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Voters in Polk County today favored consensus builders over change agents for the School Board, ousting Billy Townsend and retaining Chairwoman Lori Cunningham. They also returned Neil Combee to the County Commission after an eight-year absence and re-elected Lori Edwards to a sixth term as Supervisor of Elections. In party primaries, Scott Franklin defeated Republican incumbent Ross Spano for U.S. House and will face Democrat Alan Cohn in the Nov. 3 general election.

School Board

William Allen defeated Billy Townsend with 52.3% of the vote in the race for the District 1 seat on the Polk County School Board.

The race offered several contrasts between candidates. First-term incumbent Townsend portrays himself as a fighter representing the voiceless against entrenched officialdom; Allen, a film studies professor at Florida Southern College, said he would work collaboratively within the system to solve problems and push for greater “school choice.”

Much of Townsend’s support came from teachers and people wanting to see greater investment in public schools. Allen was endorsed by business organizations and received support from the Citizens for Polk Education political action committee formed by investors in the Lakeland Economic Development Council.

“I want to congratulate William Allen on his victory,” Townsend said on Facebook tonight. “This seat carries a great responsibility. I was honored to carry it for four years; and I look forward to finding new ways to serve the people who most need our help. The people of the Polk County School District are the greatest human resources of this county; and I love them. Thanks for letting me fight for you.”

Lori Cunningham defeated Anita Carson with 57.3% of the vote in the race for the District 2 seat on the Polk County School Board.

Cunningham, 60, has been a School Board member for 16 years and is the current chair. A former director of the Haines City Chamber of Commerce, she has worked to bring more “equity” to schools in East Polk.

Carson, 33, has been an educator for 10 years and a Polk resident for eight. She is currently a 6th-grade science teacher at Lake Alfred Polytechnic School. Her supporters and Townsend’s generally align.

County Commission

Neil Combee defeated John Hall with 53.6% of the vote in the race for the District 2 seat on the Polk County Commission, which represents northwest Polk.

Combee, 61, returns to the commission after serving for 16 years previously and then being elected to the state House of Representatives. Hall, 65, spent most of his career as a county employee and director and has served on the commission for two terms.

Both are Republicans, but all Polk voters were able to participate regardless of party affiliation because there are no other candidates for the job. The Nov. 3 general election ballot includes a County Commission race between Republican incumbent Bill Braswell and Democrat Bob Doyel, a retired circuit judge

Supervisor of Elections

Lori Edwards easily won re-election to her sixth term as Polk Supervisor of Election, capturing 77.7% of the vote over Debbie Hannifan in the nonpartisan race.

Edwards, 63, was first elected to her current job in 2000 after serving in the Florida House of Representative as a Democrat representing central Polk County. This is the first run for public office for Hannifan, 49, a real estate agent who has been active in the local Republican Party.

U.S. House – Republicans

Scott Franklin defeated Ross Spano with 51.3% of the vote in the Republican primary for U.S. House, District 15. In the Nov 3 general election, he will face Alan Cohn, who received the most votes in today’s Democratic primary.

Many were surprised when Franklin, a Lakeland city commissioner and insurance company leader, challenged incumbent Spano, a fellow Republican, especially since both are strong supporters of President Trump who are aligned ideologically.

But Franklin said he felt Spano was vulnerable because of ongoing investigations of his 2018 campaign financing and wanted to make sure the district stayed in Republican hands.

“The voters have made clear that they want someone they can trust to get the job done in Washington,” Franklin said tonight in a prepared statement. “They want someone who will defend our freedoms and our family values. They want someone who will fight back against the socialist liberals like Nancy Pelosi and AOC. They want someone will stand shoulder to shoulder with President Trump.”

U.S. House – Democrats

Alan Cohn captured 41.1% of the vote in the Democratic primary for U.S. House, District 15, over Adam Hattersley with 33% and Jesse Phillipe with 25.8%. Since the candidate with the most votes wins, he will face Franklin in the Nov 3 general election.

Cohn, who ran unsuccessfully against Republican Dennis Ross for the District 15 seat in 2016, based his campaign on his experience investigating corruption as a TV journalist. Hattersley stressed his ability two years ago to “turn” a formerly Republican Florida House district from Republican to Democrat; Philippe said he would represent regular people, not large organizations.

The district includes northwest Polk County, a large swath of eastern Hillsborough County and a small portion of Lake County near Clermont.

Lakeland had been represented in Congress by a Polk County resident from the mid-1970s until two years ago, when Spano defeated Lakeland Democrat Kristen Carlson.


Turnout in today’s primary was 22.84%, with 103,261 votes cast out of 452,202 registered voters in Polk County.

The countywide race with the most participation was for supervisor of elections, in which 101,988 votes were cast.

The least participation in a countywide race was the County Commission matchup between Combee and Hall, with 95,363 votes placed.

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Barry Friedman founded in 2015 as the culmination of a career in print and digital journalism. Since 1982, he has used the tools of reporting, editing and content curation to help people in Lakeland understand their community better.

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