Conservative candidates swept Pinellas County on Tuesday night as the Republican challenger for the lone open county commission seat and the right-leaning candidates for two nonpartisan school board seats all claimed victories.
The win by Brian Scott, a charter-bus company president and first-time candidate, returns control of the Pinellas County Commission to Republicans for the first time in eight years. With almost all precincts reporting Tuesday night, Scott led incumbent Democrat Pat Gerard by a margin of 54% to 46%.
The candidates shattered fundraising records for a Pinellas commission race, and results were expected to be close. Instead, Scott won running away. He could not be reached for comment.
Scott, whose family founded Escot Bus Lines in 1983, positioned himself as a political outsider with business experience he believed the commission needed. He’s called for “efficient” spending and lower taxes. He also said he was compelled to run by his dismay with policies the county put in place early in the COVID-19 pandemic, such as beach closures and mask mandates.
Gerard, a former Largo mayor who also had a career in human services, was first elected to the commission in 2014. During her campaign, she emphasized the county’s role in caring for its citizens and cited her years of experience on a commission that has a penchant for building consensus and rarely devolves into partisan bickering.
Two Pinellas School Board seats were up for grabs after incumbents Nicole Carr and Bill Dudley chose not to seek reelection and no candidate won an outright majority in the August primary.
They were won by Dawn Peters and Stephanie Meyer. Both were backed by Moms for Liberty, the conservative group known for its support of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ education agenda, which included limits on discussions of race and gender issues in schools.
Peters, a personal trainer, won Carr’s District 3 countywide at-large seat with a 4-point margin over Keesha Benson, a social worker and community organizer. Peters called for a back-to-basics approach to education. She came under fire from critics for social media posts that tied her to the fringe conspiracy theories of QAnon.
Benson did not involve herself in the QAnon revelation, instead focusing on issues such as ensuring all students get the academic and social services they need to become successful. She had a broad cross-section of endorsements and more than double the amount of campaign contributions as her rival, who attempted to paint Benson as an out-of-touch liberal.
Meyer, a teacher, beat out chemical engineer Brian Martin for Dudley’s District 6 seat in south-central Pinellas with a 6-point margin. Their campaign at times got nasty, with Meyer and her supporters making allegations against Martin that Martin’s team called lies and misinformation. Meyer focused her efforts on pushing for the parental rights movement backed by DeSantis, while Martin advocated for policies he said would be more inclusive.
“I’m honored and humbled by the support of our community and I look forward to serving the citizens of Pinellas on our school board,” Meyer said.
Peters could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.
Meyer had the Moms for Liberty endorsement, while Martin got backing from Democratic interests.
In St. Petersburg, voters said yes to all four questions on their ballot, a change from last year’s election results when five out of seven city charter amendments failed.
Voters approved an amendment to the city charter that moves municipal elections from odd-numbered years to even-numbered ones, netting an extra year in office for Mayor Ken Welch and City Council members. The measure won with 70% voting yes.
Proponents argued that the change would drastically improve voter turnout, which is much lower for “off-year” elections than presidential or midterm cycles, and that it would save the city money. Opponents feared that shifting the calendar to align these races with state and national ones would create a sense of partisanship for the nonpartisan municipal offices.
With the biggest win margin among St. Petersburg’s ballot questions, voters approved expanding the Dalí Museum, with 78% voting yes. Any change along the waterfront triggers a public referendum, and the Dalí seeks to extend its current building to the west for more exhibit space. The measure got some friction this week when Mahaffey Theater operator Bill Edwards questioned “implications” of the expansion.
Additionally, 60% of voters approved a city charter amendment to allow current City Council members to continue serving their district after their district boundaries were redrawn through the redistricting process. The yes vote also shifts the qualifying deadline for the next election cycle to next June, opening a six-month window to allow a prospective candidate to relocate to the redrawn district for the 2024 election.
Voters this time approved a revival of a program that gives tax breaks to businesses to relocate to St. Petersburg, invest in their workspaces or create jobs. A 10-year renewal of the program failed on last year’s ballot by 87 votes. It passed with 61% of the vote.
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