One year out from the 2020 general elections, one thing is as clear as ever: elections have consequences. Residents of Flagler County are feeling the effects of their choices from the presidential race all the way down to citywide elections. There were 22 choices overall on Flagler residents’ ballots last year (excluding President). This is a look into how the 2020 winners have done their jobs since the elections, including U.S. Congress, state legislature, the County Commission, Flagler Sheriff, and the Palm Coast City Council.
The August primary also offered a contentious set of battles for Flagler candidates; Colleen Conklin won her re-election to the School Board and David Sullivan won a hard-fought race in his own right. Candidates such as those two did not have to battle it out again in November. These are the candidates who did.
U.S. Congress: Michael Waltz defeats Clint Curtis
Incumbent Republican Michael Waltz defeated his Democratic challenger Clint Curtis by a little over 21%. It’s Waltz’s second two-year term in Congress, having initially defeated Nancy Soderberg in the 2018 election to replace the outgoing representative Ron DeSantis.
Waltz voted against the recently passed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, also known as President Biden’s $1 trillion infrastructure plan. Passed on a 221-201 vote in the House, Waltz’s vote was always destined to be futile given even a novice performance of whipping votes by House Democratic leadership. Only two Repulican congresspeople voted in favor, and no Democrats dissented.
Though he initially threw his name behind a letter vowing to undermine Biden’s election victory, Waltz did ultimately vote in favor of certification. In addition to his role in these key votes, Waltz is a member of the House Committee on Science, Space, & Technology, and a ranking member of the Research & Technology subcommittee. He also serves on the House Committee on Armed Services, and the Intelligence and Special Operations, Strategic Forces subcommittee.
Palm Coast Mayor: Milissa Holland defeats Alan Lowe
In case you haven’t been paying attention, neither Holland nor Lowe are currently Mayor of Palm Coast. Nor is the Mayor anybody who ran for the seat in last year’s primary, which drew three additional candidates Lowe and the incumbent Holland. Milissa Holland was initially elected Mayor in 2016, winning the seat with 63.43% in the August primary and avoiding a November runoff.
Holland defeated Lowe in her re-election bid by a slim 5.1% margin. Her second term was tumultuous from the get-go, with the challenges of an initially volatile Council and hotly contested measures to approve a brand new tennis & racquet facility. And not helping her situation, Holland had to deal with her ailing daughter and the proceedings of ethics complaints against her behind the scenes. Though it was a shock when Holland resigned the mayorship back in May, it’s easy to see why she’d had love lost for the job.
As it went, Holland was succeeded by David Alfin after a special election held in late July. So what might’ve happened if her November 2020 campaign had ended just five or so points in the other direction? For one, it’s easy to imagine Alan Lowe would still be mayor now. Though Lowe ran another strong campaign in this summer’s race, the semi-retired handyman’s closest brush with the mayorship would prove to have been his first attempt.
Though Holland’s her second term was brief, it was far from inconsequential. Then-Mayor Holland cast a deciding vote to approve the estimated $5.4 million racquet facility, which would not have past had an anti-courts Mayor held the seat instead (Lowe almost definitely would’ve struck the courts down). The elections of Holland and Alfin also had consequences for the political balance of the Council; it’s vaguely viewed that Councilmen Nick Klufas and Eddie Branquinho represent a slightly more moderate faction than Ed Danko and Victor Barbosa, though there are no guarantees on any given vote.
Flagler County Sheriff: Rick Staly defeats Larry Jones
Since Sheriff Rick Staly was an incumbent when he won the 2020 Sheriff race, it’s hard to point to any stark changes in the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office from one term to another. But it is, on the other hand, easy to imagine a potential Sheriff Larry Jones would’ve run a considerably different ship had his second run been successful.
For one thing, Sheriff Staly is a public relations guru. The FCSO’s image to the community wasn’t what it is today back in 2016, and Staly has worked to hammer out the reputation tight-run-ship for the department. He’s also able to boast positive trends in Flagler County’s crime numbers, and multiple prestigious accreditations and certifications for himself and the department.
