Local candidates will be on the same ballot as the presidential nominees on Election Day. This includes candidates for Congress, the state legislature and the District Court of Appeals.
US House seats
At 27, Florida ties with New York for the third largest number of representatives. The Democratic Party currently holds the House majority, but the Republican Party is placing more emphasis due to the presidential election; a net gain of 21 seats would push them to that level. In Polk County alone, there are three Congressional House seats available, with two candidates, Darren Soto (D) and Greg Steube (R), running for reelection.
The third seat belongs to Congressional District 15, which is Lakeland. Incumbent Ross Spano (R) lost to challenger Scott Franklin (R) in the primary, creating a race between Franklin and Alan Cohn (D).
Franklin is the current Lakeland City Commissioner, is the owner and CEO of Lanier Upshaw Inc., and has been involved with the School of Business at FSC. Some of his main priorities are defending the Second Amendment, strengthening national defense, supporting Christian values and advancing President Trump’s agenda.
Alan Cohn is an investigative journalist, the creator of AMC Productions, and an Emmy-winner for work with WAMI-TV in Miami. This is Cohn’s second time running for this Congressional seat, running for the first time in 2014 against at-the-time incumbent, Dennis A. Ross (R). His priorities include confronting political corruption, advocating for veterans, increasing minimum wage, and fixing the US healthcare system.
The winner of this race could decide the political balance of Polk County in D.C.
State House seats
State representatives have a different responsibility, as they speak more for their district than their state. Only 10 states have full time legislatures, one being Florida, though it is a limited one. There are five State Representative offices in Polk County. Four incumbents, all Republicans, will be on the ballot. Lakeland falls in District 40, which currently seats one of those incumbents, Collen Burton (R).
Incumbent Burton was previously executive director of the Imperial Symphony Orchestra and Big Brothers Big Sisters, and she has served in Tallahassee since 2014. Her priorities include focus on economic and job growth, defending the second amendment, lowering taxes and expanding healthcare for families. As an incumbent, she is running on a different playing field. While incumbents typically conduct their campaign in generally the same method, their focus differs.
“Incumbents run on their record,” Dr. R. Bruce Anderson, Associate Professor of Political Science, said. “If you’ve done your job as an incumbent, you’ve been back to your district a lot.”
However, while legislative campaigns themselves are typically very similar on all levels, running for State Legislature can draw different candidates.
“Some people running for State Legislature don’t have any experience,” Anderson said.
Burton’s challenger Jan Barrow (D) falls into this category. A total newcomer to politics, Barrow is native Lakelander with a passion for the city and its people.
“The person that is in this position should be working exclusively for Lakeland,” Barrow said in the SAAC Voter Information Session on Friday.
Barrow is a graduate of FSC and has lived in Lakeland for 35 years. A licensed real estate sales associate, Barrow also served as a board member of Big Brothers Big Sisters. Her priorities involve tackling statewide unemployment, working for job stability, protecting Florida’s water and environment, and expanding senior protection and programs. If elected, Barrow’s focus will be be on the people.
“I will be available to talk to my constituents,” Barrow said. “To get to know them, to hear their problems, their desires, and to try to help solve their problems to the best of my ability.”
Other Positions and Motions
Justice Carlos G. Muniz was appointed to the Florida Supreme Court by Gov. DeSantis in Jan. 2019. During this election, he faces his first merit retention vote, in which Florida voters decide if he will remain in office.
The Lakeland ballot will contain two new people running for County Commissioner, and there are four nonpartisan candidates up for the District Court of Appeals.
The ballot will also include voting for or against six amendments. The amendments include an increase of minimum wage, changing language in the Florida Constitution regarding voting rights, and establishment of a top-two open primary. Voters will also vote for or against one county referendum and two charter amendments.