Special interests rule the day in St. Johns Co. elections

By Al Abbatiello
Special to St. Augustine Record

Are St. Johns County votes for sale?

Campaign contribution tallies for qualified candidates seems to say it’s very possible.

Let’s look at the campaign contributions for the qualified candidates. Two seats are up for election – Districts 2 and 4. The incumbents, Jeremiah Blocker and Sarah Arnold, have a combined total of $458,468 in campaign funds compared to $75,817 for the remaining five qualified candidates. This 605% difference in campaign funding suggests the incumbents are extremely popular with county residents.

However, based on resident concerns of overdevelopment, crowded schools, traffic and unsafe roads it’s hard to believe extreme popularity is the major factor for this support. So, why the huge imbalance in campaign funding? Based on my 24 years of voting history in St. Johns County and this funding imbalance in every election, it’s clear that special interests rule the day.

Who are these special interests? Special interests include developers, political committees, property managers, builders, lawyers, construction companies, land planning corporations, and friends and families of these entities. Let’s not forget politicians since they, too, have special interests as Florida grows in population.

Based on the high rate of residential growth, density of recent housing developments, traffic density, narrow roads, and many thousands of unbuilt but approved single family homes, who can deny that special interests are at work? Who else can afford the large numbers of $500 and $1,000 campaign donations seen on the finance reports of the incumbent candidates?

Voters: Don’t be fooled by the many large campaign signs of the incumbents seen on virtually every busy corner, roads or large tracts of developer owned vacant land in St. Johns County. Who places these signs there? The incumbent candidates? Think again. Campaign TV ads, mailers and other media advertising are affordable only by the incumbents with their hordes of cash.

Unless one is highly funded by the ‘special interests’ there’s virtually no chance anyone other than their ‘favorite’ wins the election. Remember Jimmy Johns? He fell out of favor with the special interests and lost lots of funding while being subjected to massive, ugly negative TV, print and mail advertising. I, too, was subjected to massive negative advertising in 2012 when running for St. Johns County commission despite being endorsed by the St. Augustine Record and other local agencies. If you’re not ‘in,’ you’re ‘out’.

Advertising from incumbents Sarah Arnold and Jeremiah Blocker suggest they’re for smart growth, managing growth responsibly, protecting the environment, and defending our quality of life. Are they? You be the judge! Remember, Commissioner Arnold’s very first vote as an appointed commissioner was to approve the massive SilverLeaf development expansion.

Oh, by the way, the small campaign signs of competing, hopeful candidates often go missing on a regular basis. I’ve run for a County Commission seat and have experienced missing signs and lack of campaign funds to afford anything more than small roadside signs.

Every candidate for a County Commission seat is well-qualified to serve as your county commissioner. Each of them should not be considered based on numbers of campaign signs, TV or print ads, or amount of campaign funds. They must be judged based on you see but the content of their stated concerns for the health safety and welfare of our county’s residents while maintaining the scenic and historic character of St. Johns County.
Special interests should not be electing our next county commissioners. Think before you act and consider the merits of each candidate running for the offices.

Al Abbatiello has lived and worked as a Realtor in St. Johns County for 24 years. He has also served as chairman of the Wm. Bartram Scenic & Historic Highway Organization for the past 13 years. He was twice elected to the Julington Creek Plantation CDD Board of Supervisors.
Copyright (c) 2022 St. Augustine Record, Edition 8/14/2022
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