SARASOTA, FL (WWSB) - Now that the primary election has come and gone, the focus is on November's general election. There are several local heated races slated for the ballot including the race for Sarasota County Commission District Two.
The district two seat is up for grabs after current county commissioner Paul Caragiulo decided not to run for reelection after serving as commissioner for seven years. Now two candidates are battling to serve at the county level for the first time. The republican candidate is Christian Ziegler. The democrat is Ruta Maria Jounari.
Ziegler moved to Sarasota in 2006 to work for U.S. Congressman Vern Buchanan. When the congressman won his first election, Ziegler went to Capitol Hill with him.
"Before that I worked in the State House," Ziegler said. "Then about seven years ago, I broke off into the private sector and started a business with 25 people."
Ziegler's experience in government has been at the state and national levels, but now he's focusing on local government.
"I've been involved in local issues for over ten years with my involvement with the party and with other organizations in the county," Ziegler said. "Really when you ask why am I looking at Sarasota County, it is because I have been saying for ten years that local government is the most important government. It has the most impact on your life. They make a decision, and the next day it affects your livelihood."
There are a list of issues Ziegler says he'd fight for as commissioner. At the top of that list is clean water.
"Really the entire community here is dependent on good clean beaches, a good clean environment," Ziegler said. "We are surrounded by it. People move here and relocate their business here because of that."
His challenger, Ruta Maria Jounari, recently ran for state representative in District 72, but lost to now current State Rep. Margaret Good in the primary.
"District 72 was so small," Jounari said. "All of a sudden when you go to Longboat Key and Nokomis and Venice, and each community has their own unique issues. That is what has been exciting and challenging. I went out and met with people which is exciting for me and learned about each areas main concern."
Jounari says she will be a voice for the people and has started meeting with different communities weekly to hear what issues are important to county constituents.
"I have been going to a lot of county commission meetings, and it seems like a lot of them are very dismissive of the public," Jounari described. "They are the constituents. They are the ones who vote for us. Their taxes and our taxes pay their salaries."
Jounari says for the people of Venice, she wants to push to expand River Road. For North Port residents, she wants to help them build their first hospital. Further north in Sarasota, Jounari says she wants to fight to protect the celery fields. She says she will always fight for the environment.
"I feel that our local economy is driven by the environment," Jounari said. "Between our beaches, our celery fields, our state parks like Myakka, these are our local attractions that drive our local economy."
Historically, republicans have dominated this seat, but that has not discouraged Jounari.
"The difference is, why I'm going to win is we are going to knock on more doors," she said. "We meet with people on a regular basis. I'm going to meeting after meeting, meeting with constituents."
When asked why Jounari would be the better candidate for the job, she said, "We've had numerous invitations to debate in public, and he has not shown up. I don't think that is something that people want as representation. If he's not willing to go out and debate or meet in a public forum, I don't think that's who the public wants to represent them."
Ziegler's response to Jounari's claim was, "We just moved into the general election. I was in a primary election with a different opponent. She was not involved in that race."
When asked why he's the better candidate for the job, Ziegler said, "I don't believe that government should be big. I believe that citizens should have as much of their own money in their own pocket. She wants to take more of it. She wants to grow government. She's fighting for medicare for all. It is a very extreme position she's taken, and I'm a very limited government conservative."
The general election is on November 6th.