the ball up and therefore have the ball in their hands far more often than the bigs.

And when the 3 was added the percentages of the game changed. A bad percentage shooter can convince himself he’s a contributor just by making one occasionally.

Again I wander from my point.

I once again was perusing the USA Today sports section in the local rag this morning, and came across a list of weekly NBA power ratings voted on by Gannett’s own panel of NBA geeks.

The Raptors weighed in at 17th among the league’s 30 teams. The comment was “The key bigs shoot better than 50 percent. The key guards shoot under 42 percent. Guess who’s shooting more?”

So reading the flyover coverage had told me all I needed to know about the Toronto Raptors. Flyover coverage is perfect for sports.

But I do not vote for who runs the Toronto Raptors. If their players or coaches perform poorly, or don’t understand their jobs, or are oblivious to empirical evidence that challenges their own prejudices and preconceived notions, even if they benefit themselves personally and their associates by doing things that are against the best interests of their organization – if for example the guards never figure out they should be striving for better shots, not more shots – it doesn’t impact my life in the slightest.

That is not true of ‘real’ news.

And that, at long last, is my point.

Politics and Money in Fort Myers Races

Soft money. Attack ads. Chicago-style Obama politics versus big GOP spending.

The city elections in Fort Myers have it all.

It seems local activist Anthony Thomas upped the ante in the city when he worked with Ward 3 candidate Christine Matthews to turn out the absentee vote in September. Their door-to-door efforts turned out 429 absentee ballots. With elections restricted to voters in the ward and only 169 voting in person that was more than enough to sweep incumbent Levon Simms out of office.

That got the attention of conservative political groups across Florida and of supporters of Mayor Randy Henderson, who faces challenger Raimond Aulen on Nov. 5.

“What really brought the race to our attention was reading about what happened in the primary,” said Randy Nielson, owner of the public relations firm Public Concepts, which runs various Electioneering Communications Organizations, soft money groups still legal under election law that drop big bucks into Florida races from the Governor’s Mansion on down.

The groups are prohibited from supporting individual candidates, but are not shy about attacking them. Henderson said he knows nothing about FCV. The groups can in fact operate completely separate from any candidate and without a candidate’s knowledge.

Nielson’s group Floridians for Conservative Values has used money it’s raised from other political groups and so-called ECO’s to play its own part in the mayoral race. The group sent fliers to Fort Myers voters warning of “Obama Operatives” looking to take over city hall.

The flier features fotos of the President and of Thomas. Nielson said it’s designed specifically in response to the blizzard of mail ballots in September and to get conservatives out to vote.

“Those extra absentee ballots were not conservative voters,” Nielson said.

Democratic voters outnumber Republicans in the city 14,004 to 10,550, with the rest of the 32,937 voters registered in other parties, as independents or without party. Races are non-partisan, but the lines are clear.

Required reports show Floridians for Conservative Values 2013 funding has come entirely from Florida Crystals, which gave $100,000 in August.

The group has banked over $1.1 million in total, however, much of it from other soft money groups. It was created in 2010 a few months after a like-named ECO was closed down after it had spent $1.6 million.

The donors list, like most ECO’s, reads like a soft money roll call.

The registered agent for Floridians for Conservative Values is Tallahassee attorney John French, who’s had his fingerprints on efforts in Lee County before. He’s also registered agent for let’s Get to Work, Gov. Rick Scott’s ECO.

There are other party connections. The accountant in Nielson’s office, Gary Splain, was the campaign treasurer for District 30 State Senator Lizbeth Benacquisto. Benacquisto is the Senate Majority Leader and is married to Bruce Strayhorn, a Fort Myers attorney and behind-the-scenes political force recently reappointed by Henderson to the Fort Myers Housing Authority.

Efforts to reach Benacquisto were unsuccessful.

While the $36 million the governor’s group has raised dwarfs what Floridians for Conservative Values (FCV) has, they share a lot of donors, as the groups shuffle the money back and forth.

FCV is located in West Palm Beach. It has received money from at least 13 other ECO’s, PAC’s and other political committees.

And it still has money on-hand, so Fort Myers voters are sure to hear from them again.

Groups with names like Citizens for Common Sense and Florida Freedom Council have sent money to FCV.

Looking behind the scenes shows large sums of money coming from all the expected sources: Disney. U.S. Sugar. Phosphate. The Florida Chamber. Internet gaming. Private prisons. Citrus.

