Watermark?s recommendations for the Nov. 2 General Election

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VotersGuideAbstr_904303157.jpgThe State of Florida is on the cusp of one of the most important mid-term elections in history. With statewide offices up for grabs, Republican and Democratic candidates have spent millions on newspaper and television ads.

But it takes more than name recognition to make a good leader. For many of us, an informed and evolved stand on LGBT issues may be just as important as a candidate’s view of growth management, health care and job creation.

Below you will find Watermark’s recommendations for the Nov. 2 General Election. We’ve spoken with candidates, combed their websites and read the mainstream press, taking special note of where candidates stand on LGBT issues. But we also encourage you to do your own research before entering your polling place. Most importantly, we implore you to vote.

State endorsements are at the top, then Orlando, scroll down about halfway for Tampy Bay recommendations.

STATEWIDE RACES

EndorseAlexSink_890882921.jpgGOVERNOR: Alex Sink (D). Even though she hasn’t endorsed marriage equality for gays and lesbians, Alex Sink is in our corner. Florida’s current Chief Financial Officer has significant ties to the LGBT community, and spoke out for the repeal of the state’s ban on gay adoption long ago. Her Republican rival Rick Scott is against repeal of the adoption ban, against same-sex marriage, against civil unions, against anything that demonstrates any sort of sensitivity or support for our issues. His refusal to release information surrounding his involvement in the nation’s largest Medicare fraud case should give voters all the misgivings they might need to pull the lever for Sink.

EndorseDanGelber_822436689.jpgATTORNEY GENERAL: Dan Gelber (D). State Rep. Dan Gelber is a U of F law grad who served as a federal prosecutor for eight years. He has a more impressive legal background than political newcomer and Republican candidate Pam Bondi, and the endorsement of Equality Florida. Gelber has often voiced his support of LGBT equality while Bondi refuses to even discuss LGBT issues.

CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER: Loranne Ausley (D). Former State Senate President Atwater is the heavy favorite in this race, and has demonstrated limited support for LGBT equality. He was co-sponsor of Senate Bill 0572, which would have added sexual orientation and familial status to Florida’s Civil Rights Act and Fair Housing Act. He was also a leader in a 2008 Senate Commerce Committee vote on the same bill, which passed 7-1. He also allowed debate on a bill to repeal Florida’s adoption ban—a first in Tallahassee. But Atwater would be yet another in a sea of Republicans in powerful state positions, and his support of a bill requiring women to obtain a sonogram before choosing abortion—vetoed by Gov. Charlie Crist—is troubling. A Democrat in Florida’s cabinet can only be a good thing, and Ausley has the props. The Tallahassee-based former state legislator won reelection until term limits. She has been endorsed by Equality Florida and Florida Together for her consistent support of pro-LGBT legislation. Vote for Ausley.

U.S. SENATE: Kendrick Meek (D). U.S. Rep. Meek has been a long-time opponent of ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ and his campaign has made appearances at LGBT Pride events around the state. Gov. Charlie Crist supported Amendment 2 and has said numerous times that he does not support same-sex marriage. However, it was Crist who said the state would not enforce the state’s ban on gay adoption. Both Meek and Crist would be better choices than Republican Marco Rubio, who has not expressed any support for the LGBT community and has said he does not believe same-sex marriage should be legalized. Many LGBTs are tempted to vote for Crist in a strategic manner to try to derail Rubio’s lead in the polls. However, Meek is the candidate who most supports the LGBT community of Florida.

CENTRAL FLORIDA

U.S. HOUSE DIST. 7: Heather Beaven (D). Incumbent John Mica is connected and respected, particularly on transportation issues. He played a significant role in getting Sunrail for Central Florida. But he’s no advocate of LGBT and social equality, actively opposing a woman’s right to choose and repeal of DADT.

U.S. HOUSE DIST. 8: Alan Grayson (D). You may not agree with his over-the-top campaign tactics, but first-term incumbent Grayson is an intelligent, innovative legislator who vocally resists the troubling tendency of Democrats to move to the middle once elected. Republican Daniel Webster has an admirable soft-spoken quality, but that is trumped by his ties to the Religious Right. Webster has no fresh ideas for addressing our mounting economic problems. Vote Grayson in this important contest. 

