Reading in alphabetical order after being handed the vote totals by Supervisor of Elections Heather Riley, County Judge Gordon Shuler read Cheryl Sanders’ vote total last, just after voicing that incumbent Bert Boldt had received 204 votes and challenger Chris Crosby 263.
And when he did, telling the gathering that Sanders had received 308 votes, 45 more than Crosby, in the open Republican primary, she burst into tears as her brother, former state representative Will Kendrick, cradled her in his shoulder.
For several minutes, she sobbed, her joy at winning blending with the deep sorrow she felt at not being able to share the moment with the love of her life, husband Oscar, who passed away just weeks ago.
“He was the reason I ran, because he said the people needed me,” said Sanders, after being congratulated by Commissioners Ricky Jones and Jessica Ward, the other two members of the three-person canvassing board, as well as by Commissioner Noah Lockley and Boldt.
Sanders, who decided not to seek re-election in 2018 after 20 years serving as a Democratic county commissioner, changed her party affiliation in the interim to Republican. Kristy Banks, chair of the county’s Republican Executive Committee, was among those on hand to congratulate Sanders.
Because no Democrats or those with no party affiliation filed for the seat, the primary was open to all voters within the district as they chose from the three Republicans vying for the chance to represent the residents of Alligator Point, Lanark Village and the eastern portion of Carrabelle.
Sanders said that whenever she felt like passing up a campaigning opportunity, her husband “kept on telling me, you need to go, the people need to see you.”
She recalled one instance recently, after her husband had been sitting up, drinking coffee and eating a piece of toast, he began to lapse in and out of consciousness.
“He went out and he come back in and he said ‘And my gal over there. my gal, on the 23rd she’s going to be committed,’ he calls it committed. ‘and she’s going to get everything that she deserves,” Sanders said.
“Right before he died he said ‘take a couple of days off and do the things you have to do for me, but you hit that ground and don’t you stop,” she said.
“I had some excellent people supporting me but I had my own special guardian angel and I have God and I put all my trust and faith in them,” she said.
Asked how she had campaigned, she replied in one word – “Honestly.”
“I campaigned on keeping the faith, staying on the high road,” Sanders said. “I never put the other opponents down, I didn’t do that. I had a message to carry and that is, what my husband said, ‘I got your back.’ He said right now the people need to know that somebody has got their back.”
Members of the GOP preferred State Senator Wilton Simpson for Agriculture, while county Democrats liked Val Demings to take on U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio in the fall.
Dems preferred former governor Charlie Crist over Agriculture Commissioner Nicole “Nikki” Fried to take on Gov. Ron DeSantis in the fall.