Kyle Becker is one week away from being sworn-in as the Apopka City Commissioner of Seat #4. He defeated 39-year incumbent Commissioner Bill Arrowsmith last Tuesday in a runoff election after losing to him in the general election only a month earlier. Many have called this a shocking upset and pointed to low-turnout in the runoff as the reason.
And while anytime an incumbent the stature of Arrowsmith loses to a first-time candidate, that is an upset… but was it really shocking? Or was the handwriting on the wall after the election results of March 15th? Or even as far back as two years ago?
Let’s start in 2014.
Two years prior, Mayor Joe Kilsheimer won Seat #3 of the City Commission, defeating Linda Laurendeau with 955 votes to 878. But only half-way into his term, he vacated the seat to run against a living legend – 61-year incumbent Mayor John Land.
In what could be seen as a wave election in Apopka, Kilsheimer defeated Land in the general election and then again in the runoff a month later. He received 3,352 votes to Land’s 2,803 – 55.5% to 45.5% in the runoff. Also coming in on that wave was Commissioner Diane Velazquez – defeating Marilyn Ulster-McQueen with 2,646 votes to McQueen’s 2,135 (55.3%-44.7%) to win Seat #2 without a runoff. Commissioner Sam Ruth was at the tail end of that wave, edging out Laurendeau (for Seat #3) 3,004-2,846 in the runoff.
Now back to 2016.
The March 15th Apopka General Election/ Florida Presidential Preference Primary was a day that will live in infamy. Over 10,000 voters turned-out to vote at 16 precincts scattered all over Apopka. Before that, they had access to mail-in ballots and a week of early voting options at the VFW/Apopka Community Center. Also on the ballot with the Apopka candidates were Donald Trump, Marco Rubio, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders who spent millions of dollars in Florida promoting their campaigns.
Arrowsmith won the day with 4,499 votes, but only 47% of the voters. Becker received 3,639 votes and 38%, while Young Kim proved to be the spoiler with a surprising 1,475 votes and 15%. Arrowsmith would have needed an additional 615 votes to cross the majority threshold and avoid a runoff.
On April 12th the circus that is the 2016 Presidential campaigns had left Florida, and Apopka was down to four candidates for two seats and one voting site – the VFW. Mail-in ballots were still an option that 2,473 voters took advantage of, but early voting (in Orlando) went nearly unused (31 voters). For all of these reasons, turnout dropped from over 10,249 to 4,930.
But did it skew the results?
After losing to Arrowsmith by 860 votes in March, Becker knew he would need to convert at least half of Kim’s supporters to have a shot at winning in April. And while no exit polls were taken to prove the conclusion, his victory margin makes it pretty clear that Kim voters returned in fairly high numbers to put Becker ahead of Arrowsmith in the runoff.
Becker’s margin of victory – 2,689 votes (54.9%) to Arrowsmith’s 2,206 (45.1%) mirrors the results of Kilsheimer and Velazquez in 2014. And while turnout was less than half of what it was in March, it was the largest turnout for a non-mayoral election in Apopka history (excluding the March 2016 election).
Arrowsmith is a giant in Apopka politics, second only to Land in name recognition, influence and stature. But over the last few election cycles higher turnouts and more attention on these races has changed the political landscape in Apopka. There are no shoe-ins, no unopposed races and no one is immune from losing an election.
And what does this say about the future of Apopka elections? Will “new” Apopka candidates keep winning with 55% of the vote? It’s impossible to know. The next election cycle is two years away; an eternity in politics, but it is safe to say a trend has emerged.