Do Partisan Politics Have a Place in Our Small-Town Elections?

By Mike Phillips

Observer Editor

Now that the Fernandina Beach runoff election is over, no matter how you voted, here is something you need to know:

There were no serious disagreements among the four candidates.

We conducted a forum for the initial candidate field. Then we asked the runoff four to submit an essay about whatever was on their minds for the city. They responded. Then we pestered them with a 12-question quiz about city issues. They answered.

Our candidates agreed that finishing the riverfront stabilization was job one. Then we asked about other critical issues. Their answers? The riverfront bank, of course, then downtown infrastructure work, then recreactional facility improvements. Some mentioned our crumbling City Hall.

Those are expensive projects, so we asked for their ideas about shoring up finances. They all said no to a bond issue. Tighter budgeting came up. The Democrat (yep!) had the most stringent and, I must say, sophisticated, thoughts about that. So much for stereotypes. Another common answer was negotiations with other entities that govern our share of regional financing.

What about development concerns? Answer: we have codes in place. What about parking? Answer: We have parking regulations. Enforce them.

There was not a serious argument to be found.

Now, there were two registered Republicans, one Democrat and one independent in the runoff mix. That shouldn’t matter because these offices are non-partisan.

But that phrase, non-partisan, came in for some serious disrespect late in the runoff election.

A couple of weeks before Dec. 13, a river of expensive direct mail pieces started flowing into the mailboxes of registered Republicans, promoting the idea that only two Republicans were running, and that’s who should get the homeowners’ votes. I got five in about 10 days. Whoever was financing this (and I’m pretty sure I know who) must have run out of money after $20-30 thousand bucks, because people then started getting texts with the same message. (A much cheaper form of communication that I appreciated because it didn’t require a trip to the junk mail bin.)

So here is my question to the community: Do you want partisan politics to be injected into our non-partisan, totally community-oriented elections? Think about it. Do you? Either way, I think we should have a community discussion about this.

If you have an opinion, please hit the comment button and get it started.

Ps: I wrote this before I knew the election results, and I didn’t edit it after.

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Sheila (@guest_66556)
5 months ago

The vast difference in the candidates is experienced and decency.

Fernandina list much of that today.

janice (@guest_66593)
5 months ago
Reply to  Sheila

Agree with your first comment
Disagree with your second comment
The best candidates for the city won…and it took a lot of grassroots efforts to get the people out to vote.

William Smith
William Smith (@guest_66557)
5 months ago

“Our non-partisan, totally community-oriented elections” is certainly an admirable ideal, but let’s face it – it’s not difficult to ascertain the party affiliation (if any) of any local candidate. As to your experience of being bombarded with Republican mailings, I heard but cannot independently verify, that Democratic party headquarters was passing out signs for candidates. So there’s that to consider, regarding the non-partisan ideal. As to the community-oriened thought, one of the candidates marched with a Black Lives Matter sandwich board, one advocates for making the island an LBGTQ+ destination, one is a firefighter, and the last, a chiropractor. While I have found this to be a community that is tolerant of races, creeds, orientations and the like, I don’t think the majority want that to be the thrust of city government. As you note, all four had similar positions regarding the major city issues, so perhaps this election came down, not so much on partisanship but to intangibles related to activism.

Kathi Donegan
Kathi Donegan (@guest_66608)
5 months ago
Reply to  William Smith

Tolerant of races, creeds, orientations and the like? I dare say you show your true colors right there. We should be embracing all of God’s children and practicing the golden rule. And comparing a wide smear campaign by mail to handing out signs? Again, your commitment to your Party is so obvious and really doesn’t address the author’s question. Unless, of course, you would like to get rid of the two party system all together. Which would be traitorous, no?

William Smith
William Smith (@guest_66618)
5 months ago
Reply to  Kathi Donegan

So, may I assume you embrace rapists, serial killers, pedophiles, but by your disparaging tone, not Republicans, which you falsely assume I am? As far as traitorous, you do know that there is no Constitutional mention of political parties,right? And that there was a fervent hope among the founding fathers that there would not be? Were it not for the freedom of association clause in the First Amendment (which I strongly believe in) I’d have political parties abolished, since as mentioned in another comment and amply demonstrated by other comments, they lead to a devisive tribalism which we, as a country and a city, cannot afford.