The Alliance for a Strong Economy sent money to FCV, and the Republican Party of Florida sent over $1 million to The Alliance for a Strong Economy. The party seemingly took a more direct interest this week when ads attacking Aulen made their way into Fort Myers mailboxes.

Those ads cite health code violations at Aulen’s Indigo Room, accusing him of putting profits first and being out for himself. Local FOX TV reporter Warren Wright did a comparison, finding other nearby restaurants with more violations.

The ads came from a group calling itself Accountability in Government, Inc., another ECO. It got not quite $100,000 since September directly from the Republican Party of Florida and more from U.S. Sugar.

Others on that donor list form a litany of soft money groups including Florida First, the ECO that used sugar money in 2012 to help wash former Lee County Commissioner Ray Judah out of office after 24 years.

ECO’s are hardly new to local politics. Groups made runs at Judah for three straight elections before Florida First used an estimated $750,000 – more than $300,000 of it from U.S. Sugar – in a campaign to show him the door in 2012.

Over the years those groups spent over $1 million looking to dislodge Judah. Eventually it worked.

Another soft money group attacked Andy Coy when the former commissioner challenged Tammy Hall in 2006. Commissioner Frank Mann has been targeted. Former State Rep. Nick Thompson was too. The soft money crowd has made runs at other local elected officials as well.

Thomas’ own tactics were questioned by the Fort Myers City Council, which passed a resolution asking for an investigation after the unprecedented number of absentees carried the September primary. County elections supervisor Sharon Harrington said that it is not illegal to encourage voters to agree with you, to provide a cell phone to request an absentee ballot, or even to revisit and see to it the ballots get returned.

Harrington said that to the extent Thomas’ tactics increased voter participation and was a local grassroots effort it is a good thing. She said she believes the investigation by Florida Department of Law Enforcement centers more on potential voter coercion.

Thomas, who is black, said the only voter coercion or intimidation is being caused by the investigation itself.

“What we got is the FDLE going to these black peoples houses and asking them who they voted for and why,” he said. “There’s nothing for them to find.”

The absentee scenario could be playing out again in Ward 1. Incumbent Teresa Watkins Brown is standing for re-election against Bill Pierce, a bail bondsman and a Fort Myers native. Pierce’s wife Dana lost to Watkins Brown in 2009.

There have been over 550 absentee ballots requested in the Ward 1. The ward has over 3,700 voters, and the police referendum and mayoral race is expected to drive turnout higher, so the absentees may not swing as much weight.

The current lay of the political landscape in Fort Myers is this:

Henderson is mayor now, a post he’s held since 2009. He’s being challenger by Aulen, who owns the Indigo Room bar and restaurant downtown.

There’s also the referendum to abolish the Fort Myers Police Department, an effort Aulen, Pierce and Thomas have pushed.

Thomas has his own Political Action Committee, Citizens for a Better Fort Myers Government. It’s Fort Myers-based and virtually all of its money has come from within Lee County.

Nielson said Fort Myers residents should be worried about people like Thomas going door-to-door to influence voters.

“The word’s gotten out,” he said. “Those are the same kinds of tactics Obama for America uses.”

Nielson also questioned where the money is coming from for Aulen’s campaign ads. Aulen’s reports show about $20,000, virtually all of it out of his own pockets. His most recent report lists $13,500 in in-king donations, lacking the details the report requires.

“Everyone who lives in that community should be very concerned and very suspicious,” Nielson said. “Right now it looks like Fort Myers is Shenanigans Central.”

Thomas sees it differently. He points to similarities between Benacquisto’s financial reports and those of the soft money groups.

Nielson said he hasn’t spoken to Benacquisto about the Fort Myers races, though he does know she supports conservative values. He said the lack of detail in Aulen’s report is telling.

“Usually where there’s smoke there’s fire,” he said.

There is no fire, according to Aulen campaign consultant Phil Nichols of Whitestar Strategies. Nichols also consulted with Lee County Commissioner Larry Kiker when he was elected to Judah’s old seat in 2012.

“We are taking in money but Raimond is basically self-financed,” Nichols said. “We’re not relying on U.S. Sugar and the Republican Party of Florida.”

Politics does create strange bedfellows. Nichols’ efforts for Kiker were boosted by those very groups now pushing for Henderson.

