Editor’s Note: The Seminole Source is running a series highlighting several key 2020 election categories and candidates running in the August 18, 2020 primary, and November 3, 2020 election. While not every category of office will be covered, we will be spotlighting candidates running in the following races: Federal: Representative in Congress District 7, State: Florida Senate District 9, Seminole County Sheriff, Property Appraiser, Tax Collector, Supervisor of Elections, Commission District 3, Commission District 5, and School Board Member District 3.
We reached out additionally to the three candidates running for Seminole County Commission District 1, but received no response.
For the Seminole County Commission District 3 race, there are three candidates who qualified to run: incumbent and Republican candidate Commissioner Lee Constantine, Democratic candidate Kimberly A. Buchheit, and Republican candidate Ben Paris, Longwood City Commissioner. While Constantine and Paris will run in the August Primary, Buchheit, as the only Democratic candidate, will appear on the November ballot. Here is a brief snapshot of each of these candidate’s campaign finances as of August 7, 2020:
Meet the candidates for Seminole County Commission, District 3
Lee Constantine: Total contributions received: $218,335.91; Total spent: $69,430.93; Cash on hand: $148,904.98
Kimberly A. Buchheit: Total contributions received: $33,755.00; Total spent: $6,758.22; Cash on hand: $26,996.78
Ben Paris: Total contributions received: $45,410.74; Total spent: $25,734.03; Cash on hand: $19,676.71
We reached out to all three candidates and requested responses to six interview questions, but incumbent and Republican candidate Commissioner Lee Constantine was the only one who provided responses.
Who is Lee Constantine?
Lee Constantine and his family moved to Seminole County in 1958. His mother and father were the founders of Maryland Fired Chicken and opened the first store in Fern Park. Constantine started at the age of 12 washing dishes and by 16 he had become the store manager of the Sanford restaurant. During his high school years he was the captain of the swim team at Lyman High School, and in college was elected Student Body President, graduating from the University of Central Florida.
In 1978, Constantine’s first elected position was as the youngest official in the City of Altamonte Springs history, serving as Commissioner and Mayor for 14 years. With Constantine’s leadership, Altamonte Springs improved its financial situation by enabling the APRICOT water reuse project without state help, and created Uptown Altamonte without additional taxes.
In 1992, he was elected to the Florida House of Representatives where he served for eight years. In 2000, Constantine was elected to the Florida Senate representing the citizens of both Orange and Seminole Counties. He served until November 2010, only ending his Senate career due to term limits. During his state legislature career, Constantine served on House Speaker Dan Webster’s leadership team and worked with Governor Jeb Bush to pass the largest back-to-back tax cuts in Florida history, the “3-strikes and you’re out” laws and the A+ education plan.
Throughout his legislative career, Constantine brought forward many significant achievements to Florida through both his leadership and support, and sponsored numerous bills including but not limited to: Save Our Everglades (1997-2001); Florida Forever Program (1999); Florida Unified Building Code (2000); Payday Loans Reform (2001); Affordable Housing-Front Porch Florida (2002); Pre-K Education & Class Size Reduction (2003); Wekiva Parkway & Protection Act (2004); Physical Education in schools (2004, 2007-08); Medical School at UCF (2006); Public Service Commission Reform (2006); Florida Energy Act (2006, 2008); Comprehensive Election Law Reform (2007); Missing Persons Act (2008); SunRail for Central Florida (2009); Florida Waters & Springs Protection (2010); and the Florida Recycling Act (2010).
Since 2012, Constantine has served as a Seminole County Commissioner, being reelected without opposition in 2016.
Among Constantine’s legislative and governing skills, he has been heralded for his abilities in brokering compromise, his “mastery” of the complicated state budget process, as well as his direction and guidance in areas of education, the environment and economic development. In addition to leadership acumen through governance, Constantine applies his knowledge and perspective through a weekly column he writes in the Orlando Sentinel’s Central Florida 100 Editorial page as one of “Central Florida’s most influential people in government, politics and culture.” Professionally, Constantine serves as a business consultant for high-level corporations on real estate and a wide range of other issues.