Medardo Monzon
Medardo Monzon (@guest_66558)
5 months ago

The answer to your questions is: Partisan politics evidently matter in our city, rather than the quality of a candidate. I was appalled by the lack of knowledge of critical city issues expressed by candidate Darron Ayscue during the debates. He relied simply on “apple pie and motherhood statements” and publicized wherever and whenever he could that he was endorsed by the Republican Party, to capture the votes of in a city with a large percentage of Republican voters. His analytical, problem solving, financial skills and command of key city issues paled in comparison with his opponents.Our community can expect him rubber stamping whatever the leadership of that political party commands. Our community lost tonight.

Diana Herman
Diana Herman (@guest_66560)
5 months ago

Once the election became partisan it was over. The issues were unimportant. It was all about the team you support. We all know which party is in the majority in our city.

Mark Tomes
Mark Tomes(@mtomes)
5 months ago

It was helpful for me to know the party affiliation of the candidates because it offered insight into how the candidates would vote on important issues if elected, despite what they might say before the election. Republicans almost always lean towards more development instead of conservation, profits before people, favoring private businesses over public initiatives, etc. And yet too often people who vote Republican are the ones complaining about too much growth, too much traffic, our natural beauty getting destroyed, etc. There seems to be a disconnect between what people want and who they vote for. The problem is not that the Republican Party got involved; it is that the people who vote Republican too often don’t understand what they’re really voting for.

Candis Whitney
Candis Whitney (@guest_66588)
5 months ago
Reply to  Mark Tomes

Well said.

William Smith
William Smith (@guest_66613)
5 months ago
Reply to  Mark Tomes

So, by wanting to know party affiliations of the candidates you support partisan elections? And are you implying that people who vote Democratic are more understanding of what they are voting for? That seems elitist and condescending. My experience is that there are people both parties who reflexively vote party lines with no regard to the candidate or the issues

Mike (@guest_66643)
5 months ago
Reply to  Mark Tomes

Your stereotype type is a perfect example of bias.

Laurel Strong
Laurel Strong (@guest_66563)
5 months ago

Partisan politics removed qualifications, experience, and love for our community from the equation. So sad.

John Findlay
John Findlay (@guest_66564)
5 months ago

I understand that Fernandina Beach city elections are supposed to be nonpartisan. The Republican Party has now changed this, probably forever! I do NOT see this as a good thing. But given the mix of Republicans and Democrats in Fernandina Beach, I am sure that the Republican Party does see it as good and will continue it in all future elections.

Robert S. Warner, Jr.
Robert S. Warner, Jr. (@guest_66568)
5 months ago
Reply to  John Findlay


Mike (@guest_66644)
5 months ago
Reply to  John Findlay

But it’s OK for the local Democratic Committee to provide signs for the other candidates and receive support from a national progressive PAC. Information that local media failed to report.

Tom smith
Tom smith (@guest_66565)
5 months ago

The quality of the candidate is so subjective. It comes to core values and trust that those voted into office will do the right thing. Just look at the national level. Who would really vote for kids getting sex changes and an invasion of our southern border. Character matters, values matter and all lives matter.

Jim Mayo
Jim Mayo (@guest_66606)
5 months ago
Reply to  Tom smith

“Character matters” so you voted for Donald Trump and would have voted for Herschel Walker if you were in Georgia?

5 months ago

The fact that you saw no differences among the candidates does not suggest they were equal, it suggests that the questionnaires and debates did not reveal anything … so blame them. There were clear differences in philosophy among the four. It’s those differences that will guide decisions not anticipated by the questionnaires. Sad, that it appeared to be an acrimonious happening, at least in the press. Perhaps the questionnaires should be more expansive, better researched and less easily evaded next time.

Gigi (@guest_66570)
5 months ago
Reply to  Richard

Keen observations!

Lynann (@guest_66571)
5 months ago

I am very disappointed that this turned in to a Republican vs Them election. As a registered Republican I was very offended by the mailers and text messages promoting the “Republican” candidates – neither of whom offered any valid solutions or qualifications to run our city .My vote has always gone to the person not the party. The City of Fernandina Beach lost yesterday. so, so sad.

Candis Whitney
Candis Whitney (@guest_66589)
5 months ago
Reply to  Lynann

Well said, Lynann

Bill Fold
Bill Fold (@guest_66572)
5 months ago

Mike Phillips, which party are you partial to? I believe that’s the first question that needs to be answered so readers can determine if what you write is bias or not. My guess is you lean to the left like 99% of so-called journalists.

Bill Fold
Bill Fold (@guest_66596)
5 months ago
Reply to  Mike Phillips

Mike, my sincere apologies sir. You may, however, agree with the last part of my previous comment about journalists typically leaning left. Perhaps not 99%, but a majority however.
I do appreciate and enjoy reading your articles. It’s not easy to know these days, what we hear, read, and even see, are true, especially on television. Today there are opinions more than just the facts, as it was back in the days of Huntley/Brinkley and Cronkite.