Which is not to say Aulen’s campaign won’t be running its own ads and sending its own fliers. Nichols said those will be showing up this week, paid for almost exclusively by Aulen himself and listed in his next campaign report.

Floridians for Conservative Values is fronted by Tallahassee attorney John French, who’s had his fingerprints on efforts in Lee County before. He’s the registered agent, a role he also fills for let’s Get to Work, Gov. Rick Scott’s ECO.

The $36 million the governor’s group has raised dwarfs the $1.1 million Floridians for Conservative Values (FCV) has raised, but they share a lot of donors, as the groups shuffle the money back and forth.

FCV is located in West Palm Beach and is chaired by Mark Langley. It has received money from at least 13 other ECO’s, PAC’s and other political committees.

The only donation reported so far in 2013 is $100,000 from Florida Crystals.

And it still has money on-hand, so watch out for more.

Groups with names like Citizens for Common Sense and Florida Freedom Council have sent money to FCV.

Looking behind the scenes shows large sums of money coming from all the expected sources: Disney. U.S. Sugar. Phosphate. The Florida Chamber. Internet gaming. Private prisons. Citrus.

The Alliance for a Strong Economy sent money to FCV, and the Republican Party of Florida sent over $1 million to The Alliance for a Strong Economy.

As if this alphabet soup of behind-the-scenes political manipulation wasn’t confusing enough Floridians for Conservative Values gave $10,000 to the Committee for Progressive Values on November 1, 2012.

If this looks like an effort for the two disparate political groups to bridge the gap look again.

Maybe this will make it easier to understand. Maybe not.

Six days after the Committee for Progressive Values got $10,000 from Floridians for Conservative Values it wrote a $10,000 check to something called Conservatives United. A week later it wrote another one.

This exchange of money between purported ‘conservatives’ and their supposed political opposition the ‘progressives’ is a little easier to understand.

The conservative group is chaired by Carmela Falcone of Melbourne. The treasurer is Michael Millner.

The progressive group is chaired by Carmela Falcone of Melbourne. The treasurer is Michael Millner.

It gets better, or at least more local. In June of this year the Cape Coral ECO Families for Freedom and Fairness gave $1,500 to Thomas’ Better Government PAC. Families for Freedom and Fairness is chaired by Terry Miller, who is chairman of the Republican Party in Lee County.

Miller said that donation was rooted in the two groups’ agreement on the single-member districts issue.

“It certainly had nothing to do with the Mayor’s race,” he said.

Thomas’ PAC has not raised or spent money in several months.

Miller said he doesn’t believe the state party has any interest in the city races, but the local party does.

“We do support the mayor because even though it’s non-partisan he’s a registered Republican and his opponent is not,” Miller said.

When he got state party approval to take part in the mayor’s race, Miller said, the state party would have told him if it was interested, too. It didn’t.

So in a political pseudo-world where conservatives aren’t conservative, progressives aren’t progressive and no one tells the complete story what’s a voter to do?

The best advice is to do what every responsible news outlet, candidate or party will tell you:

If you are a voter in Fort Myers – or if you are any voter anywhere who ever receives any mailer or any phone call or sees any TV commercial from any group you cannot identify – ignore it.

Talk to your neighbors. Talk to the candidates themselves – Fort Myers is not that big and the candidates not that hard to reach. Educate yourself. Read local news reports on the candidates. Figure out where they stand on issues that matter to you and vote your own mind.

If a flier from someone you don’t know lands in your mailbox do not read it. If a commercial from an ECO comes on mute the TV. Ignore it.

Because ECO’s all have one thing in common. They want you to do what’s best for them, their donors and their clients – not for you.

Hall’s Replacement a Done Deal?

The list of potential replacements for former Lee County Commissioner Tammy Hall is at 33.

Or it’s down to two.

Or even one.

Two men were interviewed in Tallahassee several days ago by people from Gov. Rick Scott’s office. They are Ron Inge and Brian Hamman.

Hamman had announced his candidacy for the seat before Hall resigned Sept. 24 – precisely one month ago.

Her plea agreement was made public that day – an agreement in which she admits stealing $34,000 from her campaign account in 2010. Her agreement calls for her ongoing cooperation with federal investigators.

Hamman, 33, is the local marketing director for CenturyLink. He’s a Lee County native who lives in Cape Coral with his wife and daughter.

