Dust settles on Volusia County elections: GOP has majority on School Board & County Council

Party Lines political notebook / Headline Surfer®
Photo for Headline Surfer® /  Tony Ledbetter, head of the Volusia County Republican Executive Committee, is pleased his party has the majoriry control in the 5-member school board and 7-member County Council, even though the elected seats in both are non-partisan. He's now lobbying for School Board member Linda Costello, a Republican, for chair of the School Board.
 
By HENRY FREDERICK
Headline Surfer

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- For perhaps the first time in Volusia County history or at least in the last several decades, the Republican Party has a majority on the County Council and the School Board, even though they are deemed non-partisan elected posts per home-rule charter.

But that hasn't stopped Tony Ledbetter, chairman of the Volusia County GOP executive committee from injecting partisan ideology and party identification.

Ledbetter pointed to a quote in the Daytona Beach News-Journal attributed to Linda Cuthbert, the district 3 school board candidate who crushed Republican candidate Georege Trovato in the general election, who made a quote explaining she recognized the elected post she won as truly non-partisan.

This is what Cuthbert said: "I'm a member of the Democratic Party, but I don't belong to it. Right now I am beholden to the school district." Ledbetter, on his GOP Facebook page, described Cuthbert's quote as the "Crazy quote of the week, courtesy of a Volusia Democrat! Ask this retired teacher to explain her contradictory statement!"

Linda Cuthbert, district 3 School Board-elect / Headline Surfer®This is what district 3 School Board-elect Linda Cuthbert said: "I'm a member of the Democratic Party, but I don't belong to it. Right now I am beholden to the school district." Ledbetter, on his GOP Facebook page, described Cuthbert's quote as the "Crazy quote of the week, courtesy of a Volusia Democrat! Ask this retired teacher to explain her contradictory statement!"

In the story published Saturday in the News-Journal headlined, "New Volusia School Board looks to set aside politics," Cuthbert's quote was preceded by a couple of paragraphs stating Cuthbert and two registered Republicans, John Hill and Melody McSorley Johnson, saw themselves as checking their politics at the door.

Ledbetter, himself quoted in the same story, identifies with party affiliation only: “Republicans think outside the box. They’re conservative,” Ledbetter said, according to the print newspaper's story.

“They look for positive ways to change things, and I’m sure there will be a lot of looking into things and seeing how things could be done better.” Hill, who like Cuthbert won in the Nov. 4 general elections, and Johnson, victorious in the Aug. 26 primary, make up the new Republican majority on the board with 2012 GOP holdover, Linda Costello.

The fifth board member, Ida D. Wright, the second Democrat, won her School Board seat in a special election last year to fill a vacancy.

Andrew Spar, president of the Volusia Teachers Organization, told the News-Journal in the story that he doesn't believe the school board is the setting for partisan politics.

The current school board chair, Candice Lankford, did not seek re-election. Her seat will be inherited by Hill. Cuthbert takes the Republican seat held by GOPer Stan Schmidt, a two-term incumbent, who finished last in the Aug. 26 primary.

Schmidt's name was left off the Republican voter guide in a controversial vote of the GOP executive committee, which also left off several other registered Republicans in other races.

Among the Republicans snubbed were GOPer David Machuga in the District 3 County Council race, in favor of Republican incumbent Deb Denys, who won the primary and re-election outright in a three-candidate field, by surpassing the threshold of 50 percent plus 1 vote majority.

And Fred Lowry, a Republican, was left off the GOP voter guide in favor of fellow Republican Rich Gailey in the District 5 County Council race.

Though Gailey won the primary by 5 percentage votes over Lowry, it was Lowry who won easily in the general election with an infusion of campaign contributions from influential insiders. With the 2014 election cycle concluded, the Republicans now have a 4-3 GOP majority in the County Council with Lowry's win.

The county council has an elected chair in Jason Davis, one of three Republicans elected in 2012. But the School Board chair is selected from within the elected office holders themselves.

Ledbetter made it clear in the News-Journal story that he expects School Board member Linda Costello, the Republican holdover with two years of seniority, will be selected as the new chair.

