Endorsements: For state House seats in Seminole County: Scott Plakon and Lee Mangold | Editorial

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Once reliably red, Seminole County is purple country now, which lends some drama — and consequence — to two of the county’s primary contests for state House of Representatives.

One is a Republican primary in a district that covers west Seminole, while the other is a Democratic primary in a district smack in the county’s midsection. The winners in each will move to the general election this fall.

These endorsements are based partly on interviews with the candidates, as well as our review of the their positions on issues, their backgrounds and their qualifications.

Plakon in District 29

Scott Plakon has a voting record that’s hard to love. He’s been on the wrong side of votes on way too many issues, going back to 2011 when he supported Rick Scott’s overhaul of the unemployment system, designed to hold down unemployment taxes for business by punishing people who were out of work.

Pretty cold. And we’re seeing the human price of that policy in today’s pandemic, with unemployment benefits that petered out after just 12 weeks.

He’s been on the wrong end of votes that make it harder for Floridians to change the state constitution. Last year he voted to arm classroom teachers and prohibit cities from requiring developments to include affordable housing. This year he voted for a bill that would have weakened Seminole County’s rural boundary, but Gov. Ron DeSantis recognized the folly and vetoed it.

That’s a lot of strikes to begin an endorsement for Plakon in this Republican primary, but his opponent gives us no reason to think he would do any better.

Luther “Luke” Dowe doesn’t have Plakon’s tenure and clout, and he’s only lived in Seminole a few years. Asked if he could think of a bill where he would have challenged the Republican majority in the House, he expressed skepticism about the gun laws passed after the Parkland shootings, saying he wants to revisit the requirement that made 21 the legal age to buy a rifle.

Sigh. Dowe also seemed generally unmoved by the plight of those who had lost their jobs, saying the focus should be on training them in some cases for other jobs. That’s nice, but it doesn’t pay the rent or the power bill. Dowe also said he’s unwilling to raise Florida’s meager unemployment benefit — which tops out at $275 a week and is one of the lowest benefits in the nation. At least Plakon said he thinks that benefit should be more generous.

Plakon’s record is not all bad. On some issues he works across the aisle, including a signature accomplishment this year to end altogether Florida’s statute of limitations for sex crimes against minors. That was a bill everyone could love.

Plakon’s a likable person who is way too often on the wrong side of issues. But his opponent wouldn’t be an improvement.

The winner of the primary in this district, which includes Lake Mary, Heathrow, Longwood and Wekiva Springs, will face Democrat Tracey Kagan in the general election.

Republicans are better off sticking with the incumbent, Plakon.

Mangold in District 28

Democrats have two strong candidates in this race, one who came close to winning two years ago and another who made a run for mayor of Sanford.

Lee Mangold is the stronger of the two candidates. His positions are clearly outlined and articulated on his website, a refreshing change from so many websites that are little more than a pretense to solicit donations.

We particularly like Mangold’s focus on the plight of service workers in Florida, an issue that often gets lip service in Seminole but needs to be uppermost in the minds of politicians across the state now that the pandemic has shown so clearly how vulnerable they are.

The other Democratic candidate is Pasha Baker, a third-generation Floridian with deep roots in Sanford and the historic Goldsboro community, where she is involved in a variety of historical and cultural efforts.

Baker has a keen understanding of the less privileged, though her platform is less fully formed. But Baker has demonstrated that she’s a serious candidate. Her fund-raising is robust and a couple of years ago she gave incumbent Sanford Mayor Jeff Triplett a serious challenge.

Mangold’s already shown he can hang with incumbent Republican David Smith, losing to him in 2018 by just a couple of points.

Both of the Democrats are solid, but Mangold has provided his party with a more complete set of policies and beliefs, and he’s had a practice round in this district, which includes Winter Springs, Oviedo, Casselberry and the east side of Sanford. The winner will face incument Rep. David Smith, a Republican.

In a primary that’s such a close call, Democrats would do better with Mangold.

Election endorsements are the opinion of the Orlando Sentinel Editorial Board, which consists of Opinion Editor Mike Lafferty, Jennifer A. Marcial Ocasio, Jay Reddick, David Whitley and Editor-in-Chief Julie Anderson. Sentinel Columnist Scott Maxwell participates in interviews and deliberations. To watch the candidate interviews, go to OrlandoSentinel.com/interviews.


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