Inge had been rumored as a candidate, but has said he would not run in 2014 if appointed. He is a real estate consultant and former executive for Harper Brothers and Florida Rock. He’s been chairman of the Horizon Council, the county’s public-private economic development group, and of the Local Planning Agency. He’s a Stetson University graduate.

Hamman is a former TV news and sports anchor, including at the Fort Myers FOX affiliate. He graduated from Cape Coral High School, Edison College and Florida Gulf Coast University.

Speculation has centered on whether the governor would select a ‘place-holder’ who would merely complete Hall’s term and step away or if he would choose someone who was a 2014 candidate, adding his own stamp and a huge incumbency advantage to that campaign.

Inge is the former and Hamman the latter.

Local sources say the governor has already made his choice and the announcement is awaiting final details. It’s likely local legislators and the other four county commissioners will get the word first.

They have not heard.

Coach Dan Haley

A lot of people know Dan Haley who never knew him.

I have been coaching kids in one sport or another for most of my adult life. Somewhere out there are hundreds of kids – many of whom aren’t kids any more – who have learned football, basketball, baseball or softball from me.

I like to think they’ve learned something about life as well. If they did it came from a deep well, drilled and tended in large part by Coach Haley.

I was very lucky as a young man. I was a jock, and had the good fortune to have been coached by some fine men. Coach Haley was the head football coach at Paducah Tilghman, my high school. He was as good a man as I ever knew.

Now history will tell you that Coach Haley won two Kentucky state championships during his time at Tilghman. It lists his 253-79-3 record and his inclusion in the Kentucky High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame in 2007.

And that was Coach Haley.

But there was so much more.

At Tilghman football players had a curfew of 9:25 p.m. It wasn’t 9:30. It wasn’t 9:26. It was 9:25. Somehow we knew that Coach Haley would know if you got inside at 9:26 instead of 9:25.

It taught me to be punctual. It taught me that if practice – or a meeting, or a date, or anything else – starts at 5 p.m. you arrive at 4:45. It is respectful of other people. Of the team. Of the coach. Of yourself.

Many of the stories so many kids have heard from me over the years are not mine – they’re Coach Haley’s. I’ll spare you the one about the nut-cutting.

The ‘Hark, I thought I heard a canon roar’ story is his. Hundreds of kids have heard it from me. It speaks of preparation, and of proper preparation. Here it is:

A boy got a small part in the school play. His single line was ‘Hark! thought I heard a canon roar’.

Everywhere the boy went he repeated the line. ‘Hark! I thought I heard a canon roar,” he would say to anyone who’d listen. ‘Hark! I thought I heard a canon roar.’ His friends, his teachers and his parents all got tired of hearing it.

But it was only one line. He skipped the dress rehearsal, because he knew his line.

Then came the night of the show. The boy was confident. He knew his line. He was ready.

His cue came and the boy strode confidently onto the stage. He gathered himself to deliver his line.

Suddenly, offstage there was a huge ‘BOOM!’

The boy said ‘What in the Hell was that?!’

That’s a Coach Haley story. Another one I made up, and I try to tell it to all young coaches before they begin their seasons.

‘Kids will call you ‘Coach’ and it will mean something. You will influence them. Twenty years from now some young stranger will walk up to you and he (or she) will call you ‘Coach’. You may or may not remember them, but they will remember you. They will tell you that what you taught them, what you said to them and showed them, changed their life. You do not know now which kid and you do not know when. You do not know what day, what statement, what lesson or moment they will remember. It is an honor to be called ‘Coach’. It is a privilege.’

Coach Dan Haley passed away this week. A great coach and a fine man gone at 73. His legacy lives on. In a 50-some year career Coach Haley touched thousands of lives. He made them better. A man can ask for no more.

So Coach, when you come before the Great Scorer stand proud. I and thousands like me are continuing your good work.

‘For when the One Great Scorer comes to write against your name, he marks not that you won or lost but how you played the game.’

Thanks Coach.

Hall’s Office Vacant Twenty Three Days

It’s now been 23 days since former Lee County Commissioner Tammy Hall resigned.

There are 32 people who have submitted their names to Republican Governor Rick Scott seeking appointment.

There’s been no word from the governor’s office.

Hall left office after pleading to wire fraud in federal court, having misused more than $33,000 from her 2010 campaign fund. The governor will appoint a replacement to complete the term, which ends in 2014.

