Election 2020: Lussy tries to end losing streak, Skinner's undefeated record in Collier property appraiser race
Editor's note: This is part of a series of stories informing voters of issues and offices on the Aug. 18 primary election ballot. Go to naplesnews.com to read more.
Abe Skinner, turning 90 in September, has become the New England Patriots of elections with his winning streak for the Collier County Property Appraiser's office.
With seven straight election losses, opponent R.C. "Rick" Lussy might be more the Cleveland Browns or Detroit Lions, two old franchises without a Super Bowl victory but with hope every new season.
Skinner dominated the 2016 race between the pair, in a rout that sounds like those six-time champs Patriots. His 86% of the vote represents the century's biggest blowout in a head-to-head primary for a Collier County government post.
It tops the September 1998 School Board results of Anne Goodnight's 79% against Yolanda Cisneros, according to Collier elections office online records that only document after 1996.
Since 1991, Skinner has been the county's property appraiser, joining the staff as a 32-year-old in 1962.
Among other things, Lussy said last month the 89-year-old Skinner may have "reduced alertness" and not have the "fitness" for the $147,293-a-year job.
The state has seen folks older than him hold office, and Skinner's heard it before, describing retirement as "an ugly word."
Born in Fort Myers, he said "younger is not always better." In guiding his 64-member staff "a long way from the pencil and the paper" era, he has said he's done it with "proven appraisal experience, managerial and leadership" skills.
"I go way back. I'm a native, one of those rare people that you drop your jaw when you hear about it," Skinner has said. "I personally do not play golf. I don't fish. I don't hunt anymore. This is my life, the property appraiser's office."
Lussy, who has said he is "in the prime of his life" and marked his 70th birthday July 29th, has been trying to get elected as a county appraiser since 1992.
His record stands at 0-1 in Collier and 0-6 in Martin County, where in his most recent run there, the opponent had nearly 90% of the vote.
Lussy doesn't have a winning record in legal battles either, with numerous lawsuits against people he believes slighted him deemed frivolous by courts in multiple jurisdictions and states. Describing its "rare" move, the Florida Supreme Court placed "sanctions on Lussy for his continued abuse of the judicial system."
Labeling Lussy as a "malicious" litigant in September 2002, that court ordered him to never again file a suit on his own, known as a pro se action, instead requiring he only file suits through a member of the Florida Bar.
"Lussy’s petitions are full of disjointed, defamatory ramblings," the court said. "We are not able to comprehend Lussy’s pleadings."
The court, referring to other actions at the federal level and in Montana, noted that "ours is not the only judicial system that Lussy has assaulted" and said "he tormented the courts and parties in the state of Montana."
Montana courts pointed to suits against "judges, attorneys and others left and right, charging conspiracies" that included filings that "amount to little more than incoherent rambling."
Like the state Supreme Court and others, the District Court of Appeal in 2005 sanctioned him after saying it was "undisputed that Lussy has abused the processes of this court" and that he had made "incoherent and meritless arguments."
As recently as 2015 and 2016, the U.S. Tax Court and U.S. Court of Appeals ruled on his challenge of the Commissioner of the IRS, which didn't allow him to take business tax deductions related to previous court and other expenses.
"Petitioner maintains that he incurred legal expenses in 2010 and 2011 to 'correct falsified public records' made by Florida state courts," the tax court said, and that Lussy believed statements by the Florida Supreme Court "caused him to lose an election for county property appraiser.
"We are mindful that petitioner is litigious and has drawn the ire of a federal court as “'a disgruntled litigant.'”
Two months ago, the Montana State Supreme Court declared Lussy "a vexatious litigant" after his appeal of a previous case versus his brother.
"The document Richard filed on appeal is not so much a brief as a rambling and incoherent screed against the judiciary and the legal profession in general," Justice James Jeremiah Shea wrote, noting Lussy's "ingrained and pervasive" abuse of the court system that goes back nearly 36 years. "The intervening decades have neither softened Richard's temperament, nor disabused him of his belief that the courts of this state are here to serve as a vehicle for his own malevolent pursuits."
Lussy said last month he believes he'll eventually have his day in court to set the record straight on previous rulings and findings. He has a 97-page filing on the U.S. Supreme Court's website. The Florida Elections Commission has a document of some Lussy cases on its website.
Asked what he's most proud of in his career, Lussy noted 10 achievements including his website, RickAppraiser2020Election.org, his "whole life" and his daughter.
He said 47 years of "varied field experience" in several states including his Naples appraisal business, Richard Lussy & Associates, are among attributes that give him an advantage over Skinner for the four-year term.
Lussy also touts his bachelor's degree from the University of Montana and other training as compared to Skinner, a Fort Myers High graduate with one year of schooling at the University of Florida.
Skinner has said he's plenty educated, overseeing the office's $8.7 million a year budget, and noting last month that with his staff, he appraises about 300,000 parcels annually in "the largest land mass county in the state."
"My education is typically in this office that I've served," Skinner has said, saying he's worked in every "phase" of the operation and done the "grunt" work. "That is basically my education."
The Property Appraiser's Office is responsible for determining all real and tangible personal property for taxing purposes. It also handles homestead exemptions and mobile home and agriculture classifications for tax purposes.
The agency also maintains a publicly searchable database of all properties in the county that Skinner said his staff "made it easier to migrate through there."
"I am very proud of the office website," Skinner has said. "This system was developed under my direction."
Lussy said he would work to improve the site, saying it falls short of other counties.
"Lee County has a superior web page that provides street photos of the assessed subject property with specific site measurements," Lussy said.
As further evidence of which candidate is more qualified, both point to a 2016 League of Women Voters political forum, when the two had a public face off, which can be found on YouTube.
Skinner had described it as an "opportunity to let the public see us, see what they're voting for, who they're voting for."
As of late July, Skinner had spent $13,759 on the campaign while Lussy has $1,400 in expenditures.
All eligible voters in Collier can cast votes in this race pitting the two Republicans because there are no challengers on the Nov. 3 general election ballot.
Based at the Naples Daily News, Columnist Phil Fernandez (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes for the USA TODAY NETWORK. Support Democracy and subscribe to a newspaper.