U.S. HOUSE DIST. 15: Shannon Roberts (D). Expect conservative representation from this Osceola County and Spacecoast district, but incumbent Republican Bill Posey even opposes a hate crime designation for violence targeting the LGBT community.

U.S. HOUSE DIST 24: Suzanne Kosmas (D). Former Orange County deputy sheriff Sandra “Sandy” Adams is a Republican fully aligned with the conservative party machinery that is deaf to the lessons of the past decade. And deaf to science—Adams recently renounced evolution! Incumbent Kosmas, while hardly a champion for social justice and LGBT equality, offers a vote for progress in important areas like healthcare and tax reform. And she’s on record as a vote for repeal of DADT. Vote Kosmas in this key house race. 

STATE SENATE DIST. 20: Eunice Garbutt (D). With no incumbent, this west Central Florida district is wide open. The choice is clear. Democrat Garbutt has a 100% rating on responses to Equality Florida’s candidate questionnaire gauging support for LGBT equality. Republican Alan Hays gave positive responses to 0% of the questions. 

STATE HOUSE DIST. 33: Leo Cruz (D). There is no incumbent in this district northeast of metro Orlando. Democrat Leo Cruz has received the endorsement of Equality Florida over Republican Jason Brodeur and Libertarian Ellen Paul.

STATE HOUSE DIST. 34: Steve Barnes (D). If reelected, incumbent Republican Chris Dorworth is slated to be Speaker of the House in 2014. This is despite numerous ethical questions and a lack of support from his members of his own party. Democrat Barnes, a former journalist, is the better fit for this east Seminole County district. He would also be a vote for LGBT equality.

STATE HOUSE DIST. 35: Amy Mercado (D). Incumbent Dean Cannon, the heavy favorite, will be the Speaker of the House if reelected. As a leading voice of the Republican right, this is local power we can do without. Send the message that he and Tea Party candidate Juanita “Nina” Virone are far too conservative for this north Orange County district. Vote for energetic and well-informed challenger Amy Mercado.

STATE HOUSE DIST. 36. Scott Randolph (D). Openly gay Republican challenger Greg Reynolds is impressive and merits a future in politics. But incumbent Randolph has been an outspoken champion for our community throughout two terms. He’s also an effective environmental and procedural watchdog within the heavily Republican legislature. We agree with the Orlando Sentinel that Randolph has earned a return trip to Tallahassee. Vote Randolph. (See sidebar.)

STATE HOUSE DIST. 40. Todd Christian (D). First-term incumbent Eric Eisnaugle is a cookie-cutter Republican vote in Tallahassee. Tea Party candidate Darin Richard Dunmire may draw some of his support. Vote for underfunded Democrat Todd Christian, one of the few openly gay local candidates in this midterm election cycle. 

STATE HOUSE DIST. 41: Lee Douglas (D). Incumbent Steve Precourt has embraced the dark side of the Republican agenda. Representing a district that includes Walt Disney World and thousands of Disney and Universal employees, he sought to prohibit the state from incentivizing films that include gay characters. Democrat Douglas Lee, a Disney labor relations specialist, is a far better fit for this south Orlando district.

STATE HOUSE DIST. 49: Darren Soto (D). Incumbent Darren Soto is a rising star, and solid supporter of the LGBT community. He has been endorsed by Equality Florida. Be sure he gets your vote. Challenger Betty LaChance has no party affiliation, and should be given no chance to win this important seat.

ORANGE COUNTY MAYOR: Bill Segal. In decades of service to worthy non-profits and governmental agencies, and in two terms on the County Commission, Bill Segal has demonstrated his commitment to improving the quality of life in Orange County. And his role in the recent push for a countywide HRO was pivotal. Former Commissioner Teresa Jacobs is a talented and energetic administrator, but her support of our community is equivocal. Vote Segal.

