A blog dealing with Sarasota County and the City of Sarasota.

Monday, October 11, 2010


Filling Staub's vacancy

First Published in the Sarasota Herald Tribune: Sunday, September 26, 2010 at 1:00 a.m.

The challenge of finding the best Sarasota County resident to complete Shannon Staub's term is a daunting one, complicated by the fact that no one will be able, on short notice, to fill Shannon's shoes. Let's concede that her 14-year knowledge of the county, region and state is unique.

Gov. Charlie Crist, who has his hands full with the governorship and the final month of his campaign, also faces a daunting task. He is receiving advice and even demands regarding both the qualifications and individuals who might best complete Staub's term. So here's our advice:

Don't appoint anyone who will run for the District 3 seat in 2012.

Why is that desirable? Because it minimizes the lingering effects of an admittedly political appointment and maximizes the power of Sarasota County voters.

Of course, our advice is contrary to popular wisdom and the emerging version of musical chairs that has many hopeful contenders looking for a place to squat in District 3 -- where Staub lives -- before the music stops. And those who already live in District 3 are hoping geography will improve their chances.

But once the governor winnows down to a list of competent contenders, the question shouldn't be about who lives where, but rather when do the voters get a crack at them and under what terms.

It is one thing to let a departing governor fill a seat for two years and obsess about two years.

But incumbency is very powerful in Sarasota County. We know because, since 1980, incumbent county commissioners who seek additional terms have been successful 87 percent of the time.

Instant incumbency

That means that, if the Crist appointee runs for the District 3 seat in 2012, he or she will very likely be elected, and subsequently re-elected, etc. That's why the feeding frenzy has begun -- because getting lucky with the governor now means a high probability of success in 2012 and for years beyond.

It means that, instead of dictating who will serve for two years, the governor will be creating what the Herald-Tribune has termed "instant incumbency" -- probably determining who will serve for six, 10 or possibly 14 years.

That scenario is a disservice to both the electorate of District 3 and the whole county.

If we can't have the commissioner we elected, and we can't have a special election, at least we should have the open seat Shannon would have created in 2012. That would keep the political playing field level, instead of stacking the deck by creating one lucky winner and a large group of instant losers, many of whom might be credible District 3 candidates if they could compete in 2012 on a level playing field.

To be honest, we have to question the motives of those who would relocate in order to be able to run in 2012. We believe candidates should have broad, and not temporary or short-term, experience with the area they reside in. Renting or buying a place in a district just to opportunistically advance a political career is not the kind of admirable preparation for public service we should reward. Rather than gaming the system, residents of other districts should run for their own district's seat.

A county perspective

Let's keep in mind that our County Commission districts are not single-member districts, but at-large districts. The District 3 commissioner is not elected only by District 3 voters, but rather by all county voters. So the governor should be looking for the best replacement from the perspective of the entire county, and his or her District 3 credentials, while relevant, should not diminish or overshadow the needs of the rest of the county.

Gov. Crist has an opportunity to minimize voter disenfranchisement with this appointment; he set a precedent by appointing Sen. George LeMieux, which ensured an open Senate seat in 2010. If County Commission contenders won't take themselves out of consideration for the 2012 District 3 seat, Gov. Crist should do it for them. Ideally, he would announce his decision before the election, to subdue the rancorous jockeying and maximize much-needed transition time for our next commissioner.

Migrating opportunists and instant incumbency are not the hallmarks of good government. Sarasota County deserves better.

Jono Miller ran for County Commission as a Democrat in 2008. Paul Mercier is a former two-term Republican county commissioner from District 1; he did not seek re-election to a third term. Neither has applied for the seat Staub is vacating but each has stated that, if he were to do so, he would not run for the District 3 seat in 2012.

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