Candidate Forum Report and Endorsements

Temple Beth El of Boca Raton hosted a candidate forum Tuesday. Numerous candidates appeared and answered questions, including all in the above photo and more. The author of this article was on the committee that set up the forum, planned the questions, and also served on the panel that asked the questions.
Election Day is this coming Tuesday, the 4th. Early voting is still on from 7 am through 7 pm through Sunday, at the West Boca branch library on 441.

The last two candidates on the agenda were the ones asked about an issue on the minds of many in West Boca. West Boca News has been pressing incumbent County Commissioner Steven Abrams (R) about his position on panhandlers on our intersections, and he has been ducking us. He continued to avoid it on Tuesday. His position is that he needs to talk to the firefighters and the PBA first. Those groups also use the intersections to solicit contributions.
Abrams’ challenger, Andy O’Brien (D) was far more clear. He supports adopting the same approach used by the City of Boca Raton. Although we find him a little kooky in talking about global warming at the county level, his solid answer on panhandling merits our endorsement.

Another hot race that covers part of West Boca is congressional district 22, includes some of West Boca and all of East Boca. Republican Paul Spain and incumbent Democrat Lois Frankel both were there. Asked about immigration, Frankel gave a short but vague answer. Spain’s answer didn’t make sense to my ears, saying we need to count the illegal aliens who are here.
On spending Spain said we should spend less but had no answer on where he’d cut. Frankel said it’s not a question of more or less (that was the question) and that she’d eliminate tax cuts to oil companies and others.
Both were also asked about using US troops to combat ISIS in foreign countries. Both were unclear in their answers. Frankel said it should be determined on a case-by-case basis. Spain said we should only go in if we’re determined to win.
The highlight of their time on the stage was in their closings. Spain said that our relations with Israel have gotten so bad that the Obama administration is not talking with the Israeli government. Frankel disagreed and the audience applauded her.
Speaking only for myself and not for West Boca News’ co-founder, Spain seems the better choice here but not by much. He started with an old tired Republican cliche – that he’s a businessman rather than a professional politician. And I’d have liked him better if he’d spell out some specific cuts. But at least he says he’d cut spending, where Frankel appears to be happy with spending gone wild in Washington. As for the Israel point, he’s a lot more accurate than Frankel, per the liberal Atlantic. It amazes this author that anyone who is strongly pro-Israel could support the Obama administration’s handling of the situation.

State Senate District 34 covers all of Boca east of the Turnpike. Ellen Bogdanoff (R) gave the most awkward opening statement I’ve ever seen, telling the audience she was uncomfortable and almost didn’t come because she feels she’s judged unfairly by the Jewish community. In the middle of an overall poor performance she gave the best answer of the night when asked about expanding Medicaid. She encouraged the audience to ask their doctors about it and asserted that many doctors are retiring – I’ve heard similar comments made by a number of doctor friends. Incumbent Senator Maria Sachs (D) was a stark contrast. She was so smooth it seemed unnatural. She repeatedly mentioned a couple of “accomplishments” that did not impress me, especially something about bringing a program to FAU from Technion University in Israel.
Based on Bogdanoff’s Medicaid answer I would have endorsed her. However, her erratic performance sapped my confidence in her. Hostile audiences are the best audiences to meet – you can’t lose their votes. She should know better. West Boca News makes no endorsement in the race.

Another hot race involves incumbent Republican Bill Hager against Democrat David Silvers for State House east of Military Trail. I’ve met Hager a few times but never felt a personal connection. By contrast I met Silvers for the first time that night and found him warm and personable.
Hager impressed me a lot more with his answers. On Common Core Hager gave a straight answer that he opposes it along with much of the testing and favors local control. Hager served on a school board in the past. Silvers also said he opposes Common Core but was unclear what alternative he supports.
Both were asked about the “Competitive Workforce Act.” Hager said he’s a co-sponsor of it and Silvers supports it. There didn’t seem to be much of a difference between them on this. If I were choosing who I wanted to have a beer with it’d be Silvers. But in choosing who to serve in the State House, I endorse Bill Hager in this race.

For the rest of the races we’ll take them in the order they came on the agenda. First up was Carl Domino, a Republican in a contested race with Congressman Patrick Murphy. Their district is well north of here with the southern part of it in West Palm Beach. Domino presented himself reasonably well, but gave a classic establishment Republican non-answer when asked where he would cut spending.
Next was Alcee Hastings, the incumbent Democrat from District 20, which does not include West Boca but includes areas near it:
Hastings is a great speaker with a powerful voice and a sharp mind. He was also interesting. In contrast to the official Obama administration position, Hastings said that there are US special forces troops on the ground in Syria right now. He’s also one of the rare politicians to give a solid answer on where he would cut spending, saying he would reduce US military involvement overseas.
Congressman Ted Deutch (D) appeared alone. We previously reported that he’s unopposed but there is a write-in campaign and the man behind it is Mike Trout. Trout was not invited to the forum because at the time we were deciding whom to invite, we did not know he was running. District 21 includes most of West Boca. Everything west of the Turnpike is in the district. East of the Turnpike and north of Clint Moore the district runs to Military Trail. South of Palmetto Park Road it extends to Powerline and then south of SW 18th it goes to Military Trail.
Deutch was very popular with the audience. He did not give a straight answer on where he’d cut spending or where he’d raise taxes, other than to say he opposes across-the-board cuts. He was also vague on balancing the fight against terrorism with protecting individual rights. On one issue he and most of the candidates were clear – he stands firmly with Israel.
In the statewide CFO race Democrat Will Rankin showed up, while incumbent Jeff Atwater (R) did not. Atwater has a lot of local ties and his absence was disappointing. Rankin seemed competent and gave reasonable answers to the questions. He raised good points about rising insurance rates and the handling of the state’s public pension system. In part because Atwater was a no-show and also because he’s announced his interest in leaving the position to become President of FAU, West Boca News endorses Rankin.
Republican challenger for State House Stuart Mears showed up but the incumbent, Mark Pafford, did not. Their district (86) is well north of us starting in Wellington. Regarding education and testing he gave a pretty good answer about using testing to measure student growth. On spending and revenue his answer was unclear.
Incumbent Lori Berman (D) serves in House District 90 and she’s running unopposed. She was well received and made some wonderful comments about “high risk testing.”