ORANGE COUNTY COMMISSION DIST. 2: Bruce Birkrem. First-term incumbent Fred Brummer is a former state representative whose term as a legislator was distinguished by hard-right conservatism. His positions have softened in his single term as a commissioner, but not enough to merit an endorsement. Although Bruce Birkrem offers only token opposition, he received a 100% rating from Equality Florida. 

ORANGE COUNTY COMMISSION DIST. 4: Mayra Uribe. With 48% of the primary vote, Jennifer Thompson appears poised to take Linda Stewart’s seat on the commission. Thompson received a tepid endorsement from the Orlando Sentinel, but is largely unknown on LGBT issues. Mayre Uribe is a long-shot, but has expressed support for the HRO currently percolating in county government.

ORANGE COUNTY SCHOOL BOARD DIST. 3: Judge “Rick” Roach. Incumbent Roach has been supportive of LGBT students. His opponent, Robert A. Lynn, got a 0% rating on the Equality Florida questionnaire, indicating a lack of sensitivity to LGBT issues.

With gay candidate, GOP takes aim at State House District 36
Tom Dyer

Orlando In this heated mid-term election, races for Governor, U.S. Senate and U.S. House have grabbed most of the attention locally. But a most intriguing battle is for State House District 36, one of the few solidly Democratic house districts north of Fort Lauderdale. Gerrymandered to make surrounding districts more solidly Republican, the District looks like a three-pronged rotary blade, reaching out from downtown Orlando to include Azalea Park to the west, Eatonville to the north, and Oak Ridge to the southwest. 

EndorseScottRandolph_216913328.jpgDemocrat Scott Randolph won this house seat by a landslide in 2006 after incumbent Sheri McInvale changed her affiliation to Republican halfway through her two-year term. Randolph easily won reelection in 2008, and with twice as many Democrats as Republicans in the district he is the odds-on favorite in 2010.

But for LGBT voters, seen by Democrats and Republicans as pivotal within the district, this election offers a quandary: re-elect Randolph, who has been an outspoken voice for LGBT equality in Tallahassee; or support Greg Reynolds, a centrist Republican seeking to become Florida’s first openly gay state legislator.
    
Reynolds shares the fiscal conservatism of fellow Republicans, but separates himself when it comes to social issues and LGBT equality.

EndorseGregReynolds_881975919.jpg“If my parents or sister and brother-in-law have rights, I want them too,” Reynolds says. That includes non-discrimination protections and adoption rights. He believes same-sex couples should have access to all rights of marriage through civil unions, but insists that if it came to a vote he would support same-sex marriage.

Reynolds also describes himself as “pro-life with exceptions,” but says he would not support further restrictions to abortion beyond those already in existence.
    
Randolph says Reynolds’ positions on LGBT and gender equality are equivocal, and contrasts his own record in the legislature. He co-sponsored a statewide housing non-discrimination bill, and fought to include LGBT students in anti-bullying legislation. He also filed a bill to create a statewide domestic partner registry, and was lined up to co-sponsor a bill that would overturn Florida’s now-dormant adoption ban. Randolph notes that he’s been an outspoken advocate for full LGBT marriage equality since first running for office in 2006. On abortion, he supports a woman’s right to choose.  

If re-elected, Randolph says he would continue to push for tax breaks for performing arts centers similar to those enjoyed by sports venues. If successful, his initiative could fill the current funding gap for Orlando’s PAC. He would also continue in his role as environmental watchdog, and stand up to Republican power grabs.

Reynolds counters that the district would have stronger representation with someone in the majority party. And that as an openly LGBT legislator he would change the tone of dialogue in Tallahassee.

“I’ll be the only person in the legislature without the same rights as everyone else,” Reynolds says. “And I’ll let them know it.”

But Randolph cautions that even a slight swing in the direction of Republicans could make Florida’s legislature even more conservative—and veto-proof.

“There would be very little even a Democratic governor could do to stop them,” he warns.         

TAMPA BAY

U.S. HOUSE DIST. 5: Jim Piccillo (D). Small business consultant Jim Piccillo in this conservative area in south Pasco County has encouraged supporters to reach out to the LGBT community for fundraisers, house parties and campaigning. Pasco Sheriff Richard Nugent (R) was hand-picked by outgoing Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite, who has consistently voiced her opposition to LGBT equality.

