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Apopka Incumbents: An Endangered Species?


Political Opinion/Analysis

Apopka spoke loud and clear yesterday. Doug Bankson defeated incumbent Commissioner Sam Ruth with 2,707 votes to 2,170 to take Seat #3. Kyle Becker defeated incumbent Commissioner Bill Arrowsmith with 2,689 votes to 2,206 to take Seat #4.

apopka incumbents Sam Ruth congratulates Doug Bankson

Those are pretty solid margins in races that most people expected to be much closer.

But while Apopka's choices were black and white, the message they sent is light grey. What exactly were the voters telling their leaders?

Let's explore a few themes...

Incumbents beware!

Congratulations again to Doug Bankson and Kyle Becker. Enjoy Seats #3 and #4. Luxurious and elegant seats aren't they? Cushiony and a nice high back you can just ease into and spend a couple hours every two weeks… But don't get too comfortable in them. You may not be staying long.

Apopka incumbents are on a losing streak that dates back to 2012, and now you guys are Apopka incumbents.

Term limits may not be as big an issue in Apopka as once thought. Incumbents don't seem to stick around anymore. Despite a national average of winning about 88% of the municipal elections, the incumbents in Apopka may need to go on the endangered species list. Take a look at the statistics over the past few election cycles:

Since 2012 Apopka incumbents have lost every contested political race for City Council. That streak now stretches to four in a row after victories by Bankson and Becker.

In 2014 Mayor Joe Kilsheimer defeated 59-year incumbent John Land for Mayor. That same year Commissioner Diane Velazquez defeated 16-year incumbent Marilyn Ustler-McQueen.

In 2012 then 35-year incumbent Bill Arrowsmith ran un-opposed. Incumbent 8-year Kathy Till chose not to seek re-election. Kilsheimer won her seat.

Commissioner Billie Dean was the last incumbent to defend his seat against an opponent - beating Barb Zakszewski in 2010 with 1,164 votes to her 725.

This level of attrition has dramatically affected the experience on Apopka's City Council.

In 2012, the combined years of experience was 126. The new council only has 28 years of experience, and that is mostly due to Dean's 22 years on the City Council.

If Dean, Velazquez and Kilsheimer were to lose their races in 2018 (or choose not to run), the City Council could conceivably have only 4 years of experience between the five members.

apopka incumbents Kyle Becker

On the surface, this doesn't seem to concern Apopka voters. But was this election really about incumbents vs. challengers?

"The Good Old Boy Network" vs. "A Coalition of Sorts"

These two phrases were used a lot on social media to describe what can be called the Mayor Land "old guard" vs. The Team Kilsheimer "new guard". The premise was that Bankson and Arrowsmith were part of a "good old boy network" that would vote in a block against Kilsheimer's agenda, while Becker and Ruth would align with Kilsheimer, become "a coalition of sorts" and vote with him in "yes man" fashion.

Both Bankson and Becker aggressively pushed-back on this assertion.

“Strategically I would align with the Mayor," Becker said in an interview earlier in the campaign. "Tactically I may not. I’m running on my own merits. There’s going to be times where I disagree and I’ll vote accordingly. Are there going to be tactical differences? Absolutely. And I want to have healthy debate. Not political debate. I think friction sharpens the point. I don’t see how it’s a negative to say there would be alignment on the council. But I think for myself. And there will be times when I vote with the majority, but I have no fear of casting a no vote.”

Bankson was definitely ready to move on from divisions.

"I think it's time to move past polarization and draw together as a city, " he said today. "I'm aligned with the people of Apopka and I look forward to building consensus so that we can move forward together.We have an amazing past and a fantastic future and I am both humbled and privileged to serve all the people of Apopka."

Election fundamentals 2016

Throughout this election, both Bankson and Becker ran state-of-the-art campaigns. They used social media strategically. They built appealing, user-friendly websites. They spoke well at forums. They kept drama to a minimum. They knocked on hundreds of doors and obviously resonated with voters. They targeted their supporters and got them to turnout on Election Day, through early voting or by mailing in their ballots.

These are the tactics of a 2016 campaign on the local level. If you are qualified, have a message that resonates, manage your campaign efficiently, and follow these fundamentals, you win elections.

It is not to say Bankson and Becker are better qualified to move Apopka forward than Arrowsmith or Ruth. It is to say Bankson and Becker put themselves in a position to win by running effective campaigns that connected with this electorate.

But in this election, the voters of Apopka looked past the titles of incumbency and the factions of "networks and coalitions" and simply voted for the two candidates they liked best.


Apopka City Commission Elections, Doug Bankson, Kyle Becker


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