A Tim Nance victory Tuesday night meant one thing to Collier County — change.
Nance, a retired agribusinessman who lives in Golden Gate Estates, defeated Commissioner Jim Coletta in the District 5 race. It was the first time in two decades a sitting commissioner had lost an election.
“It’s wonderful. It’s humbling to me,” Nance said in between pats on the back from supporters as his victory party spilled out into the parking lot at the Blue Monkey Bar & Grille in North Naples. “I think there was a universal opinion out there that things needed to change.”
Nance, who received 64.91 percent of the vote Tuesday evening, made it clear during the campaign that he does not share the same ideology with Coletta, who admitted before the total votes were counted that he had a serious challenger in Nance.
“When you are the incumbent and someone is running against you, they attack your background and your accomplishments,” said Coletta, who was first elected to the commission in 2000. “I have accomplished a lot of things I am proud of.”
In recent years, the Collier County Commission has usually had three commissioners voting in a block — Coletta, Fred Coyle and Donna Fiala. When the commissioners do split on votes, it is usually Georgia Hiller voting opposite those three. Tom Henning has voted with both sides.
Henning went to the Blue Monkey on Tuesday to congratulate Nance after winning in the District 3 race. Henning, who survived a strong challenge from Bill McDaniel, said voters will see a change.
“You are going to see more individual representation on the board,” he said. “Tim and I are not going to agree on everything. Commissioner Hiller and I don’t agree on everything now. It will be more individual.”
Steve Cosgrove, a Republican who ran against Fiala in District 1, said while he was disappointed he didn’t win Tuesday, he was happy Nance, who ran on a similar platform of cutting wasteful spending and the county’s debt, did win.
“It’s good for Collier County,” he said. “What we have effectively done, the voters, is change the mind set of the board. ... I am excited to see what happens.”
Fiala, who won a decisive victory with 67.57 percent of the vote, was less enthusiastic Tuesday evening. She said she was worried that the results mean all of the good that has been done in the county during Coletta’s tenure, including issues at the Immokalee Airport, would be unraveled.
“I fear for what will happen, but I would love to be proved wrong,” she said.
But a change in one commission seat doesn’t mean voters thought about a change in the board’s ideology. Florida Gulf Coast University political science professor Peter Bergerson said voters don’t usually think about that when casting a ballot.
“Voters typically think about who the candidates are, what they stand for, if they have name recognition,” he said. “(For incumbents), people think about their effectiveness on the commission. Are they performing their role or are they an obstructionist?”
McDaniel, who said he hoped his campaign helped raise the trust of elected officials, praised both Coletta and Nance.
“Commissioner Coletta ran a good race. ... I have worked with Tim for many years. He is an extremely bright man. I know he will do a wonderful job and represent the interests of our community,” he said.
But not so fast. Nance will still have to face Democrat John “Robinhood” Lundin in the November general election.
For Henning, the race is over and he retains his seat for another four years. Fiala will face Russell Kish, a candidate with no party affiliation, in November.
The winners of the Nance/Lundin and Fiala/Kish races will take office Nov. 20, two weeks after the Nov. 6 general election.
For the incumbents who won, Bergerson said the margin by which they win Tuesday tells them how happy the voters are with the job they have done.
“If the margin is (51 percent to 49 percent), they should be looking over their shoulder,” he said.
Henning said he was pleased with his victory, receiving 51.96 percent of the vote over McDaniel’s 48.03 percent.
“I want to thank Mr. McDaniel for getting into the race. He brought up a lot of issues that we need to address,” he said. “It will only make me a better commissioner.”
Bill Combs, a Nance supporter who works for the county’s public works department, said he sees positive changes coming.
“For a while, it has been three overruling two. Now the shoe is on the other foot,” he said. “For county residents, for county employees, this will help.”