August elections favored candidates for social change

by James Thompson

The big winners in the Democratic primaries and “final” races on Aug. 18 were candidates who highlighted strong reform platforms and understood the pulse of justice issues facing our community, state, and nation. 

Although many local races were technically “primaries,” all but two of them likely face impossible Republican challengers in Alachua County on November 3. The strongly contested local and regional November General Election races are Dr. Kayser Enneking (Dem) against property-rights corporatist Chuck Clemons (R) in Florida House District 21, and Adam Christensen (Dem) against the Trumpist, pro-wall, anti-choice right winger Kat Cammack (R) in Florida Congressional District 3.

The hottest county contest placed a third reform-oriented and outspoken Black woman on the County School Board. Diyonne McGraw (52.4%) narrowly beat Khanh-Lien Banko (47.6%) despite widespread reporting of McGraw’s questionable ethics in personal business dealings and Banko’s mile long PTA credentials and teachers’ union endorsements. Both candidates poured massive personal wealth into the campaign and raised a combined total of nearly a quarter of a million dollars – making this the most expensive race per vote cast in county history. McGraw won the money arms race, and her expansive campaign outside of Gainesville, her outspokenness on policy at public events, marches, and repeated School Board meetings, and assertive stances on school reopening and equity issues also carried the day. 

McGraw is expected to join returning incumbent Dr. Leanetta McNealy and sitting Board Member Tina Certain on a new majority. Expect impact fees to be finalized (all candidates and incumbents support them, to be fair), and a retooling of the power relationship between the superintendent and the Board. Banko was highly credentialed but presented herself through endorsements and supporters as a status quo candidate in a year where County residents and school teachers almost unanimously expressed a desire for change in Board policies during public Zoom, YouTube, and Facebook meetings that broke decades long records for county-wide attendance.

The County Commission races were raw as well. Anna Prizzia scored a huge victory against out of town developers and a Trojan Horse candidate. She won the District 1 Democratic Primary (At-large) with just under half the party vote against Kevin Thorpe, a corporate-sponsored third-time County candidate masquerading as a progressive pro-environmentalist. 

Thorpe won key conservative property-rights precincts, but public knowledge of his alliances and contributions with right wing interests, and his stances on McMansion wetlands development during the 2016 battle over Plum Creek, led many of his prior Black and White supporters towards Prizzia. The capable progressive Jason Standford initially worried electioneers with a potential split in the progressive vote against Thorpe, but voters put County interests – and defeating Thorpe – before this promising candidate. 

In the County Democratic Primary for District 3 one of the most credentialed candidates in recent memory, Mary Alford, unseated incumbent Mike Byerly with a platform looking to continue much of his policy legacy while advancing some issues that Byerly seemed to grow apart on or failed to communicate his work on to the public. Commissioner Byerly stated in the Gainesville Sun that the County Commission remains in good hands. His five-term experience will be crucial, along with retiring Commissioner “Hutch” Hutchinson, to continued excellence in County land use, mental health, and public services policy.

Former Alachua City Manager and Florida House District 20 Representative Clovis Watson, Jr. handily defeated long-time incumbent Sheriff Sadie Darnell. 

The Hon. Watson Jr.’s campaign did not make the explicit promises left-leaning progressives would have liked, but relative to a police executive campaign his stances on jail operations and cash bail signal potential change. 

Sheriff Darnell threaded the partisan needle endorsing state office right wingers one year, and local progressives the next (Rick Scott and Andrew Gillum respectively). This, and a perfectly dialed campaign execution, earned Watson the spot. Let’s remember that Sheriff-Elect Watson cannot hire all new deputies. We should, shall, and will maintain our vigilance over police and deputies.

County Property Appraiser was secured by Ayesha Solomon, the first Black woman in such a position. Each candidate made disappointingly conservative promises to serve property owners and held compelling qualifications, but Ms. Solomon convinced more of us she would be responsible to the County’s public interests. The second place Matt Geiger amassed great personal wealth for this race. He took money from right wing politicos and real estate interests. Those were big red flags in a Democratic Primary.

In a win-win for progressives in Florida House District 20, Yvonne Hinson (Dem) overcame Rodney Long (Dem) in a “universal primary” where everyone could vote because there were no non-Democratic opponents. Both ran pro-environment, pro-worker, pro-racial justice, and pro-public education campaigns. We hope Reprsentative-Elect Hinson will maintain the same 100 percent progressive rating from the Democratic Progressive Caucus that Hon. Clovis Watson did during his service there. 

Tax Collector John Power (D), Supervisor of Elections Kim Barton (D), Clerk of the Court J.K. “Jess” Irby (D), County Commissioner Charles S. “Chuck” Chestnut, IV (D) and County Judge Kristine Van Dorst (Non-Partisan Race) were re-elected unopposed. Alford, Prizzia, Watson, and Solomon face weak Republican and NPA (non-party) candidates in the November General Elections for County Commission, Sheriff, and Property Appraiser. We expect they will urge their voters to Get Out the Vote for Kayser Enneking and Adam Christensen as they sail into office.

James Thompson is a local community activist who has campaigned for School Board, County Commission, Statehouse, Presidential, and Gainesville City Commission candidates.

Comments are closed.