2018 Elections: Research Local Candidates & Issues

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On Nov. 6, Floridians will be choosing a new U.S. senator, governor and other statewide officers. You can research those races several places, including the Tampa Bay Times Voters Guide and the Florida Channel’s On the Ballot series.

If you want to check out local candidates and ballot issues, you’ve come to the right place. Below you’ll find links to learn more about the more local races Lakeland residents will find on their ballots:

U.S. House | Florida SenateFlorida HousePolk County Commission | Polk School Board | Circuit Judge | Soil & Water | Ballot Issues

This is a living document that we’ll continue updating between now and the final voting Nov. 6. Please send any corrections, updates or suggestions to newstips@lkldnow.com.

First, some voter links:

ELECTION WIRE: Check the latest Facebook posts from local candidates.

News Links: All-Candidate Forums before the August primary

All-Candidate Forums After the Primary

  • NAACP, League of Women Voters, Hispanic Chamber forum: full video

U.S. House

Republican Ross Spano and Democrat Kristen Carlson won their respective primaries and face each other in the race to succeed U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross of Lakeland, who announced in April he is vacating the seat after eight years in Congress.

District 15 encompasses Lakeland and much of northwest Polk as well as a large portion of northeast Hillsborough County and some rural parts of Lake County. (See a map.)

ALSO: Lakeland-area neighborhoods south of County Road 540A and Shepherd Road are at the northern tip of the large U.S. House District 17, which extends to Fort Myers. (See a map.) The winner will succeed Republican Tom Rooney of Okeechobee, who decided not to seek re-election. Candidates are Republican Greg Stuebe and Democrat Allen L. Ellison. Ellison was chosen by the Florida Democratic Party to run for the seat on Oct. 2 after the sudden death the week before of April Freeman, who had won the nomination in the August primary.

Pre-primary Links:

General Election Links: 

District 15

Ross Spano, R: Website |  Campaign Facebook |  Personal Facebook | Twitter | Financial summary | Ballotpedia | Announcement Article

Kristen Carlson, D: Website |  Campaign Facebook |  Personal Facebook | Twitter | Financial summary | Ballotpedia | Announcement Article

District 17

Greg Steube, R: Website | Campaign Facebook | Personal Facebook | Twitter | Financial summary | Ballotpedia

Allen L. Ellison, D: Website | Facebook Page | Personal Facebook | Twitter | Financial summary | Ballotpedia | Announcement Article

Links:

Florida Senate

Most of Lakeland is in Florida Senate District 22. (See a map.) The seat has been held since 2012 by Republican Kelli Stargel, who earlier served four years in the Florida House of Representatives. In November, she faces retired Circuit Judge Bob Doyel.

Some parts of Lakeland north of I-4 are in District 20, a Hillsborough-dominated district (map) represented by Tom Lee, a Brandon Republican. He faces Democrat Kathy Lewis.

Campaign finance: We’ve been able to provide direct links to campaign finance reports for most of the candidates because the websites for the Federal Elections Commission and the Polk Supervisor of Elections makes the information available in a user-friendly format. Not so much the Florida Division of Elections. For Florida Senate, Florida House and circuit judge candidates, we’ve included a link title “Candidate Finance Link.” That takes you to a page where you can click on a “Campaign Finance Activity” link that takes you to campaign totals, donors and spending.

District 22

Kelli Stargel, R, incumbent: Website |  Campaign Facebook |  Personal Facebook | TwitterCampaign Finance LinkBallotpedia | Announcement Article

Bob Doyel, D: Website | Campaign Facebook  | Personal Facebook | TwitterInstagram | Campaign Finance LinkAnnouncement Article

Links:

District 20

Tom Lee, R, incumbent: Website | Campaign Facebook | Personal Facebook | Campaign Finance Link | Ballotpedia | Announcement Article

Kathy Lewis, D: Website | Campaign Facebook | Personal Facebook | Twitter | Campaign Finance Link

Links: 

Florida House

Most of Lakeland is part of Florida House of Representatives District 40 (map). Parts of north and east Lakeland are in the largely rural District 39 (map), and suburban neighborhoods south of Ewell Road and CR 540A are in the multi-county District 56 (map).

Two races bring a sense of deja vu. District 40 candidates Colleen Burton, the incumbent, and Shandale Terrell faced each other in 2016. In District 39, incumbent Josie Tomkow faced challenger Ricky Shirah in a special election earlier this year.

In the District 56 race, two Republicans seek to replace Ben Albritton of Wauchula, who is running for a Florida Senate seat after reaching term limits in the House. There will be no primary because no non-Republican candidates filed to run.

District 39

Josie Tomkow, R: WebsiteCampaign Facebook | Personal Facebook | TwitterCampaign Finance LinkBallotpedia

Ricky Shirah, D: WebsiteCampaign Facebook | Personal Facebook| Twitter Campaign Finance LinkBallotpedia

Links:

District 40

Colleen Burton, R, incumbent: Website |  Campaign Facebook |  Personal Facebook | TwitterCampaign Finance LinkBallotpedia

Shandale Terrell, D: Website |  Campaign Facebook |  Personal Facebook | TwitterCampaign Finance LinkBallotpedia

Links:

The Ledger: Burton and Terrell Meet Again in House Race

District 56

Melony Bell, R: Website | Campaign Facebook | Personal Facebook | Twitter | Campaign Finance Link | Announcement Article

Jeff Mann, R: Website | Campaign Facebook | Personal Facebook | Twitter | Campaign Finance Link | Announcement Article

Links:

Polk County Commission

Two Polk County Commission seats are up for election this year. Rick Wilson won the District 2 seat in August. In District 4, Martha Santiago won the primary and faces Democrat Karen Cooper Welzel in November. While county commissioners represent a geographic district, they are elected in countywide balloting.

