Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Politics

Hernando elections supervisor hopefuls share similar ideas

Editor's note: This story is one in a series leading up to the Aug. 14 primary election.

A trio of Republican candidates has stepped forward for a chance to replace retiring Hernando County Supervisor of Elections Annie Williams.

The Aug. 14 primary election will decide which of them will face Democratic candidate Elizabeth Townsend, who has been the elections office's director of operations since 2010.

Shirley Anderson, Mark Caskie and Jason Yungmann are public employees with diverse backgrounds in the community. Each believes they have the necessary tools to do the $102,524-a-year job, which primarily entails registering voters, administering elections, maintaining voter rolls, qualifying candidates for elections, and hiring and training poll workers.

The supervisor also decides how resources are budgeted and utilized, and is responsible for voter education and outreach initiatives.

In most respects, the three GOP candidates don't differ much on their philosophies. All say they want to make the office run more smoothly and efficiently and are eager to set a standard that they feel hasn't been reached under Williams' 12-year command.

So far, Anderson is well ahead of her two opponents when it comes to fundraising, raising $21,960, including contributions from local business interests, political action committees and prominent Republican Party backers.

Yungmann's war chest comes in a distant second with $6,681, primarily through cash donations from family members and friends.

So far, Caskie has raised $4,438, mostly from individual contributions.

Of the three hopefuls, Anderson is by far the most well-known in Hernando County politics. She currently serves as district director for U.S. Rep. Rich Nugent, a job that she also held under former Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite.

Anderson also has been down the election path before. In 2008, she ran against Williams as the only Republican. But that bid was upstaged in part by the third-party candidacy of local businessman Gus Guadagnino, who some believe siphoned off votes from her.

In 2008, Anderson had plenty of political fodder against Williams, whose office had suffered from two embarrassing ballot mix-ups earlier that year. She maintains that such errors are inexcusable, and promises that she would "ensure the highest integrity and transparency in the elections process," if elected.

To save money and make the office run more efficiently, Anderson says she would take a thorough look at the entire operation, from personnel to computer software. In addition, she would look into the possibility of sharing employees with other county offices when the need arises.

"I think the taxpayers expect the person in this job to be looking out for them in many ways," Anderson said. "In order to fully do that, you have to look for every way feasible to save money."

Anderson said that to combat the steady rise in voter apathy, she would explore ways of improving the office's visibility. In addition to improvements to elections supervisor's website, she favors starting an electronic newsletter to send timely communications directly to voters.

"I think when citizens are well-informed, they are more likely to want to get involved in the election process," she said.

• • •

A political newcomer, Caskie retired as a senior master sergeant after 21 years in the Air Force to begin a career in local government that began in Hernando County Code Enforcement. Along the way, he has held a number of positions, including 13 months as interim director of the county's code enforcement and animal services division.

Currently, Caskie is the sole code enforcement officer for the city of Brooksville, a job that he says enables him to see the value in connecting with the public. To him, the job of elections supervisor requires similar standards.

"People are trusting that the vote (they cast) is going to count," Caskie said in a recent interview. "You have to remain vigilant for anything that might crop up that would threaten that."

Caskie believes his public sector budget experience and military leadership training are valuable assets that would be beneficial in the job. Although he says he has few criticisms with the way Williams has run her office, he says he would actively seek every opportunity to make improvements he felt might improve efficiency and save the taxpayers money.

One of Caskie's cost-saving ideas would involve whether the elections office needs a second location in Spring Hill.

"I question whether it adds to the overall function (of the office)," he said.

In addition, Caskie said he would explore ways of improving technology, and consider trimming personnel in areas where there might be duplication.

Caskie believes that much more could be done to improve the visibility of the office. Attending public functions, schools, fairs and other public events would do a great deal to improve communication with the public, he says.

"I think being seen at those kinds of events can serve as a reminder that you are out there to serve the community," Caskie said.

• • •

A middle school history and government teacher, Yungmann comes from a family of educators. His mother and father were former principals, and his brother is a Hernando school system administrator who oversees the district's curricula.

While his focus has always been toward educating young people about the importance of participating in government, Yungmann says he never saw himself as part of the political landscape until recently. Although running as a Republican, he sees the elections supervisor's job as a way to embrace all political points of view.

"The democratic process is exciting to me," Yungmann said. "And I think I have some good ideas that would benefit the way the supervisor of elections office is run in Hernando County."

Yungmann, who has performed in community theater and hosts a local weekly radio show, says he has few qualms with the way the office has been run in recent years under Williams, but he agrees with his opponents that a fresh approach could be beneficial. And while he may lack the experience of running a high-profile governmental agency, he says he believes he is up to the task.

"Being head of a social studies department, I know about budgets and having to cut expenses to make it work," Yungmann said. "Much of that comes from encouraging more creativity from staff."

Yungmann says his driving mission to win the job primarily revolves around getting Hernando voters — especially younger people — more enthusiastic about going to the polls.

"We need to find ways to get young people less apathetic about choosing their civic leaders," he said. "We're going to be counting on them more and more in the future."

Logan Neill can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1435.

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