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Panhandle Politics...A Look At The 2016 Races

Panhandle Politics...A Look At The 2016 Races

As Laramore Retires, Mark Sims May Be Shoe-In For Public Defender

Yes, the chief public defender of the 14th judicial circuit is an elected position but no, there never has been an actual political race for the job.  And it looks as if that non-elected elected tradition may continue, as Mark Sims—currently the chief deputy public defender under Herman Laramore and assigned to Calhoun County--appears to be the only attorney seeking the position. The legal community locally has indicated that Sims may be the only candidate. The only person to file so far, Henry Mark Sims filed his statement of candidacy for the 2016 elections with the Florida Division of Elections as a Republican on June 30, when he also named June Garcia of Marianna as his campaign treasurer.  According to documents, Sims contributed $50,000 to his campaign in August and so far is listed as the sole contributor.  Sims is a resident of Jackson County.  Public Defender Herman Laramore announced in 2014 that he would be retiring from office in 2016.

The current annual salary for the elected Public Defender is the same as that of the State Attorney, $154,140.

The no-election tradition began after Calhoun County’s Virgil Mayo was appointed by the governor to the first-ever position for the 14th  in July 1963.  When it came time to run his first race in 1964, Mayo drew no opposition.  Until his retirement almost 30 years later, no one ever challenged him. Mayo, who knew his father Audie Laramore, hired Herman Laramore of Jackson County in 1970 the day Herman got out of law school. Herman Laramore carried on the Mayo tradition in style after entering the 1992 elections and drawing no opposition—then or since.  “There never has been a political race for public defender in the 14th Judicial Circuit,” Laramore told the TIMES last December. 

Sims would bring considerably more legal experience to the job than Laramore did in the beginning. Sims was hired as an assistant state attorney by State Attorney Jim Appleman in 1995, the same year he graduated from the law school at the University of Miami and was admitted to the Florida Bar.  But after 14 years as a prosecutor, he switched hats and became a public defender instead, defending the accused rather than putting them in prison. The switch came after the current 14th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Glenn Hess defeated Sims’ boss, Steve Meadows, in the 2008 elections.  

In October 2013, Laramore promoted Sims to be his chief deputy public defender.  At that time, Laramore announced that Sims would remain based in the Calhoun office, but he would be assuming administrative duties concerning budgetary and personnel decisions. Even then, Sims was expected to be a candidate when Laramore decided to retire.  So, any challengers to Sims have had plenty of time to make their voices heard; so far we have heard none.

Sims is a 1985 graduate of Marianna High School, a 1989 graduate of Chipola College and a1991 graduate of Florida State University, where he received a degree in economics before entering law school in Miami.  

Panama City Doctor Neal Dunn Is First Documented Opponent Of Us Rep. Gwen Graham

Panama City surgeon Neal Patrick Dunn, a Republican, filed his statement of candidacy with the Division of Elections on August 24.  He is challenging the first term Democrat incumbent, US Rep. Gwen Graham, for the Florida District 2 Congressional seat.  Another Tallahassee Republican has announced her candidacy in the D2 race, Mary Thomas; she filed her intention to run papers with the Federal Elections Commission in July.  The Florida Supreme Court still has ordered new district lines to be drawn statewide; the last maps submitted drastically changed D2, removing large Democratic voting areas and possibly making it difficult for Graham to be reelected.  The high court is awaiting action from a circuit court judge or the state Legislature and has directed that the districts be redrawn by the end of October. However, legal challenges to the new districts, once drawn, could result in the race being run using current district boundaries.   

Meanwhile, Graham has continued business as usual, saying only that map lines don’t matter as much as her mission. She hasn’t officially announced for the 2016 race, but her campaign has raised more than $1 million, according to a recent news release from her office. On September 11, Graham voted with just 25 other House Democrats to reject President Obama’s Iran nuclear deal.  But every Republican voted against the measure so it failed 162-269.  And despite the defections from Graham and other Democrats such as Alcee Hastings and Ted Deutch, both of Florida, “Enough Democrats voted to support the deal to deprive the GOP of a veto-proof majority,” according to a report in The Hill newspaper the day of the vote.

Dunn, 61, was introduced to the media at the Florida Press Center in Tallahassee in August by former Speaker of the Florida House Allan Bense, who according to an article in the Tallahassee Democrat, described him as “an unapologetic conservative Republican.”  Dunn served 10 years as a US Army surgeon and has spent the last 25 years as a medical doctor in Panama City.  He is listed as a founder of the Panama City Urology Center and the Bay Regional Cancer Center and as a founding chairman of Panama City-based Summit Bank. 

Jackson County Offices Up For Election In 2016

According to the Jackson County Supervisor of Elections office, the terms of Jackson County Commissioners Kenneth Stephens (Democrat, District 5), Chuck Lockey (Democrat, District 3) and Willie Spires (Democrat, District 1), all expire in 2016.  The Jackson County School Board terms of members Kenneth Griffin (District 2) and Stacey Goodson (District 3) expire.  School board members are non-partisan officeholders as are 14th Judicial Circuit judges, and four of them have terms that expire next year.  They are Allen Register of Group 1, Pete Mallory of Group 2, Chris Patterson of Group 5 and Brantley Clark of Group 8. 

The terms of three of the five members of the Jackson County Soil & Water Conservation District expire next year.  They are the terms of Mack Glass of Group 1, Thomas Stadsklev of Group 3 and Bennie Davis of Group 5.  Other offices to be filled in 2016 for which Jackson County voters will help decide the outcome include president and vice-president, US House of Representatives D2, US Senate (Florida—Sen. Marco Rubio is not running again) state senate District 1 (Matt Gates and George Gainer are the two announced candidates so far in this district which represents Jackson County), state representative, District 5 (Incumbent Republican Rep. Brad Drake and challenger Bev Kilmer are the two announced candidates so far in this district which represents Jackson County), 14th Judicial Circuit State Attorney, 14th Judicial Circuit Public Defender, and the county offices of court clerk, sheriff, property appraiser, tax collector, superintendent of schools and supervisor of elections.    

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Last modified onMonday, 05 October 2015 17:49

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