U.S. HOUSE DIST. 9: Anita de Palma (D). While de Palma has no specific campaign information relating to LGBT issues, she has been a civil rights advocate for the Hispanic community and other minorities for most of her career. Republican Gus Bulirakis does not support the repeal of DADT.

U.S. HOUSE DIST 10: Charlie Justice (D). State Sen. Charlie Justice is a credible candidate who has been a competent legislator and a long-time supporter of the LGBT community. The St. Petersburg Democrat served six years in the state House before being elected to the state Senate in 2006, and he has worked quietly on issues involving veterans, the elderly and consumers.

U.S. HOUSE DIST. 11: Kathy Castor (D). Former Hillsborough County Commissioner and democratic incumbent Kathy Castor has been a long-time friend of the LGBT community. Her support of same-sex marriage and gay and lesbian adoption are just a small part of her commitment to the LGBT community. Her challenger, Mike Prendergast (R) has an impressive military career and is the first credible Republican to eye the seat in years, but he has yet to share his stances on LGBT issues.

U.S. HOUSE DIST. 12: Lori Edwards (D). While she hasn’t expressly addressed LGBT issues in her campaign, the Polk County Supervisor of Elections seems to be more willing to reach across party lines. Her two opponents are “family values” voters and have expressly said they are against same-sex marriage and gay and lesbian adoptions.

STATE HOUSE DIST. 44: Diane Rowden (D). The former flight attendant has volunteered for charitable organizations across Tampa Bay and received a 100% rating on the Equality Florida questionnaire regarding LGBT rights.

STATE HOUSE DIST. 47: Michael Steinberg (D). The Democrat in this race has proudly voiced his disdain for the state’s ban on gay men and women adopting and is against offshore drilling. He has also been endorsed by Equality Florida.

STATE HOUSE DIST. 48: Tom McKone (D). The Vice Chairman of the East Lake Special Fire Control district Commission in Tarpon Springs is against offshore drilling of any kind and has been praised for his budgeting. He is also a strong supporter of WMNF radio, which prides itself on diversity. He received a 100% approval rating on an Equality Florida questionnaire.

STATE HOUSE DISTICT 50: Shelley Leonard (D). Political newcomer and single mother Leonard supports repealing DADT, DOMA and Florida’s ban on gays and lesbians adopting. Incumbent Republican Ed Hooper remains elusive when it comes to LGBT issues and has been linked to several Tallahassee scandals.

STATE HOUSE DISTRICT 51: Janet Long (D). The four-year incumbent Long has been a political activist and is not afraid to voice her opinion. Her commitment to LGBT issues earned her an endorsement by Equality Florida.

STATE HOUSE DISTRICT 52: Bill Heller (D). Heller has been a supporter of the arts for years and is not afraid to take a stand on important issues, including those of equality. In 2007, when then-St. Pete city council candidate Gershom Faulner said he could not “support the gay lifestyle,” Heller pulled his endorsement and voiced disappointment in his fellow Democrat’s statement.

STATE HOUSE DIST. 53: Rick Kriseman (D). The former St. Pete City Councilman has been a long-time advocate for LGBT rights and has filed bills several times to reverse the state’s ban on gays and lesbians adopting.

STATE HOUSE DIST. 54: No endorsement. Newcomer Mary Russell is vying for Republican incumbent Jim Frische’s seat, but neither candidate has shown any interest in supporting LGBT constituents.

STATE HOUSE DIST. 55: Darryl Rouson (D). Reluctantly, we suggest Rouson as the proper candidate for this seat. Rouson, who once demonized the LGBT community on a talk show, says he has since “evolved” his opinions is a better choice for us than write in candidate Joseph Graser.

STATE HOUSE DIST. 56: David Chalela (D). Small business owner Chalela received a 100% rating from Equality Florida and the LGBT organization’s endorsement.