Alyce Parmer
Alyce Parmer (@guest_66573)
5 months ago

I so lament that political nastiness and fear mongering has now found a home in our fair city. Labeling candidates has no place here and I’m sorry the Republican candidates allowed that to happen, without publicly challenging outrageous characterizations of their opponents. All the candidates focused on issues, not culture war nonsense, as it should be. Let’s hope (and it’s up to all of us) our political discourse is civil and respectful moving forward and that the door is closed to fear and hate. Diversity of thought in problem solving and in political views is healthy, not scary. Tribalism’s place is on the football field.

Русский корабль, или нахуй! Russian warship f u
Русский корабль, или нахуй! Russian warship f u(@sarraxkcd)
5 months ago

Just another day at the office; this goes on everywhere, don’t sound so surprised. Closed primaries allow straw candidates to run as sham “write ins” so the winner of the primary wins the seat. As far back as 2006, the witty and charming Katherine Harris was crushed by Bill Nelson statewide (60%-38%) but the good citizens of Nassau County delivered the county for her. Country over party.

Bruno O’Connor
Bruno O’Connor (@guest_66578)
5 months ago

Republicans have become a cult — a well-financed cult that now wants to infest nonpartisan local offices and even school boards. It’s a lousy idea, much like their brutal governing philosophy.

Gigi (@guest_66581)
5 months ago

I am a bit surprised this comment was published – cult? Our small town friendliness is certainly changing.

John Goshco
John Goshco (@guest_66617)
5 months ago

Ever notice that whatever they accuse you of doing is what they are actually doing?

Doug Mowery
Doug Mowery (@guest_66579)
5 months ago

I just want candidates who are going to efficiently move things forward. We have wasted a lot of money on studies, plans, etc, only to flip flop and change direction. The “can kicking” needs to stop. Remember the City Manager saying he wouldn’t buy the decibel meters until the City Commission had made a “final” decision? He had been burned by last second flip flops before. So far, only Chip Ross has shown me he is willing to do the in depth research and make the tough decisions to try to get things moving……..maybe that changes now.

As for “partisanship”…..I have no doubt if the shoe was on the other foot and the majority of residents were Democrats, they would have played the partisan card also. Frankly, I tune that stuff out and make my own decisions……and I think most others do also.

Janet Neckyfarow
Janet Neckyfarow (@guest_66580)
5 months ago

They absolutely should not be partisan! I’m very disappointed that this run-off election became partisan. All four candidates were qualified and should have been elected based ONLY on their ideas and opinions. Not by the party line!!!!!

5 months ago

It was more than just partisanship that soured the run-off election. This race also involved fear-mongering via the hate-filled writing of one man who used social media to smear the unsuccessful candidates, not for their actual work as city officials mind you, but for just being people living their lives. I thought we were better than this, Fernandina. Not so sure today.

5 months ago

Great Question!!
It is common for the people of a community, a state and or a nation to have similar goals to address various issues. The partisan differences aren’t necessarily the goals themselves; the differences are the means by which results are reached.
Whether attempting to manage a budget, set policy or to manage Covid restrictions, the goals for a favorable outcome might be the same but process and policy by which to reach the goal could be vastly different.
Officials are elected by individuals based largely on the policy beliefs of a candidates who are most in line with personal beliefs.   
·      What path will they take to address issues, solve problems, or reach certain goals?
·      How are they going vote to balance the budget?  
·      How are they going to vote spend tax dollars to enhance the waterfront? 
·      How are they going to vote to manage Covid restrictions for an entire community?
These are all things that directly affect our lives and lifestyles within a community. It is the policies set by elected officials that drives the process to manage balancing, spending, restrictions etc.  Differing opinions regarding policy is what weighs most heavy in creating partisanship and ultimately party affiliation.
I believe that it is 100% possible for candidates on both sides to have some nonpartisan or bipartisan goals for a community.  This was demonstrated when the 12 questions were circulated to the four candidates indicating similar goals and aspirations for the community.  Unfortunately, this is where nonpartisanship nears an end.  Opinion as to policy, the priority of various issues, and the means to achieve these goals is where partisanship steps in.  It is the primarily policy beliefs of the candidates that get them elected.  It is differing policy belief and differing opinions that results in partisanship.  Therefore, a truly nonpartisan city commission, or any other elected representative body for that matter, is highly unlikely or realistic. 
It is our duty as responsible voters to understand the policy beliefs of each candidate as well as their track record among other things.  Anyone can talk about goals and aspirations.  It is our elected officials who can help us get there. It is our vote that helps define the path that we feel is best.  

