Wakulla County is Getting Muddy…

The 2012 election season in Wakulla has been marked by high rainfall totals. However, the rain isn’t the only thing making it muddy here on the Gulf coast.

I recently wrote a letter to the editor of our local weekly about a 2012 county commission race in Wakulla. One candidate is an incumbent. Commissioner Mike Stewart was elected to the commission, sat out a term, and then was re-elected in 2008. The challenging candidate Howard Kessler is a former county commissioner who was defeated in 2010. Kessler has moved to a different district to run in 2012.

Recently, a Facebook page paid for by an ECO started slinging mud about issues related to gay marriage and family values. Wakulla can be fairly conservative. Our county’s neighbor to the north, Leon, is more liberal. It is a college town and a human rights ordinance was passed there a few years ago. A few miles south, down here on the coast, marriage equality is not yet on the radar. However, in a community where people may ask what church you attend when they first meet you, a conversation about conservative family values resonates with many citizens.

In 2008, the Florida Marriage Amendment, also known as Proposition 2 and The Marriage Protection Amendment, was a proposed initiated constitutional amendment to the Florida Constitution. It appeared on the November 4, 2008 ballot in Florida. In order to pass, the amendment required a 60% majority of those voting in the election.

The ballot language said, “This amendment protects marriage as the legal union of only one man and one woman as husband and wife and provides that no other legal union that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof shall be valid or recognized.”

The measure passed statewide with a healthy margin:

Amendment 2 (2008)
Result Votes Percentage
Approved Yes 4,645,602 62.1%
No 2,833,052 37.9%

The amendment joined the following other marriage “protection” measures in Florida law:

Florida Statute 741.212(1) defines marriage as the legal union between one man and one woman and provides that the term “spouse” applies only to a member of such union (FL. Stat. 741.212(1),(3)).

Florida also adopted a Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 1997 which was codified as Florida Statute 741.212.

In 2008, in Wakulla, out of 14,066 cast, 9930 votes were cast in favor of Amendment 2. At the time, there were 18,566 registered voters in the county.

That said, it is interesting that someone would try to make marriage equality in this county commission race.

August 20, 2012

Dear Editor,

I planned to wait a bit after the primary election to write another political letter but recent events have prompted me to cut the wait short. A few weeks ago I noticed that electioneering communication focused on the County Commission Seat 3 race had started to appear. Print ads, Facebook pages, and websites had appeared – some focused on the candidacy of former County Commissioner Howard Kessler and others focused on current Commissioner Mike Stewart.

As of now, the Wakulla Democratic Party has not endorsed a candidate in this race. We may not do so at all since there is no Democratic candidate in the race. However, as a voting citizen of this county, I personally have an interest in the outcome of this race. Previously, I have voted for both Mike Stewart and Howard Kessler – albeit for different races. I have never had to choose between them on a ballot before. Their campaigns in this cycle will influence how I cast my vote this November.

Over the weekend, I saw an electioneering site on Facebook take a very negative turn. Previously, the Facebook page and the website http://www.tellthetruthmikestewart.com/ critiqued Commissioner Stewart’s record in office. However, on Saturday, a post from the Facebook page administrator posed questions about Commissioner Stewart’s ties to a group called Floridians for Accountability engaged in electioneering communication against Dr. Howard Kessler. The posting suggested that the group supported marriage equality, but referred to the issue as “gay marriage” and questioned Commissioner Stewart’s family values.

I was disturbed by this negative turn. No human rights ordinance has been proposed in Wakulla County. There has been no referendum on marriage of any kind in this community. Why say this and why attack someone’s family values for something that would be a state or federal issue rather than a county commission issue?

Furthermore, there doesn’t seem to be a link between Commissioner Stewart and this electioneering communications organization.

On my own Facebook page, I linked to the electioneering page and spoke out against negative campaigning. I also called for Dr. Kessler to take a stand against the page. Both Commissioner Stewart and Dr. Kessler responded to my posts. Other community members participated in the thread as well.

The Facebook page has since been taken down or perhaps I have been blocked from viewing it but the address and name were https://www.facebook.com/pages/Tell-the-Truth-Mike-Stewart/372675729469564?ref=ts. The thread on my own Facebook page disappeared with it. The page still shows up in search engines but can no longer be accessed.