Beyond his work as Commissioner, Constantine serves the community in a variety of ways, including through his fifth term as Chairman of the Wekiva River Basin Commission, honoring his commitment to protect the Wekiva River while building the beltway around Central Florida; he currently serves as the Vice-Chairman of the Florida Conservation Coalition; and is active on the Executive Board of 1000 Friends of Florida. His community engagement extends back to when he became the 1st Vice President of the Florida Association of Counties (where he has served as Chairman of the Growth Management, Agriculture, Transportation & Environment Committee and the Water Policy Task Force) and served as Chairman of LYNX (Central Florida’s regional public transit system) in 2019, where he continues to be engaged on the Lynx Board. He is a current member, and recent past Chair, of the East Central Florida Regional Planning Council and is also a recent past Chair of the Florida Regional Planning Council.
One of the most evident examples of Constantine’s passion for community service is seen through his work as Founder and Chairman of Charity Challenge, Inc., established in 1987. Since its inception, Charity Challenge, an all-volunteer organization, has evolved from a small backyard event into the largest independent charity in Central Florida, raising over $6.4 million for hundreds of Florida charities.
Constantine has received numerous awards, including the Florida Association of Counties’ William (Doc) Myers Lifetime County Advocacy Award and the Florida League of Cities’ Defender of Home Rule Award. He was also named to the Hall of Fame of both the University of Central Florida’s Nicholson School of Communication and Lyman High School.
Priority issues for Constantine in serving the residents of Seminole County include:
- Protecting and defending the Rural Boundary
- Protect quality of life, including recreational and passive parks, the ‘A’ rated school system, high-quality healthcare facilities, and well-planned communities
- Advocating for and leading through fiscal conservative values, such as not raising property taxes
- Serving through principled leadership and passion to improve the future of Seminole County
Interview questions and Constantine’s responses
“As a member of your county commission, I voted to provide small business grants (over $11 million) to those businesses in Seminole County who are struggling during these uncertain times. In addition, we directed CARES Act dollars to provide a financial boost to our ‘A’ rated school system and distributed economic assistance to working families in the community. If re-elected, I will continue to look for unique opportunities, such as the ones stated above, to keep Seminole County on track and prospering.”
What have you been doing that is unique to let voters know who you are and what you are about since campaigning during COVID-19 (mid-March to present)?
“With COVID-19 curtailing traditional forms of campaigning this election cycle, I’ve mixed old school methods like telephone calls and mailings with new school tactics like social media, email blasts, and zoom meetings to communicate with voters.”
What has been a highlight during your experience running for this position?
“I’ve lived in Seminole County for over 50 years and I am passionate about our beautiful home and our unique way of life. I’m honored to have served our community as your county commissioner these last eight years. While campaigning, I love meeting Seminole County residents who enjoy living, playing, and working here just as much as I do!”
What do you see as the greatest challenge facing your district?
“Meeting the economic and public safety challenges as we continue to face the current crisis of COVID-19 – as well as the aftermath of the virus.”
What is your #1 hope for Seminole County that you would love to make a reality if re-elected?
“I want to continue to protect and defend the Rural Boundary as well as our quality of life in Seminole County, so it remains our “Natural Choice.””
What would you like to say to voters who have not decided who they will vote for yet?
“As your county commissioner, I will wake up every day working for you and provide, as I have throughout my career, principled leadership. LIKE my Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/
About the process: The Seminole Source emailed the same six questions to all candidates running in the offices and positions outlined above, if their email address was listed. In cases where no email was provided, we left a voicemail requesting their email, and /or sent a message on Facebook requesting it if no phone number was provided. There were a few candidates that provided no contact information at all. The response deadline was given equally to all candidates. Biographical information and history was pulled from the candidate’s campaign website and / or Facebook page.