Every election cycle we hear the same thing from the media. There are countless articles and letters criticizing the use of write-in candidates to close primaries to one party or the other. We’re always told the same theory; everyone, regardless of political affiliation, will vote in the best interest of their community. All voters will put aside their differences for the greater good.
I personally believe all parties should have the right to their own primary to select their own representative for the general election and I therefore have no issue with this “loophole”. However, I’m always curious about whether this media belief in selfless voting is true. When the ballots are in hand, would one party vote for the greater good or would pure schadenfreude instincts take over in spite of themselves and their community?
This year Manatee and Sarasota Counties get to find out with our own real-life case study. Every voter residing in Florida Senate District 22 will have an opportunity to vote for one of two Republican candidates as no other party or write-in qualified for the race. This district encompasses the entirety of Sarasota County and virtually all of Manatee County south of SR 70. The final ballot will reflect an option between incumbent, lifetime resident Senator Joe Gruters and Seminole County resident, right-wing activist Michael Johnson.
Senator Gruters was born and raised in our area. His family has resided in Sarasota for over 100 years. Joe is intimately familiar with our area’s needs and concerns because he lives and breathes it. He works here. He raises his kids here. He’s involved with our community and cares about its future.
Each session, Joe heads up to Tallahassee to propose environmental bills to protect our water from red tide, septic issues and other local concerns because our water quality is his concern. He successfully pushed to allow home rule choices regarding smoking on the beaches because he knows our beaches and the issues the filtered remains can cause. Last year, Senator Gruters sponsored SB1446 to propose more equitable funding of our foster care system because he knows our local foster care crisis and he worked with Manatee County as we made it a Top 3 legislative priority.
Michael Johnson, however, lives over 150 miles from Manatee County. His only ties to our great community is a personal grievance with Senator Gruters. He has no vested interest in improving our area nor does he have an understanding about our history or our hopeful future. His political background as the President of Grassroots For America is so far right that he has been escorted out of their REC meetings. He is running on a singular platform of disruption of our local delegation to the detriment of our local representation. His campaign considers you and your family as collateral damage in his personal vendetta against a lifelong resident of our area.
Mr. Johnson is not campaigning for your vote. He’s not trying to win your support. He’s not trying to learn about our area. He is running on the belief that he’s entitled to your vote as an “anybody but” candidate even if he’s anybody but a good option for Manatee and Sarasota Counties. He is using you to game the lack of a write-in in the very way we’re told wouldn’t happen.
Recently, members of the Venice Area Democratic Club have posted about the open primary and the opportunity to remove an incumbent, productive local Senator for an opponent they admittedly said “is crazy”. I can only imagine this type of dialogue is going on in similar clubs as I’ve heard it from others. The claims that Senator Gruters supported President Trump and is the Chair of the Florida Republican Party are being used as soundbites to convince non-Republicans to disrupt a primary simply for the narrative.
Our Manatee and Sarasota delegation is the voice of our community in Tallahassee. Regardless of political views, we all need State Senators and Representatives that will be knowledgeable advocates for our area. We need elected members that understand our water concerns, our infrastructure needs and our community beliefs. A strong delegation with good, reputable standing at the Capitol can get our bills passed, our appropriations funded and our voices heard. Sarasota only has ONE Senator to advocate on your behalf. Manatee has two. We cannot weaken our collective voice.
This is our community. This is your children’s future. This is your chance. We ALL get an opportunity to cast a ballot in a Republican primary for Florida Senate District 22. Will some voters opt for short-term personal satisfaction by voting against a local advocate of our community or will they vote for long-term, sustainable community benefits by accepting the truth that the best option for our local area is local representation?
For the good of Manatee and Sarasota Counties, I hope all voters prove the media right about selfless voting and vote to re-elect Senator Joe Gruters on August 23.
George W Kruse, Manatee County Commissioner