With Jones poising himself to run for a third time in 2024, it’s worthwhile to speculate on what the Sheriff’s Office could look like under his leadership. According to a 2020 interview with AskFlagler, the popular former sergeant would like to see more proactive efforts to treat all individuals with dignity and respect, as well as an expansion of the local Police Athletic League.
Palm Coast City Council: Ed Danko defeats Sims Jones
Suffice to say, even residents most minimally engaged in local politics have likely noticed Danko’s presence since he joined the dais this winter. You could probably count on one hand the number of punches pulled in Danko’s entire tenure thus far, leading often times to confrontation with other Council members. But just ask Danko: he’s unapologetic. The Councilman has objected with fervor to every notion of a tax increase brought forth, and was a leading voice in trying to strike down the $5.4 million tennis and racquet center.
Danko’s time on the Council has also produced some controversy. His assertions that Ron DeSantis had threatened to prosecute former Mayor Milissa Holland were deemed untrue by a response from the Governor’s office. Additionally, Danko drew ire from some residents when he vowed to cease official communication with acting City Manager Denise Bevan and City Attorney Bill Reischmann. Most recently, Danko’s involvement with a boycott of Flagler Live via the Flagler Trump Club, of which he is a member, was a highly divisive decision, rallying up both praise and derision from differing factions of the community.
So what would we have gotten had the community chosen Jones? Certainly one of the more ambitious local candidates in recent memory, Sims Jones advocated for strides forward in affordable housing and Palm Coast to have its own city police department. Jones actually agreed with Danko’s stance on tax increases, though such efforts from Danko have been on the minority side of a handful of votes this year. Like Larry Jones (no relation), Sims Jones has already announced his next campaign: he will contest for the District 2 Council seat in next year’s election.
Palm Coast City Council, District 2: Victor Barbosa defeats David Alfin, Bob Coffman, & Dennis McDonald
Spoiler alert: Victor Barbosa isn’t the only candidate from this race who now sits on the dais. David Alfin was elected Mayor in this summer’s special election to succeed Milissa Holland. So in reality, there are two ways to frame the consequences of this race: what we’ve gotten from Barbosa, and what we would have gotten if Alfin had won last year and been out of the running for the Mayor’s chair.
For one thing, Barbosa has been a relatively static presence on the Council. Often giving his vote to the majority opinion from that meeting’s public commenters, Barbosa is a heavily community-involved Councilman. He’s won dedicated support in community groups on Facebook, and makes a strong effort to invite residents to attend meetings. Likely the biggest headline of Barbosa’s time on the Council was when the Flagler Sheriff’s Office stated in July that it believed Barbosa to be a fugitive from Costa Rica. The story has remained dormant for about four months now, but was perhaps the most memorable in a plethora of memorable headlines from the City Council this year.
As for the July mayoral race without David Alfin: it’s hard to speculate where his voters might’ve gone otherwise. Alfin’s winning coalition was likely a mixture of moderates both Republican and Democrat, each of whom had multiple other choices in the race. Alan Lowe came in second, meaning he might’ve been vaulted to the mayorship on his second try. Cornelia Downing Manfre was close behind in third, and could also be considered a possible victor without Alfin in the running.
Palm Coast City Council, District 3: Nick Klufas defeats Cornelia Downing Manfre
Councilman Nick Klufas, in his second term before being forced out in 2024, could be considered the other side of the coin from Ed Danko. The two clash willingly and frequently (though it’s been a suspiciously lengthy amount of time since the last instance), and have more than once found themselves on opposing sides of taxation and expenditure decisions.
In two runs for office over the last year, Cornelia Manfre has risen her stock with Palm Coast voters. Where there was initial skepticism from her designation as a Democrat and her husband, former Sheriff Jim Manfre, Cornelia consistently impressed at mayoral forums over the summer. Klufas bested Manfre by a little over 6,000 votes (good for 13.42%), but things may be tighter if the race was run today.
So how might things be different with Manfre representing District 3? From what can be gathered from Klufas’s voting record and Manfre’s professed values, there’s not as large a chasm between their philosophies as with other races on this list. If you were to attempt to pinpoint candidates on the political spectrum, both individuals tend toward moderation from their respective sides of the aisle. However, candidates make a lot less of each other’s political affiliations than voters do. Neither Manfre nor Klufas make a point to stress their respective party designation. If it came down to it, Republican voters on the Danko side of things may conceivably entertain a Democratic candidate if they found them preferable to Klufas.