Costello's husband, Fred Costello (an influential GOP insider), easily won election to the Statehouse after a two-year absence, in the Nov. 4 general elections over Noel Cheryl Bickford, a Democrat from Ormond Beach in her first campaign for public office.

Linda and Fred Costello / Headline Surfer®Ledbetter made it clear in the News-Journal story that he expects School Board member Linda Costello, the Republican with her two years of seniority, will be selected as the new chair. Costello's husband, Fred Costello (an influential insider in the GOP), easily won election to the Statehouse after a two-year absence, in the Nov. 4 general elections over Noel Cheryl Bickford, a Democrat from Ormond Beach in her first campaign for public office.

Fred Costello, already is pushing his wife's school board agenda, according to Florida ballotpedia, telling select media outlets: "I support parent-directed education reform including school choice (public, charter, private, parochial, religious, digital and/or home schools) with the education funding (whether called a voucher or scholarship or …) following the student."

An influential GOP party insider, Fred Costello, was appointed by Gov. Rick Scott to serve on the indigent care board of taxpayer-supported Halifax Health Hospital after he forgave a second term in the Statehouse in favor of a run for Congress, losing in the 2012 GOP primary to eventual winner Ron DeSantis of St. Augustine. De Santis easily run re-election again in the November general elections.

Costello resigned from the indigent care board earlier this year when he opted for a return to the Statehouse with Republican Dave Hood of Ormond not seeking re-election in favor of a circuit judge appointment by Scott.

Internet newspaper endorses Florida Gov. Rick Scott for re-election / Headline Surfer®

HeadlineSurfer.com Endorsement for Governor: Rick Scott has Florida headed in right direction

Internet news outlet's other related endorsements:

• Endorsed Republican Melody McSorley Johnson over incumbent Diane Smith, a Democrat, for dis. 5 School Board seat won by Johnson in Aug. 26 primary. 
• Endorsed Republican incumbent Stan Schmidt in dis. 3 School Board primary over Democrat Linda Cuthbert & Republican George Trovato, but when Cuthbert won the primary and Trovato finishing second, the internet newspaper endorsed Cuthbert for general election., which she handily won.
• Did not make a formal endorsement in dis. 1 School Board seat in primary or in runoff between Democrat Don Sarro or Republican John Hill, won easily by Hill.
• Endorsed GOPer Rich Gailey in primary as well as in runoff for dis. 5 County Council sett, but the internet newspaper made it clear it wouldn't be surprised if a voter backlash from fellow GOP candidate Fred Lowry being left off Volusia County Republican Party voter guide could backfire on the party. It did. Lowry won the general election after Gailey barely edged him in the primary.
• Co-endorsed Democratic incumbent Joyce Cusack & GOP challenger Webster Barnaby in the at-large County Council race over fellow challenger Patricia Northey. Cusack won the primary with Northey barely getting by Barnaby in a recount. The internet newspaper endorsed Cusack in the runoff & she crushed Northey.
• Endorsed Democrat Noel Cheryl Bickford over GOPer Fred Costello for the district 6 Statehouse race in the general elections, which Costello easily won.
• Endorsed incumbent Republican Ron DeSantis in the general elections, which he won by a wide margin.
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Short Bio

Henry Frederick is publisher of Headline Surfer®, the award-winning 24/7 internet news outlet covering the Daytona Beach-Sanford-Orlando metro area via HeadlineSurfer.com since 2008. A longtime cops & courts reporter focused on breaking news & investigative reporting, Frederick is among the Sunshine State's most prolific daily news reporters, having amassed close to a hundred award-winning byline stories nearly evenly split in print and digital platforms. Frederick earned his Master of Arts in New Media Journalism with academic honors from Full Sail University in Winter Park in February 2019. He was a metro reporter with the Daytona Beach News-Journal for nearly a decade and then served as a city editor for the Taunton Daily Gazette in Taunton, Mass, while maintaining a residence in Central Florida. Prior to moving to Florida, Frederick was a metro reporter for the Rockland Journal-News in West Nyack, NY, for seven years. Headline Surfer was named the Sunshine State's top internet news site by the Florida Press Club in 2018.