Tell the Truth, Mike Stewart – Résumé | Facebook

Tell the Truth, Mike Stewart. 11 likes • 1 talking about this.

I felt compelled to write this letter because Dr. Kessler stated that he did not approve of negative campaigning and that he had no connection to the Facebook page or to the website http://www.tellthetruthmikestewart.com/. Both sites were listed as paid electioneering communication paid for by FLQOL, 3019 Spirea Street, Sarasota, FL 34231. This group is the Florida Quality of Life Council, Inc. It is a registered electioneering communications organization. The only source of income for this group are a series of inkind donations for accounting made by the BATTLEGROUND GROUP, INC.

An inquiry into the actual IP address of the website http://www.tellthetruthmikestewart.com/ shows that it is registered to Republican political strategist Chris Akins – see the screen shot attached to this letter. Mr. Akins lists Dr. Kessler as a client and also refers to their professional association in a June Facebook post – see the screen shot attached to this letter. However, there doesn’t seem to be a record of payment to Chris Akins or Akins Campaign Strategy listed on Dr. Kessler’s campaign finance reports filed with the Wakulla Supervisor of Elections. If Mr. Akins is donating his services, shouldn’t that be listed as an inkind contribution to Dr. Kessler’s campaign?

I believe there is a place in politics for electioneering communication. However, I think such groups need to stick to actual issues that are relevant to the race. I think it is important that candidates are honest with citizens about efforts undertaken on their behalf. To say, “this is terrible and I didn’t authorize it nor do I condone it” is one thing. Candidates can’t always control what their supporters do. However, in this instance, the connecting lines between Dr. Kessler, Chris Akins, FQOL, the Battleground Group, and the negative electioneering communication sites beg for scrutiny.

I’m calling for a clean, honest race for County Commission Seat 3 in which the candidates stick to the issues and campaign on their own merits. Candidates, please keep it clean.

Rachel Sutz Pienta
Chair, Wakulla Democratic Party

NOTE: I have not included attachments with this blog post but I am happy to provide them on request.

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3 thoughts on “Wakulla County is Getting Muddy…

  1. Hi, I would agree with The Chair, of Wakulla Democratic Party. Campaigning should be kept clean – no mud slinging. I also think it’s too bad that folks still can’t get past gay marriage being legal. This is 2012 after all!

  2. Your facts are laughably wrong. You state that there’s no link between Floridians for Accountability and Mike Stewart, yet they’re running ads in the Wakulla Area Digest to attack Dr. Kessler just as they did two years ago, clearly designed to benefit Commissioner Stewart.

    Why did you not speak of this or research this?

    When I looked at Floridians for Accountability, they haven’t claimed any expenditures yet paid for the Wakulla Area Digest ad for August that we know of, according to the disclaimer in its own ad.

    Again, why haven’t you looked at this?

    Here’s a link to the campaign finance activity for Floridians for Accountability – http://election.dos.state.fl.us/committees/ComDetail.asp?account=54592

    You point out one but not the other. That’s not the progressive way. Unless you’re being paid to use your position as Democrat Party Chair to support a Republican.

  3. After reading Dr. Pienta statement “…I linked to the electioneering page and spoke out against negative campaigning.”, would anyone believe the following two quotes (made publicly) are direct from Dr. Pienta? Well, she did indeed on a Democratic Facebook page and these statements beg an explanation. See actual posts at:


    She posted:

    “Now we could talk about the criminal history of an NPA candidate that Hugh evidently supports?”


    “I would also love to discuss the voting record of an NPA candidate who left the county on the hook for millions with the federal government. Thank goodness the current board had the vision and leadership skills to address the issue so that the county was not bankrupt.”

    Since no names were attached to the statements made (see attachment) and since there are Five NPA candidates in Wakulla County, the statement of criminal history covers all five candidates. I personally know of no candidate with a criminal record. Why were these accusations made by the Chair of the Wakulla Democratic Committee on a public page?

    A similar concern applies to the second statement.

    Making statements and implying past criminality of an NPA candidate (which one of the 5 candidates is being referred to?) is serious business.

    I hope that there can be some clarification of these statements and a possibly the establishment of a policy that would keep political comments limited to the business of the county, the candidate’s track record and avoid smear, personal attacks and misinformation.