Bonita Springs – During his four-year tenure as City Councilman, John Spear could always be counted on to speak his mind. At his final City Council meeting in February, Spear did not disappoint.
First came congratulations to all four candidates who ran for his District 4 Council seat.
“Any one of the four would have done this district proud. I am looking forward to working with Peter Simmons,” Spear said of his successor.
“That’s number one,” said Spear. Then he turned his attention to “number two,” the Bonita Springs City Charter provision for nonpartisan municipal elections.
“I was very disturbed,” said Spear, by certain activities in January’s City elections. “Partisanship was dragged into what, by the explicit terms of the City Charter, is supposed to be a nonpartisan election.”
“In particular I would like to recognize the Executive Committee of the Lee County Republican Party, who made it their job to try to influence the governance and governing of our City in ways that I found appalling.”
Spear mentioned communications supporting candidates for city office, among other things.
One postcard, a “Republican Voter Alert!!” from the Lee County Republican Party, encouraged voters to “select our candidate to challenge the Obama administration for leadership of the free world.”
The postcard also urged voters to “remember” two “Republican candidates,” David Grothaus and Peter Simmons, in Bonita Springs city elections. The two candidates are identified as “nonpartisan” in text expressing their approval of the “paid political advertisement.”
“There were repeated efforts to label people Republicans, Democrats, liberals and conservatives… all sorts of things,” said Spear. “That organization’s conduct was absolutely outrageous and frankly, that group ought to be ashamed of themselves.”
Spear has been a registered Republican throughout his 30 years in Lee County, and prior to that “in Madison County, Illinois, in one of the most Democratic precincts in the country,” he wrote in an email during the campaign.
One man’s meddling is another man’s civic involvement.
“We are trying to promote Republican Party ideals, philosophies, goals and objectives,” said Gary Lee, Chairman of the Lee County Republican Committee in an interview with the Spotlight. “The Republican Party of Florida encourages the local county committees to support men and women running in nonpartisan races who are registered Republicans,” said Lee. Considering the large Republican registration in Bonita Springs, “we certainly are going to play there anytime we can.”
“Four years ago we experimented with communication into Bonita Springs in the nonpartisan races to try to stimulate greater turnout,” said Lee.
This year, the Bonita Springs Republican Club interviewed candidates, and so the postcard urged voters to consider the two candidates selected, he said. A Tallahassee election law expert cleared the mailings in 2008 and again in 2012.
“We think the voting public is better served if you have competition for ideas, philosophies, policies and programs,” said Lee.
“Frankly we would like to do away with NPA (no party affiliation) races,” he said.
The notion of doing away with non-partisan elections has no appeal to Janet Martin, a Republican recently reelected as a City Council member without opposition.
“The City Charter clearly states that our elections are nonpartisan,” said Martin in an interview with the Spotlight. “I don’t know if somebody needs help with the definition of that word. What is going on with that?”
At a March City Council meeting, Martin intends to ask City legal counsel whether “we can button things down so we don’t have a repeat performance of partisan party involvement stepping in where it shouldn’t.” Martin is not interested in revisiting the last election.
“It’s water under the bridge,” she said.
“I am a registered Republican, but when you enter a city election you become nonpartisan,” said Martin. “There is no party affiliation and no going to the Republican meetings. That’s all it comes down to. If it’s supposed to be nonpartisan, then it ought to be nonpartisan.
“You vote for a candidate on their individual merit and on their track record.”
To Martin, political party issues belie the realities of local government. Her first involvement in Bonita politics came last decade when she and her neighbors stood up to City Hall. They successfully persuaded the City to reconfigure plans to widen Terry Street, saving many homes along the north side of the street from demolition.
Bonita Springs is not alone in dealing with the influence of political parties in nonpartisan elections. The Sun-Sentinel recently reported on events in overwhelmingly Democratic Broward County. There, in nonpartisan races, Democratic Party officials informed voters of the Republican Party registration of some candidates. That’s “an additional piece of information that would be helpful in evaluating candidates,” said the Democratic County chair.
Category: News & Features