Voter Guide: November 2020 Election

There’s a lot more on the Nov. 3 election ballot than the well-covered race for U.S. president. Voters in Polk County will also vote in races for U.S. House, Florida Senate, Florida House and County Commission.

Other ballot issues include votes on whether to retain a Florida Supreme Court justice and four appeals court judges, adopt six amendments to the Florida Constitution, extend a county tax exemption for certain businesses and amend the county charter.

Below you’ll find links to learn more about the candidates in contested races (other than president) that Lakeland residents will find on their ballots:

U.S. House | Florida Senate | Florida House | County Commission | County Referendum, Amendments

Amendments: Ballotpedia has put together a comprehensive guide to Florida’s constitutional amendments that includes pro/con arguments, background on the issues and info on top supporters.

Judicial: Florida voters are asked whether to retain certain judges, but it’s difficult to find information on their performance. The Florida Bar publishes brief biographies and results of a poll of its members.

Updates: This is a living document that we’ll continue updating. Please send any corrections, updates or suggestions to [email protected].

First, some voter links:

U.S. House, District 15

With no incumbent in the race, the District 15 contest has received national attention from both major parties. Democrat Alan Cohn of Tampa is getting national backing for his attempt to flip a seat that has been reliably Republican for more than three decades. Republican Scott Franklin of Lakeland defeated incumbent Ross Spano in the August primary, saying he was the best hope for keeping conservative representation in the district.

Cohn, 58, is a TV investigative journalist whose campaign emphasizes his ability to dig into government waste. Franklin, 56, is a Naval Academy grad, insurance executive and Lakeland city commissioner 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.)

Scott Franklin, R: Website |Campaign Facebook | Personal Facebook | Twitter | Campaign finance | Ballotpedia | Announcement article

Alan Cohn, D: Website | Campaign Facebook | Personal Facebook | Twitter | Campaign finance | Ballotpedia | Announcement article

Florida Senate, District 20

Most Lakeland residents will have no Florida Senate race on their ballot because the term of Sen. Kelli Stargel lasts until 2022. But there is a race for voters who live north of I-4 and west of State Road 33, which is in district 20. The district also includes portions of northeast Hillsborough County and southeast Pasco County (map).

The district 20 race is a contest for an open seat. Incumbent Sen. Tom Lee of Brandon, a Republican, resigned midway through his four-year term. Candidates, both of them Pasco County residents, are Republican Danny Burgess, former executive director of the Florida Department of Veteran Affairs and a 16-year politician at age 34, and Democrat Kathy Lewis, a 58-year-old financial analyst and disabilities activist who lost to Lee two years ago.

Danny Burgess, R: Website | Campaign Facebook | Personal Facebook | Twitter | Campaign finance | Ballotpedia | Announcement article

Kathy Lewis, D: Website | Campaign Facebook | Personal Facebook | Twitter | Campaign finance | Ballotpedia | Announcement article

Florida House

Three Florida House districts include parts of greater Lakeland:

  • District 39 includes a swath of mostly rural and suburban areas north and east of town (map).
  • District 40 includes most of Lakeland’s city limits (map).
  • District 56 includes Lakeland suburbs south of Ewell Road and CR 540A (map).

District 39

First-term Republican incumbent Josie Tomkow, a 24-year-old member of a Polk City cattle ranching family, faces 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.

Josie Tomkow, R: Website | Campaign Facebook | Personal Facebook | Twitter | Campaign finance | Ballotpedia | Announcement article

Chris Cause, D: Website | Campaign Facebook | Personal Facebook | Twitter | Financial lookup | Ballotpedia | Announcement article

District 40

In seeking a fourth term, Republican Colleen Burton, a 62-year-old former director of several local non-profit organizations, faces 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.

Colleen Burton, R: Website | Campaign Facebook | Personal Facebook | Twitter | Campaign finance | Ballotpedia 

Jan Barrow, D: Website | Campaign Facebook | Personal Facebook | Twitter | Financial lookup | Ballotpedia | Announcement article

Emily Michie, NPA: Website | Campaign Facebook | Personal Facebook | Twitter | Campaign finance | Ballotpedia | 

District 56

First-term Republican incumbent Melony Bell, 58, co-owns a bee business and was previously a Polk county commissioner and Fort Meade mayor. Her Democratic challenger is 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.

Melony Bell, R: Website | Campaign Facebook | Personal Facebook | Twitter | Campaign finance | Ballotpedia 

James Davis, D: Website | Campaign Facebook | Personal Facebook | Twitter | Campaign finance | Ballotpedia 

County Commission, District 3

First-term Republican incumbent Bill Braswell, 63, is an Auburndale blueberry farmer and former Delta Air Lines pilot. He is being challenged by 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.

Bill Braswell, R: Website | Campaign Facebook | Personal Facebook | Twitter | Campaign finance 

Bob Doyel, D: Website | Campaign Facebook | Personal Facebook | Twitter | Campaign finance 

Polk County Ballot Issues

Voters will be asked to decide three issues involving Polk County government. One is a referendum on extending a property tax exemption to new and expanding businesses that create jobs. The other two issues amend the County Charter to change the period between convening new Charter Review Commissions from eight years to 12 years and one that abolishes the county Efficiency Commission. The Ledger explained these issues in June.

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.

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.”

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.

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