Franklin Wins U.S. House Race as Republicans Sweep Polk

Scott Franklin will be moving from an office at Lakeland City Hall to one in the U.S. Capitol after he handily defeated Democrat Alan Cohn for a seat in Congress in today’s general election. Republicans dominated in Polk, as voters returned Bill Braswell to the County Commission and Colleen Burton, Josie Tomkow and Melony Bell to the Florida House of Representatives.

Franklin, a Lakeland city commissioner for the last three years, won majorities in all three counties in District 15, receiving 55.5% of the vote over Cohn, a former TV reporter who lives in Tampa.

Turnout in Polk was reported at 73.2% by the Supervisor of Elections, with 341,971 people casting votes.

Poll workers at several Lakeland precincts reported a steady stream of voters, many of whom said it was their first time voting. At least 100 people were waiting in line when the polls opened at 7 a.m. today at Believer’s Fellowship on Socrum Loop Road.

U.S. HOUSE

The contest between Republican Scott Franklin of Lakeland and Alan Cohn of Tampa for the Florida District 15 seat in the U.S. House received national attention as the Democrats battled to flip a seat that has been reliably Republican for more than three decades.

Franklin defeated incumbent Ross Spano in the August primary, saying he was the best hope for keeping conservative representation in the district. He resigned from the Lakeland commission to run, and his resignation takes effect at the end of December.

With Franklin’s victory, Lakeland will again be represented in Congress by a Polk County resident, as it has since 1977 except for the last two years when Dover resident Spano served.

Cohn, 58, is a TV investigative journalist whose campaign emphasized his ability to dig into government waste. Franklin, 56, is a Naval Academy grad and insurance executive whose campaign emphasizes his conservative credentials.

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.)

FLORIDA HOUSE

DISTRICT 40 – most of Lakeland  (map): In seeking a fourth term, Republican Colleen Burton, a 62-year-old former director of several local non-profit organizations, defeated two challengers. Democrat Jan Barrow, 58, has spent more than 25 years in marketing and management positions with resort companies; Independent Emily Michie, a 31-year-old Lakeand native, is a lawyer and former public school teacher.

DISTRICT 39 – parts of north and east Lakeland (map): First-term Republican incumbent Josie Tomkow, a 24-year-old member of a Polk City cattle ranching family, beat back a challenge from Democrat Chris Cause, a 47-year-old teacher at the juvenile detention center in Bartow who moved to Davenport seven years ago.

DISTRICT 56 – Suburbs south of Ewell Road and CR 540A  (map): Republican incumbent Melony Bell, 58, won a second term in the Florida House today. She co-owns a bee business and was previously a Polk county commissioner and Fort Meade mayor. Her Democratic challenger was Bartow native and resident James Davis, 72, who has degrees in neurolinguistic programming  and religious philosophy and ran for a Florida House seat in 2006 and 2008.

FLORIDA SENATE

DISTRICT 20 – Northwest Lakeland  (map): Republican DannyBurgess, former executive director of the Florida Department of Veteran Affairs and a 16-year politician at age 34, defeated Democrat KathyLewis, a 58-year-old financial analyst and disabilities activist who lost to Lee two years ago. Both are residents of Pasco County.

The district includes parts of Pasco, Hillsborough and the areas of Polk County north of I-4 and west of State Road 33.

The district 20 race was a contest for an open seat. Incumbent Sen. Tom Lee of Brandon, a Republican, resigned midway through his four-year term. ents, were

Most Lakeland residents had no Florida Senate race on their ballot because the term of Sen. Kelli Stargel lasts until 2022.

POLK COUNTY COMMISSION

DISTRICT 3: First-term Republican incumbent Bill Braswell, a 63-year-old Auburndale blueberry farmer and former Delta Air Lines pilot, defeated retired Circuit Judge Bob Doyel, 75, who was a law school professor for nine years before moving to Winter Haven in the mid-1980s to practice law.

POLK BALLOT ISSUES

REFERENDUM – PROPERTY TAX EXEMPTION: The property tax exemption applies to new businesses and those that are expanding operations and hiring new full-time employees. It was first approved by voters in 2012 but it expires in 2022 unless voters approve it again.

The County Commission placed the renewal on the ballot at the request of Sean Malott, president and CEO of the Central Florida Development Council, who said it applies to businesses creating new high-paying jobs and does not affect property taxes for schools and special tax districts.

CHARTER AMENDMENT – CHARTER REVIEW: Currently Polk’s Charter Review Commission meets every eight years. That would be expanded to every 12 years, if this amendment passes.

The commission recommended the change when it last met in 2017. Voters rejected the change in 2018; the change was approved by 50.6% of voters, but 60% is needed for passage.

County Commissioner George Lindsey says the commission doesn’t need to meet every eight years since its recommendation amount to “ministerial tweaking.”

CHARTER AMENDMENT – EFFICIENCY COMMISSION: If passed, this amendment would abolish the Polk County Efficiency Commission. That group recommended abolishment by an 11-7 vote when in last met in 2013.

The issue failed when it was put before voters in 2018, getting approval from 53% of voters, short of the 60% needed for approval.

The last commission cost $450,000 to run and recommended nearly $10 million in savings, The Ledger reported. Most of the recommendations were things the county was already pursuing, according to County Manager Bill Beasley.

ELSEWHERE IN POLK

  • Republican Sam Killebrew of Winter Haven returns to the District 41 seat in the Florida House, capturing 53.35% of the vote to defeat Jared West.
  • St. Cloud resident Fred Hawkins, a Republican, won the District 42 seat in the Florida House, which represents parts of east Polk, with 52% of the vote to 45% for Democrat Barbara Cady of Lake Wales and 3% for independent Leroy Sanchez. He replaces Republican Mike DeRosa, who had reached term limits.
  • U.S. Rep. Darren Soto of Kissimmee won re-election to a district that includes east Polk, the sole Democrat on Polk ballots to win. He captured nearly 56% of the vote in a three-county district, but polled only 47% in Polk County.
  • In the race for president, Donald Trump captured 56.6% of Polk’s votes to 42.2% for Joe Biden.