SARASOTA — For the first time in years, the two incumbents seeking a return to their seats on the Sarasota County commission face highly competitive races, as is the case for the third open seat on the commission as well as county sheriff.

Both Mike Moran, the owner of Blue Water Insurance Group, and Nancy Detert, the former state senator from Venice, qualified to seek a second term on the commission, Moran for District 1 and Detert for District 3.

Of the two, Moran faces the more difficult path to re-election as he will face off against newcomer Mike Hutchinson in the August Republican primary. The winner of the primary will go on to face Democrat Mark Pienkos in the November general election.

Mike Hutchinson, a retired software engineer and project manager, has been active in the local Republican party for years, but opposes urban sprawl in East Sarasota County. Pienkos, a long-time Democrat, is a retired educator and school superintendent from Wisconsin who believes current commissioners no longer listen to residents.

Meanwhile, Detert faces no opposition in the August primary race, after former Venice Mayor John Holic withdrew. Democrat Cory Hutchinson qualified to face Detert in the November general election.

Hutchinson, the chairman of the North Port Charter Review Board, is a career adviser at Laurel Nokomis School, and lost to Vanessa Carusone for a seat on the North Port City Commission in 2016.

Historically, incumbent commissioners have not garnered opposition as they sought re-election, but Moran’s and Detert’s role in pushing a controversial redistricting plan last year ahead of the 2020 Census may have been the reason the two commissioners face opposition this year.

HINES SEAT OPEN

The District 5 seat, comprised of Englewood, much of North Port and a sliver of South Venice, is open as current Commissioner Charles Hines is term limited out. Seeking to replace Hines are Ron Cutsinger and Chris Hanks, who will vie for the Republican nomination in the August primary. The winner will face Democrat Alice White in November.

Cutsinger, an Englewood resident, is a financial adviser and owner of Waypoint Wealth Management, who served on the Sarasota County Planning Commission for several years. Hanks, a North Port city commissioner and former mayor, in an entrepreneur with interest in marketing, hospitality and travel. White, a well-known environmentalist and former teacher in Englewood, is the founder of People for Trees.

Due to the November 2018 voter-approved change to the county charter implementing single-member districts, only voters in the respective districts will vote in the county commission races.

SHERIFF RACE

The race to replace retiring Sheriff Tom Knight will be decided in the August primary with two Republicans qualifying.

Current sheriff’s Col. Kurt Hoffman will face off against Paul Fern to lead the office after Knight’s retirement in January.

A former deputy with Charlotte County, Hoffman grew up in the Rotonda West area of Englewood and earned a law degree and worked as an assistant state attorney in the 12th Judicial Circuit before joining the sheriff’s office, where he has served as chief deputy for several years.

Fern is a retired deputy and K-9 officer who became a federal air marshal following the attacks on the World Trade Center before returning to the sheriff’s office. He now owns Wings N Weenies in Sarasota.

The primary election will take place Tuesday, Aug. 18, followed by the general election on Tuesday, Nov. 3.

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