In these strange times for elections, political party leaders have different explanations for why Charlotte County’s three Republican commissioners are running unopposed.
Explanations include the coronavirus pandemic, popularity and apathy.
Both Republican and Democratic local officials expressed some regret over the lack of competition.
“We’re obviously very disappointed that no candidates have emerged,” said Charlotte County Democratic Committee Chair Teresa Jenkins. “I would like to see more diversity.”
All five commissioners are male, white and Republican. Only two are retirees. Running unopposed for reelection are Ken Doherty, Joe Tiseo and Bill Truex.
Republican State Committeeman Robert Starr also sounded frustrated by the lack of competition.
“It’s not the pandemic or anything else,” he said, refusing to credit the popularity of incumbents. “I think it’s just apathy on the part of the electorate or party members.”
Starr is running for an open seat on the Airport Authority. He has an opponent, another Republican, Vanessa Oliver. A third candidate, Martin Robert Dorio, is a write-in whose candidacy is in question, because his address is in Sarasota County.
It was Jenkins, the Democrat, who suggested that lack of opposition could be an endorsement of the incumbents and their actions as commissioners over the years. Doherty and Truex have been on the board since 2012, Tiseo since 2016.
“I also think it shows that Charlotte County is in good shape. I think we are making good decisions. We are addressing some vital concerns of our citizens including environmental.”
Republican Committee Vice Chair Douglas Curtis wasn’t sure of why there is no opposition, but agreed that it could be an endorsement of the incumbents.
“People must feel that they’re doing a great job,” he said.
The pandemic played a role in the Democrats not being able to field a candidate, according to Jenkins.
“In this pandemic, you are not able to knock on doors so the amount of money that one had to raise in 2018 is quite different than one has to raise in 2020,” she said. “There’s going to be a need for more mailings, texting services, digital ads ... It was expensive to begin with, but it’s even more expensive now.”
On that point, Starr agreed.
“Thirty-seven-thousand absentee ballots were requested,” he said. “You have to spend the money to contact every single one of those ... you’re talking $60,000 right there.”
And then there’s the long-standing problem of running as a Democrat in a Republican county.
“It’s hard to run in a red county,” Jenkins said.
Republicans work hard, despite an apparent advantage, Starr said.
“We work very hard to find candidates and get them elected. That’s why we have a majority in Charlotte County.”
To the opposing party, he said, “What they have to do is go out and find somebody and then support them financially so they can go out and run.”