Links:

District 4

Martha Santiago, R: Website |  Campaign Facebook |  Personal Facebook | Donors + Spending |  Announcement Article

Karen Cooper Welzel, D: Website |  Campaign Facebook |  Personal Facebook | Donors + Spending 

Links:

Polk County School Board

Lisa Miller was elected to the District 7 seat in August, but the other two contested seats went to November runoffs since no candidates received more than 50 percent of the votes in August. School Board members represent a geographic district, but are elected in countywide, non-partisan voting.

Pre-Primary Links:

General Election Links:

District 3 (nonpartisan)

Sarah Fortney: Website |  Campaign Facebook |  Personal Facebook | Twitter | Donors + Spending | Announcement Article

Scott Jones: Website |  Campaign Facebook |  Personal Facebook | Donors + Spending | Announcement Article

Links:

District 5 (nonpartisan)

Kay Fields, incumbent: Website |  Campaign Facebook |  Personal Facebook | Twitter | Donors + Spending | Announcement Article

Jennifer Sabin: Website |  Campaign Facebook |  Personal Facebook | Twitter | InstagramDonors + Spending| Announcement Article

Links:

Circuit Judges

Dana Y. Moore was elected to as a judge in Florida’s 10th Judicial Circuit in August. The other August race went to a November runoff because no candidate received more than 50 percent of the vote. The 10th Circuit includes Polk, Highlands and Hardee counties.

Seat 10

Melissa Gravitt: Website |  Campaign Facebook |  Personal Facebook| Campaign Finance Link

Keith P. Merritt: Website |  Campaign Facebook |  Personal Facebook| Campaign Finance Link

Links:

Polk Soil and Water Conservation District

Four candidates are running for two seats on the non-partisan board that oversees the Polk Soil and Water Conservation District. The organization provides “education, awareness, and services for soil and water conservation, and proper utilization of natural resources,” according to its website.

Group 2 (non-partisan)

Joe Garrison: Website |  Campaign Facebook |  Personal Facebook | Donors + Spending

Greg Williams: Website |  Campaign Facebook |  Personal Facebook | Donors + Spending 

Group 3 (non-partisan)

Kyle Carlton: Website |  Campaign Facebook |  Personal Facebook | Donors + Spending

OnDrew Hartigan: Website |  Campaign Facebook |  Personal Facebook | Donors + Spending

Ballot Issues

Ballots statewide will include a dozen or so proposed amendments to the Florida Constitution. Polk voters will decide whether to extend the 1/2-cent sales tax that helps fund public school construction. They will also decide three proposed amendments to the Polk County Charter.

Links:

Florida Constitutional Amendments

Voters will face about a dozen proposed changes to the state constitution. (Litigation has the exact number in doubt as of this writing.) Some were placed on the ballot by the Legislature or through a citizen initiative process; those are required to stick to a single topic. The rest came out of a constitution revision commission that meets every 20 years and can combine several items into one amendment.

Some sources to research the amendments include the full textThe Miami Herald, Ballotpedia, bereadytovote.org, the League of Women Voters (web and slideshow) and a video prepared by Fox 13 News and the News Service of Florida.

Half-Cent Sales Tax for School Construction

Fifteen years ago, Polk County voters decided to add a half-penny to the sales tax to fund school construction and repairs. This year, voters are being asked to renew the sales tax.

The Polk School Board has put together a web site that explains how the funds have been used, and The Ledger has published a preview of the referendum.

The sales tax does not apply to staples such as food and medicine; on major purchases such as cars or houses, only the first $5,000 is taxed. Supporters say the tax would cost the average family making $55,000 a year about $61.25 per year.

We’re not aware of any organized opposition to the measure, but if you know of any, please let us know about it so we can add links.

Links:

Polk County Charter Amendments

Think of the county charter as the constitution that describes the form and functions of county government. The charter was adopted in 1977 and is reviewed by a commission every eight years. Here’s the current charter and members of the latest revision commission.

The three amendments on the ballot are summarized as follows on a website that includes documents detailing the work of the commission:

Polk County Efficiency Commission: At its final meeting in January 2014, the Efficiency Commission voted to recommend that the charter be changed to eliminate the commission. This amendment terminates the current charter requirement to appoint the Polk County Efficiency Commission every eight years and amends charter provisions related to appointment standards, qualifications, duties of members and other officers, commission reports and required responses.

Term Limits: Currently, commissioners are term-limited after two, four-year terms. This will amend the County Charter to allow an incumbent to appear on the ballot for re-election to the office of County Commissioner for 12 consecutive years. Service as a commissioner before November 20, 2018 shall be counted against the term limitation.

Charter Review Reform: Amends the County Charter to increase the time between appointments of the mandatory Polk County Charter Review Commission to 12 years. Adds explanatory language to the County Charter confirming the County Commission’s authority to propose charter amendments and to create a special advisory charter review board at any time.

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