EndorseStacyFrank_609713297.jpgSTATE HOUSE DIST. 57: Stacy Frank (D). Tampa native Stacy Frank has embraced the LGBT community by attending events, expos and reaching out to the gay media to voice her stances on all issues, especially gay rights. (See sidebar).

STATE HOUSE DIST. 58: Toss up. Incumbent Janet Cruz (D) is facing challenger and independent Joe Redner for the Dist 58 seat and while Redner received a 100% rating from Equality Florida (again) it should be noted that Cruz was a co-sponsor of a bill to reverse the state’s ban on gay adoption. Both candidates seem receptive to LGBT issues and equality and it boils down to experience.

STATE HOUSE DIST. 60: Russ Patterson (D). Activist Patterson is a staple at LGBT community events around Tampa Bay and has plans to fix the state’s budget shortfall. Equality Florida and the St. Petersburg Times have both endorsed him.

STATE HOUSE DIST. 61: Elena McCullough (D). McCullough is a 24-year bilingual military veteran and says she supports LGBT equality 100%. She is in favor of dissolving DADT and DOMA and Equality Florida has officially endorsed her.

STATE HOUSE DIST. 67: John Studebaker (NPA). When Equality Florida contacted the three candidates for this position, including Z.J. Hafeez (D) an Greg Steube (R), only Studebaker responded. He supports total equality for LGBTs, including the repeal of DOMA, DADT and the state’s adoption ban.

STATE HOUSE DIST. 68: Dave Miner (D). Miner is in favor of repealing DADT, DOMA and Florida’s adoption ban. Republican Jim Boyd has not expressed concern for LGBT equality.

SENATE DISTRICT 10: No recommendation. Incumbent Ronda Storms (R) is expected to face only token opposition from a write in candidate and will no doubt secure her seat. However, Tampa Bay residents should not forget her anti-gay rants when she voted to “ban” LGBT Pride from Hillsborough County and remove a gay book display in a public library.

SENATE DISTRICT 16: Nina Hayden (D). Both candidates for this district covering portions of Hillsborough and Pinellas counties have expressed support for LGBT issues. But Nina Hayden has received the endorsement of Equality Florida.

HILLSBOROUGH CO. COMM.
DIST. 1: John Dingfelder (D). The former Tampa City Councilman has supported LGBT equality by attending Pride events, rallies and more during his tenure. His common sense voice would be a huge asset on the Commission still linked to the “Ronda Storms years.”

DIST. 2: No endorsement. The choices here aren’t great. Republican Victor Crist has the experience but has been tied to the Taj Mahal scandal in Tallahassee. Independent candidate Steve Morris has little experience in politics and an under-funded campaign.

DIST 3: Les Miller (D). Miller has very little challenge in this race but has the label of “career politician” which leaves a bad taste in many voters’ mouths. It is unclear where he stands on LGBT issues, but his vision for public transportation in Hillsborough County is impressive.

DIST. 5: Linda Saul-Sena (D). For years as a Tampa City Council member, Saul-Sena supported Pride events, domestic partner benefits for employees and wants gays and lesbians to be able to adopt. It’s no wonder she also received the endorsement of Equality Florida.

DIST 7: Mark Sharpe (R). Republican incumbent Mark Sharpe has had a love-hate relationship with the LGBT community in recent years. At one time he was on the side of Ronda Storms but has, in recent years, relaxed his view on LGBT issues. Sharpe is the most viable candidate in this race.

HILLSBOROUGH CO. SCH. BRD. DIST. 4: Richard Bartels. Bartels has the most experience in this race and was principal when Freedom High School opened in 2002. He was at the helm when that school formed its Gay-Straight Alliance.

HILLSBOROUGH CO. SCH. BRD. DIST. 6: April Griffin The outspoken Griffin has brought a much-needed ruffle to the board that for too long stayed the course. Her support for minority students and Gay/Straight Alliances makes here a powerful ally for the LGBT community.

PINELLAS CO. COMM. DIST. 2: Toss up. Both candidates for this seat are somewhat supportive of LGBT equality. Calvin D. Harris and Norm Roche both received a 67% approval rating by Equality Florida.