Amelia Surfer
Amelia Surfer (@guest_66590)
5 months ago

No differences among the candidates? LOL! Wrong questions were asked. If you had bothered to even read the CCDF questionnaire, you would grok a very wide gulf in some areas.

And please don’t pretend the partisanship is only on one side like the clueless News Leader did.

Finally, it wasn’t just the moronic mailers that did it. Dave Scott, CCDF, Citizens Journal Florida, even a couple of local pastors, turned the tide. Pretty amazing that Minshew got 41% of the vote in a three way race on November 8, but was bested convincingly a month later.

William Smith
William Smith (@guest_66605)
5 months ago
Reply to  Amelia Surfer

41% in the general election says 59% voted against her. And a similar argument holds for Lednovich; more voted against him than for. I don’t find it all that amazing that when reduced to 2 candidates in each race that the votes coalesced as they did.

Trudie Richards
Trudie Richards (@guest_66592)
5 months ago

I don’t believe political parties have a place in municipal politics. Councillors should be beholden to citizens and to no one/nothing else. Councillors should be supported by citizens who agree with their values and their approaches to city challenges. Politics has no place in this relationship.
In this election, it was politics, and political money, that pushed, prompted and bought votes. The result means the critical issues facing this community will be resolved by political considerations rather than by what is best for Fernandina.
It is heartbreaking.

janice (@guest_66594)
5 months ago

This campaign was all about ‘the issues’…and yes…we all knew which side supported the candidates…and which philosophy the candidates believed in.
But it was exposing the WOKE agenda of Lednovich and Minshew that turned the election. Anton and Ayscue will make fine commissioners. It’s the core values and transparency I was looking for in the candidate. Anyone commenting on this article is smart enough to be a city commissioner…so dissing the winners for not being smart enough to handle the job is pretty ridiculous. Big WIN for our city yesterday…and it took a lot of grassroots effort! I’m very happy today! 

Debbra Sullivan
Debbra Sullivan(@debbrasullivanaol-com)
5 months ago
Reply to  janice

“The WOKE agenda??? Can describe what you mean by this accusation?? Do you even know what the word means??

Candis Whitney
Candis Whitney (@guest_66595)
5 months ago

This election has been heartbreaking for the citizens of Fernandina Beach. Some of them just don’t realize it yet.
Mike Lednovich has worked tirelessly for this community and for our fragile barrier island…Without political bias.
immense gratitude for his work, and those who supported him.

DAVE LOTT (@guest_66598)
5 months ago

While I strongly support the continuation of the city elections being non-partisan, the reality is that any smart candidate is going to use all the legal tools they can to be victorious. Sadly, financing of campaign literature, even that not directly created by the candidate, has taken a new role in Fernandina Beach elections. It is a game that both sides can play if they have the connections to raise the money.
Let’s see how things move forward when the rubber meets the road and the new Commission confronts the complex issues that have thwarted previous commissions for decades. The next budget process will be very interesting to watch.

Al MacDougall
Al MacDougall (@guest_66603)
5 months ago

Both the local Democrat and Republican parties have heavily participated in recent city elections–behind the scenes, but there none the less. This time their activity became more visible……largely initiated by the Democrat party…so seeing a response from the Republican side is not at all surprising.

This sub-rosa envolvement is historical, covered by the non-partisan intent.

All politics is local………….even in Fernandina Beach. Better to bring it out into the open so all can see rather than hide under a cover.

Julie Ferreira
Julie Ferreira(@julie-ferreira)
5 months ago

What’s done is done but how anyone can say that the seven mailings were in response to the Fernandina Democratic Party is very much beyond me. The excess mailings were clearly a slap in the face of non-partisan elections as clarified in the City’s Charter.

The mailings were produced by dark money PACS pouring in from Tallahassee and Gainesville with no less than 7 in the last two weeks as well as no less than 3 text alerts. These cost tens of thousands of dollars funded by the Conservative Leadership for the First Coast out of Gainesville, the True Conservatives out of Tallahassee and the Nassau County Republican Party as the initiators.

Some of the mailings stated “not approved by candidate” or “independent of any candidate” but clearly they got all those campaign pictures from somewhere and Anton and Ayscue were not just out surfing somewhere but they did surf a well funded wave.

My prediction is that the City electorate will be crying in their beers soon unless they are in the real estate and development sectors of our community. Experience did not win in this election and quid pro quo says there’s an agenda being pushed that will probably not be in the best interests of City residents. Reality will show itself over the next four years.