The applicants run the gamut from the obvious – four are Republicans already registered to run for the District 4 seat in 2014 – to the unlikely – one is a Democratic candidate in the same race. Two are former Cape Coral council members. One’s the former mayor of Fort Myers. One is part of a multi-million dollar lawsuit against the county. Several have run for office with varying degrees of success.

Which of them might get the governor’s nod, or if as rumor suggests the ‘right’ candidate hasn’t yet applied, or even whether the governor prefers a ‘place-holder’ who will not run in 2014 or someone who wants to run to stay in office until 2018 the governor hasn’t said.

Chris Berardi – Former Cape Coral councilman and founder of Patriot PAC, which recruits local candidates, and a realtor
Alan Boyd – Former Cape Coral councilman and unsuccessful 2013 candidate for mayor.
John Brock – Research analyst for Fort Myers Regional Partnership.
Paul Chandler – Audit specialist for Lee County Property Appraiser.
Robert Chilmonik – Former member Lee County School Board.
William Counts – Owner of Builders Realty Services in Cape Coral.
Joe Coviello – Regional trainer and business consultant for Progressive Employer Services in Fort Myers.
Andy Coy – Commissioner for 10 years before Hall. Candidate for the seat in 2014.
Charles Dailey – Principal of Dunbar Community School in Fort Myers.
Wayne Daltry – Former director of Smart Growth for the county and director of Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council.
Charles Dauray – Director of College of Life in Estero. Former member South Florida Water Management District board. Former chair of Lee Republicans.
Richard Diamond – Retired newspaper publisher and columnist.
John Ebling – Veterans’ Affairs director for Lee County.
Arnold Gibbs – Former chief of police for Cape Coral.
Alana Goodwin – 20-year employee of Lee County Sheriff.
Brian Hamman – CenturyLink market representative.
James Humphrey – Former mayor of Fort Myers.
Ronald Inge – Consultant and member of Lee Horizon Council and Local Planning Agency.
James Ink – Engineer consultant and member of several county advisory boards.
Debbie Jackow – Ran against Hall in 2010. Works in clinical lab at Lee Memorial Hospital.
Debbie Jordan – Democratic candidate for the seat.
Philip Kinsey Jr. – Retired fire chief of Bonita Springs.
Keith McGovern – Lee County probation officer.
Matthew Miller – Unsuccessful candidate for District 5 commissioner in 2012.
Paige Rausch – Real estate consultant.
Carmen Salome – Former aide to Tammy Hall.
David Sanchez – Community affairs officer for Fort Myers Police Department.
John Sawyer – Unsuccessful candidate for District 2 commissioner in 2012.
Raliegh Scott – Former candidate for Lee County school board.
Donald Stilwell – Longtime county manager and unsuccessful commission candidate in 2012. Candidate for the seat in 2014.
Aaron Troyer – Operations manager for Troyer Brothers Ag and Mining.
Janet Watermeier – Consultant, former director of Economic Development for the county. Former member Florida Transportation Commission.

Vote for Charlie…Wait…What?!

GetAttachment[1]I got an interesting message this weekend. One of those anonymous tipsters that roam the social networks told me they’d seen one of my old campaign signs on Winkler Road. I drove the length of Winkler the first chance I got and didn’t see it.

When I ran for county commission in 2012 I ended up spending just under $5,000. If you think that’s not very much you’re right. Frankly I sucked at being a politician, in large part because I suck at fundraising.

Most of my campaign spending was for signs. I don’t remember exactly how many signs I spread around Lee County, but I think it was around 2,500.

Actually the campaign raised around $8,200. The single biggest expense was the $3,371.76 filing fee.

Anyway when some friends and I went around after the election to pick up signs we collected fewer than we put out. I assume some supporters put them away as collector’s items. Some others may have been repurposed as dart boards, bird cage liners or something else useful.

Some of my more Machiavellian friends told me opponents had been stealing my campaign signs. I have no way of knowing but choose not to believe that one.

So anyway it got me thinking. Not that long ago I got notice via email that someone ‘liked’ my campaign Facebook page.


Well it seems that even though I stopped using it and haven’t thought about it in the 10 months since the election it’s still out there floating around the internet.

So I checked. It turns out there are no regulations regarding old campaign yard signs. There are also no regulations about old campaign Facebook pages or web sites.

That’s good. I can’t afford a fine.