Florida Senate, District 7: Travis Hutson defeats Heather Hunter
State Senator Hutson is easily the more under-the-radar of Flagler’s two representatives in state legislature. Compared to State Representative Paul Renner, Hutson’s role in Tallahassee goes under the radar. And practically speaking, the Florida State Senate is Republican majority by a 24-16 margin. Had Heather Hunter been elected in Hutson’s place, it’s not like she’d have the opportunity to swing fiercely partisan votes over to the Democrats’ side.
Hunter, the former President of the Florida College Democrats, was one of the most progressive candidates available to Flagler voters last year. And still in her early 20’s, Hunter likely has a bright future ahead in Democratic politics.
So what would have changed if Heather Hunter had beaten Travis Hutson? Likely not much, aside from a more expedited career path for Hunter herself.
Florida House of Representatives, District 24: Paul Renner defeats Adam Morley
In the fourth matchup of Morley vs. Renner, the incumbent Representative came out on top again. As with the Florida Senate, Republicans hold a steep enough majority that this one vote flipping blue likely wouldn’t change the tide of statewide politics. The greatest effect of Renner being ousted would end up being the status of House speakership. Back in September, Representative Renner was chosen as the successor to current speaker Chris Sprowls. As long as he’s elected again in November 2022, Renner will then ascend to the speakership.
Morley is a relatively popular boat captain and environmentalist located in St. John’s County. His primary reason for running has been to promote the protection of Florida’s ecosystems, particularly the river systems and marshlands he frequents for his job. In all likelihood, though Morley has trended slightly upward since his first run, Renner’s designation as the next Speaker will make him tougher than ever to beat going forward.
Flagler County Commission, District 1: Andy Dance defeats Corinne Hermle
This one’s a little harder to gage; Commissioner Dance hasn’t been at the forefront of public attention for too many of the County Commission’s decisions since his election. Recently, Dance abstained on a Commission vote to remove Mike Goodman, owner of Captain’s BBQ, from the Planning & Development Board. Earlier this year Dance advocated to get the wheels turning on the replacement of outgoing County Administrator Jerry Cameron before any of the other four commissioners were ready, particularly Chair Donald O’Brien.
As for Corinne Hermle, last year was her second election loss in as many tries. Having run for Palm Coast City Council in 2018 against winner Eddie Branquinho and John Tipton IV, Hermle threw her name in the hat along with Dance. Dance won by a commanding 25.36% margin. In step with her job for the state Agriculture Department, Hermle is a highly analytical mind who would’ve been far from unprepared for the discourse of the Commission.
Flagler County Commission, District 2: Donald O’Brien defeats Denise Calderwood & Paul Anderson
It’s hard to imagine the current County Commission without the presence of its Chair, Donald O’Brien. First elected in 2016, O’Brien was likely purely on the basis of having two challengers. Though as it turned out, even the combined votes of Denise Calderwood and Paul Anderson would not have been enough to defeat him.
In the absence of much on the record from Calderwood or Anderson on this year’s county issues, it’s just as pertinent to speculate on what might’ve happened merely in the absence of O’Brien’s voice on the Commission. Most of the Commission’s landmark decisions this year have been arrived at behind the leading voice of O’Brien, and so Calderwood and Anderson – though they wouldn’t have been Chair themselves – would’ve been wildcards.
For information on how to run for office or what’s on the ballot in your area, check in with the Flagler Supervisor of Elections Office. No one vote is likely to change the course of a community, but when we all vote, we’re given the truest representation of the community’s needs in local government. And a voting base that’s universally engaged is by far the best way to hold elected officials accountable – the knowledge that using their positions in bad faith will result in their ousting from office.
Check with AskFlagler and all of Flagler County’s major news outlets to stay engaged on your local representatives, and contact them if you want to make your voice heard. Most elected officials have emails and phone numbers listed on their government entity’s online profile for them.