PINELLAS CO. COMM. DIST. 4: Toss up. Incumbent Republican commissioner Susan Latvala, endorsed by Equality Florida, has been a longtime supporter of the LGBT community, spearheading last fall’s decision to include sexual orientation and gender identity in the county’s Human Rights Ordinance. Her Democratic challenger Bob Hackworth is also a friend to the LGBT community and was at the forefront of the fight to include sexual orientation and gender identity to the City of Dunedin’s Human Rights Ordinance while he was mayor.

PINELLAS CO. SCH. BRD. DIST. 7: James “Jim” Jackson Former Miami-Dade psychology professor Jackson is a political newcomer to Pinellas County and the race’s only openly gay candidate. His extensive experience with the educational system would be useful on the board.

SARASOTA

U.S. REPRESENTATIVE, DIST. 3: James Golden (D) Golden supports the repeal of DADT and an inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act on the federal level. Incumbent republican Vern Buchanan does not support either and has never voiced support for LGBT equality.

SENATE DIST. 20: Doug Courtney (D). Entrepreneur and businessman Courtney has the business experience and government experience needed to fix Florida’s economy in Tallahassee. He has also received the endorsement of Equality Florida because of his support of repealing DADT and DOMA.

SENATE DIST. 69: Keith Fitzgerald (D). Fitzgerald, a political science Ph. D., has received the endorsement of Equality Florida.

SARASOTA CO. SCH. BRD. DIST. 1: Barry Woolf. After he retired from a career as a corporate trainer, Woolf became a substitute teacher and immediately became embedded in the district’s curriculum. His 100% rating by Equality Florida shows that he not only has the experience needed to improve Sarasota schools, but he also respects students and teachers of all backgrounds.

SARASOTA CO. SCH. BRD. DIST. 4: Shirley Brown As the current chair of the board, Brown seems to have a no-nonsense approach to improving Sarasota’s schools and her support of current Superintendent Lori White is well-placed.

SARASOTA CO. SCH. BRD. DIST. 5: Jane Goodwin With endorsements from business associations and the current Dist. 5 school board member, Goodwin seems to be the natural choice. Her thought out plans for improving student performance and her faith in Superintendent White seem to be on track for continuing the improvement of the district.

We don’t need another Ronda Storms
Steve Blanchard

Tampa Since the mid 2000s, Tampa Bay has watched one-time Hillsborough County Commissioner Ronda Storms rise to the State Senate while stomping on LGBT rights. Another worrisome candidate could be riding the Brandon Right Winger’s coattails.
Hopefully, the calmer, cooler head will prevail in this election with Democrat Stacy Frank, who is challenging Republican Dana Young.

EndorseDanaYoung_802218677.jpg“Some of Young’s stances are just scary,” Frank shared recently while attending the Tampa Bay Business Guild expo during the Tampa International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. “I don’t understand how you can’t be for equality.”

Overall, Young has remained somewhat quiet—at least publicly—about her stances on LGBT issues. However, her far-reaching views in other areas cause pause.

The fundamental differences between the two candidates hoping to represent District 57 in the State Senate lie within the realm of equal rights for not only LGBTs, but for immigrants as well.

Young favors enacting an Arizona-style law that would give law enforcement officials the right to seek papers from anyone they suspect is in the state illegally. Frank also sees illegal immigration as an issue but favors punishing companies who hire aliens at reduced wages.

Frank has embraced the LGBT community by attending events, expos and reaching out to the gay media to voice her stances on all issues, especially gay rights. Frank is the daughter of Hillsborough County Clerk of Courts Pat Frank, is a small business owner and member of several area Bar Association Committees. She has been a long-time advocate for repealing the state’s ban on gays and lesbians adopting while Young  supported the ban, before changing her stance to a “wait and see” pending a court battle.

Even with the recent news that the three-decades-old ban will finally expire, Young has yet to say if she would address the issue—and that’s a risk LGBTs shouldn’t be willing to take, especially since the ban is still technically on the books in Tallahassee.

The clear choice here is for Frank, who has repeatedly shown her support to LGBTs—and we should return the favor.

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