In 1907, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a state may modify or withdraw all city powers, including repealing a charter and disincorporating a municipal corporation- let’s hope that’s not the direction Dean Black (our new state representative representing District 15) and his cronies want to head. 

bob (@guest_66612)
5 months ago

I’d much prefer to see NO PARTIES at all, anywhere. Perhaps a candidate should stand on his/her own planks and merits? I know this will never happen, but it seems like a good idea. Think how things might be if these party labels were gone. Think how the wide-brush divisions would disappear.
Concerning the local election: the winners won by small margins as I see it; I suspect they will have to work extra hard to please the other half of the community.

Doug Mowery
Doug Mowery (@guest_66615)
5 months ago

All this talk of the “turning of the tide” is perplexing when you look at the results between the General and Runoff elections (I detail it in the article on the resulting winners).

Bottom line…..with 2600 less voters (still a very good turnout for a runoff), Antun and Ayscue pulled almost identical totals between the two elections. Minshew and Lednovich lost 800 and 1000 votes respectively. The winners obviously ran a highly organized campaign with their supporters solidly energized to vote in both elections……the losers did not. Their early November support didn’t care enough to show up in December.

So I don’t see a turning of the tide….the winners held their ground and the losers failed to do the same. The mailings and everything else folks are complaining about didn’t garner any more votes for the winners in the last month! The big question is what happened to the Lednovich and Minshew voters and their lack of support! I don’t think 800-1000 less votes was due to garbage in the mailbox.

DAVE LOTT (@guest_66649)
5 months ago
Reply to  Doug Mowery

Excellent analysis Doug

Monika (@guest_66619)
5 months ago

Fernandina has been taken over by money and power driven individuals, locals as transplants alike. The vibe and hometown culture is gone in many ways, the face of downtown has changed a lot in the recent years, development is out of control, traffic is crazy. Lots of residents who enjoyed “what used to be” are leaving…politically it has become a Trump Dump…it is destined to become just another overrun, commercial beach town with no charm or character left. That’s what your newly elected officials will make sure of because they will have to answer the money in town…

Ashley (@guest_66676)
5 months ago
Reply to  Monika

Could be worse. Could be like the crime filled blue cities across the country. Or like Portland where they have introduced areas which police do not enter after cries of defunding of the police which have become black holes for rapes, murders and drug users to run rampant. No, no you’re right. Fernandina did not vote for THAT

Genie (@guest_66620)
5 months ago

I agree with all your comments. We do Not want Partisan politics is our city and county elections. It was a cheap shot to announce the parties of the candidates, especially in our blinkered society of today. Let candidates win on their own merit, not party politics. 

Jack Knocke
Jack Knocke (@guest_66647)
5 months ago

Partisan is the new dark word. Candidates are different. They have different experience, different reasons for running, and values. It amazes me that there is so much animosity about “partisan”. 

It’s not partisan – it’s different.

Mike Phillips makes the statement “There were no serious disagreements among the four candidates.” Wrong. The candidates are very different.

The real problem was that the local media, local candidate forums and local coverage all reported political platitudes – conservation, taxes, development, trees, seawall. They all sounded the same. Is it not fair to point out the differences? The differences were stark, but no forum or coverage focused on the differences.

County Citizens Defending Freedom – CCDF-Nassau presented facts that drew a clear distinction between the candidates. CCDF-Nassau did not name call, did not abuse, did not disparage – the facts were presented in the form of a questionnaire. Some candidates answered the questions and others declined/refused. Why? Because their answers would very likely have been very different if they answered. Where are the press, the chamber, the parties when it comes to transparency? 

The article commenters referring to partisan politics focused on the Republican party. Why is it ignored that Minshew’s social media promotes Occupy Democrats, trashes republicans, and aligns with the extremists Democrat organizations. Is that partisan? 

We have a beautiful, respectful, safe, loving town. We should keep it that way. Don’t invent division that is not there. The national media seeks to create division via “racism” and other labels. Stop labeling people. Choosing a candidate with different values is not a dirty word. It’s called an election.

Mike Phillips calls for a community discussion, lets do it. I’m all in. We all need to talk – not just in the public square with a megaphone or on social media with propaganda to frame a narrative. Let’s start personally, privately and respectfully discuss the issues.

Tankel Law Group
Tankel Law Group(@tankellawgroup)
5 months ago

Why should we be any different than any other election in FL? Sham write in candidates to close primaries to members of the party, wink wink partisan elections all up and down the ballot for school board and county commissioners. Who cares what party affiliation someone has? Apparently a lot of people. With no other information, how do people choose, except maybe electing people named Charles Bronson a couple decades back for Ag Commissioner…