Sunday, September 23, 2018

Big election turnout in Hernando County brings change, sets up November races

BROOKSVILLE — Nearly 30 percent of Hernando County voters cast ballots in the primary election, the number Supervisor of Elections Shirley Anderson had hoped to hit.

That is a significant improvement from the 22.7 percent turnout in the last primary two years ago. Nearly 15,000 votes this year came in on Election Day. Another 20,000 voters cast ballots by mail, and the rest came in during early voting.

With the 39,477 ballots cast, voters ousted the sitting Hernando County School Board chairman and returned an incumbent to that board. Two candidates for a third School Board race and two incumbent Republican county commissioners face run-off races that voters will decide in November.

With those and a smattering of other races — from local Congressional seats down to a Brooksville City Council contest — just two months away, voters have plenty to learn from the primary and think about for the general election.


Perhaps the biggest upset Tuesday was Catherine Hatch’s victory over School Board Chairman Mark Johnson, who ran for reelection to the District 1 seat.

Hatch, 69, edged out Johnson with about 54 percent of the vote. Endorsed by the Hernando Classroom Teachers Association, much of her support came from educators and parents who disagreed with Johnson’s support for superintendent Lori Romano when the School Board fired her in June.

During the campaign, Hatch — a retired nurse and pastor who moved to Hernando about three years ago — said she wants the community to play a role in the search for Romano’s replacement. She also wants to help rebuild trust with the public that was lost with the ousted superintendent.

"I felt really good going into this," Hatch said Tuesday night. "I am so looking forward to serving the students and the teachers and the staff and the community."

Johnson wrote a Facebook post to thank his supporters: "I have won in a different way and will take lessons learned away with me. Thank everyone again. I am appreciative (of) all you have done (on) my behalf."

The race for the School Board’s District 3 seat remains undecided. Schools advocate Jimmy Lodato and former county commissioner Diane Rowden will face off in the November election.

The two finished the primary neck-and-neck, with about 400 votes between them. Rowden, 68, won about 41 percent of the vote. Lodato, 76, trailed closely at 39 percent. The third-place candidate in that race, Julius "Jules" Blazys, took about 20 percent of the vote.

Within an hour of getting vote returns, the leading candidates were looking ahead to the general election.

"We’re going to win in November," said Lodato, who has said he hopes to boost services for special-needs students, fight for better teacher pay and push for more vocational programs.

Rowden, whose campaign centers on boosting mental health services for Hernando students, had the same confidence.

"Of course," she said when asked if she expects to beat Lodato. "I certainly appreciate everyone that came out and voted for me. I encourage them to do the same in November."

Whomever wins in District 3 will replace Beth Narverud. On Tuesday, she lost her bid for a County Commission seat to incumbent Wayne Dukes.

District 5 School Board incumbent Susan Duval, who also got a boost from teachers scorned by Romano, crushed her challenger.

She took about 65 percent of the vote over Brooksville pastor Joe Santerelli, who said he ran against Duval because she voted to fire Romano.

Duval, 71, is a retired principal with more than 40 years in the Hernando school district. She was first elected to the board in 2014 and said she’s "honored" to have the chance to continue to serve.

"I don’t take things for granted," she said Tuesday night. "I want to do a good job and make everyone proud to be a part of this county and school district."

In a Facebook post Tuesday night, Santerelli conceded and congratulated Duval, as did many of her supporters.

"Susan believes in our district and our students," wrote Hernando school bus driver Kathy Kay. "Susan is our choice! YEAH!!!!"


Hernando Republican voters gave both incumbent county commissioners the possibility of another term on Tuesday.

Wayne Dukes in District 2 and Jeff Holcomb in District 4 beat out Republican rivals and will appear on the November ballot against Democrats Deborah Salvesen and Nancy Makar, respectively.

Dukes narrowly defeated School Board member Beth Narverud, while retired attorney Charles D. Greenwell ran third in the ballots. Holcomb easily defeated former Brooksville City Council member Natalie Kahler.

Dukes, 73, is seeking his third term on the commission. A Brooksville native, he is retired from work for the military in civil engineering and fire service. Dukes said his experience, education and professional background have made him the best pick for the job and pointed to his decisions to speed up lime-rock road paving and to develop coastal improvements, including new oyster beds and reef expansions.

On Wednesday morning Dukes was pulling his campaign signs from voting precincts across the county, logging 86 miles before noon.

"Obviously it was an interesting race,’’ he said. "Tough candidates, and we prevailed.’’ He said he was grateful to his supporters.

In District 4, Holcomb, 47, is an information technology consultant who spent a year deployed for the Naval Reserve during his term on the County Commission. He touts that he has not raised the general fund property tax rate and fought against creating a special taxing unit to fund the Sheriff’s Office.

After the vote count, Holcomb already was looking toward his November match-up with Makar.

"She’s a tough opponent,’’ Holcomb said.

In the race for county Clerk of the Circuit Court, Douglas Chorvat beat Joel Fritton, the general counsel for Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis.

Chorvat, 41, a Hernando County native, has 18 years of experience in information technology jobs with the clerk’s office. That gave Chorvat the edge in the race, he argued on the campaign trail.

On election night, Chorvat celebrated with his supporters at "taco night" at a Brooksville eatery.

"I think the experience and the support have been outstanding,’’ he said. "I can’t be happier.’’

Chorvat faces no-party candidate Michael Lamberti in November. Lamberti has been both a prosecutor and a public defender and has served since 1999 as a county Youth Court judge.


Hernando County voters will have several other important choices of candidates and issues, come the November general election.

They will decide whether to return State Sen. Wilton Simpson, a Republican, to another term. First elected in 2012 by default when there was no Democrat running against him in the general election, he faces a challenge this year by Democrat Michael Cottrell.

Both members of the state House of Representatives from Hernando County, Republicans Blaise Ingoglia and Ralph Massullo, face Democratic challengers. Ingoglia faces Colleen Kasperek in District 35, and Massullo faces Paul John Reinhardt in District 34.

Eleventh District U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster, a Republican, is seeking reelection. He faces Democrat Dana Cottrell, wife of the candidate challenging Simpson for the state Senate.

Brooksville residents will have another two choices to make on their fall ballot.

They will choose between former council members Pat Brayton and Frankie Burnett for the city council seat vacated by Kahler.

They also will vote on whether to keep fluoride in their city drinking water.

Contact Barbara Behrendt at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434. Contact Megan Reeves at [email protected] Follow @mareevs.

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