We Endorse Jessica Ticktin for Circuit Judge

West Boca News endorses Jessica Ticktin for Circuit Court Judge. Ms. Ticktin is running against the incumbent Hon. Diana Lewis.
There are a few reasons for our endorsement. The most compelling of those is the incumbent’s record. The Palm Beach County Bar Association evaluates judges based on several factors. Lawyers in the county have consistently rated Judge Lewis the worst in the county.
Here are the 2013 ratings for Judge Lewis:
A substantial majority of the lawyers responding rated her poorly for “Judicial Demeanor & Courtesy to Lawyers,” by far the worst. Half the judges in the county are rated “needs improvement” on that factor by single digits. 147 lawyers gave her that rating. Only one other judge had half that many.
She had the worst ratings of the 34 circuit judges on most of the factors. You can see all of the Bar’s judge ratings for 2013 here:
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Strong pluralities also rated her poorly for impartiality, common sense, and enforcing professionalism. Put more bluntly, Judge Lewis on the bench is rude, biased, unprofessional, and lacking in common sense.
The Florida Constitution requires that judges face reelection. If that means anything it means that the worst judges should be voted out.
There’s another key reason for our endorsement. We met Jessica Ticktin, she impressed us, and we think she’ll make a good judge. We’re not alone. The Sun-Sentinel (“the steady, fair temperament she would bring to the Circuit Court bench”) and Palm Beach Post (“Ticktin’s experience and demeanor make her a more than capable replacement.”) both endorsed Ticktin.
Two other minor details deserve mention. First, Ticktin lives in West Boca. The legal community in this county tends to center on West Palm Beach. For those who live in West Boca, it doesn’t hurt to have a judge who knows our community.
Second, the incumbent’s campaign did not respond to our requests for an interview in West Boca. We were included on a mass e-mail campaign event invitation sent to people who had “expressed an interest in ReElect Judge Lewis,” but never received any response to our direct requests. One of our volunteer reporters, Jeff Van Treese, was able to attend the event in East Boca. Lewis did interview with him and made a favorable impression. Still the lack of response from the campaign for a more complete interview bothered us. All the other judicial candidates responded to our requests and agreed to meet with us in West Boca.
The election day for this race is August 26th, but early voting has already begun at the West Boca branch library on the west side of 441 north of Yamato.
We should also note that we are not making any endorsement in the other judicial race. We like all three of the candidates: Jaimie Goodman, Peggy Rowe-Linn, and Maxine Cheesman.

On the Campaign Trail with Circuit Court Judge Diana Lewis

Judge Lewis
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to interview Judge Diana Lewis, who is running for re-election for Palm Beach County Circuit Court, Group 14. She is currently a judge in the probate division and previously served in the foreclosure division. She was first elected in 2002 and has served for 11 years.
Her previous legal career consisted primarily of defense work in medical malpractice and products liability litigation. When asked why voters should choose her over her challenger, Jessica Ticktin, she stated that her experience as a judge and a litigator make her a stronger candidate. Judge Lewis did acknowledge that Ms. Ticktin possesses managerial experience in her administrative duties at a successful law firm and this skill set would have value should Ms. Ticktin become a judge. However, Judge Lewis contends that Ms. Ticktin does not have as much courtroom experience.
West Boca News had the opportunity to interview Ms. Ticktin earlier. When asked if she has aspirations beyond Palm Beach County Circuit Court, Judge Lewis was adamant that she is satisfied with her current post and has no thoughts of being appointed to a higher court. In fact, she stated that she enjoys presiding over trials and would not be interested in becoming an appellate judge.
When asked what is the most rewarding aspect of her job, Judge Lewis stated that helping those in a position of need at guardianship hearings gives her the greatest fulfillment. She also noted that her caseload has become more manageable since switching from foreclosures to probate, especially considering that she was a foreclosure judge at the height of the recession.
Judge Lewis has been a member of a number of community and professional organizations including the Forum Club and the Florida Bar Judicial Relations Committee.
The election is August 26.
Editor’s Note: Judge Lewis recently made news for ruling against the gay marriage ban in a probate case.