Behind the ballot Voices and faces of voters on the Treasure Coast


Jordan Schwartz

43, Rocky point

Ohana Surf Shop owner

I’ve never heard anybody say, “I’m moving to Martin County to get rich.” We live here for the water, the schools, the way of life. Now we’re fighting for clean water. It’s a pretty basic right.

With all these politicians, we have finger pointing instead of solutions. During the elections they promise change, but after they get apathetic, they get complacent. Our local politicians don’t seem to be in touch with the common person.

I want a real leader to stand up for the people, the animals. We need to show the world we can be leaders in clean water.


Micah Hartman

29, Stuart

Entrepreneur and co-owner, Ground Floor Farm in Stuart

It used to be you go to school, get a job, then you stick with the same company. But for the last 10 years, at least, things have changed. There were so many pieces written about the millennials, the “lost generation,” how we’re all living off our parents. It was like, what would you have me do? How many jobs do I have to apply for to prove myself?

A lot of people are trying to conceive of creating alternative jobs. There’s a lot of innovation, there’s a lot of entrepreneurship that’s starting to sprout up now. For me, driving an hour in traffic each way to sit at a desk for 9 hours, to have two weeks off for vacation, was not cutting it. I think we’re starting to see the rise of a hopeful class that thinks, OK, maybe there could be a different way.


David Cook

59, Fort Pierce

Disabled after a childhood accident, Cook is the author of dozens of collections of poetry

There are no jobs. The kids have nothing to do with their time, so they join a gang and get into crime. Poverty is when a kid wants to buy a soda and he don’t have a dollar. It makes him angry and he’ll get it some way or another.

We live in one of the richest countries in the world and yet we can’t educate our kids to even a basic level. We’re going the wrong way. If we don’t take care of our kids (and give them) a strong foundation, we’re gonna be lost. Our kids are our future. At the moment they are like a ship upon the ocean without a rudder.


Gretchen Reich

68, Hobe Sound

Realtor and longtime member of the Hobe Sound neighborhood advisory committee

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in real estate is to be quiet and listen. Ever since last year, when the Martin County Commission devalued the work of the neighborhood advisory committees, the people who have been active in our organization feel they are not being heard.

Business leaders and others put in a lot of time and effort to formulate our redevelopment plans. But many of the plans we made have now been put on hold. We’re all gun-shy.

It’s an issue of grassroots government — the right of the people to have input in their communities.


Pete Anderson

48, Sebastian

Public elementary school teacher on sabbatical, owner of Pareidolia Brewing Co., a local brewery and pub

On one side of the aisle our state legislators are saying they’re for small business; at the same time they’re making laws or proposing laws that are hamstringing small businesses when it comes to alcohol. You’ve got those who say they support small business, yet big hands are in deep pockets. I would like to see a small-business-friendly Legislature.

If you have a benefactor or somebody in your corner with some clout you have a shot. I’m sure many people would agree it’s the equivalent of paying to play. If you’re not on a certain level, your voice is just lost. That’s a sad thing.


Rusty Newhouse

63, Vero Beach

Attorney, entrepreneur and business owner who has homes in Vermont and on the Indian River Lagoon

After college, I went to work for the family retail furniture business in Vermont, founded in 1889. Our business dropped about 40 percent from 2008 to 2009. Ultimately, we went from three stores to one.

I believe the middle class is being hurt as we transform from a manufacturing economy to a services economy. Our education system has not changed to keep pace. More accountability would lead to better teachers making higher wages as children learn what is necessary to be part of the middle class.

Government at every level is too big. There is too much demand on business owners’ time; there are too many restrictions. It can take two years to get approval to get something built. Fix our highways, airports, and on and on, but streamline government bureaucracy.


Cristina Maldonado

48, Stuart


Our family has been in Stuart since 1975. Back then, Stuart was a quaint, beautiful little town. The issue that concerns me the most is related to overdevelopment. I side with candidates of different parties who will protect our community and not turn it into a Palm Beach or Fort Lauderdale.

I feel strongly about development and environmental issues. The pollution of our river, the possibility of fracking and All Aboard Florida are major concerns. To think of a high-speed train going through our downtown is troubling. There would be no reason to stay here.

I want to keep Florida the way it was. I know we can never go back, but it’s important to preserve what we have.


Mariel Zen

35, Port St. Lucie

Stay-at-home mother of three

Teachers are being stripped of their ability to teach creatively. We chose a private (religious) school for our daughter. There’s no constant testing, no Common Core math. There is an emphasis on structure, discipline and character-building. Spiritual teaching has made a huge difference for her.

The U.S. was founded on citizens’ opinions. People these days have such polarized views and they are so angry. That’s sad and very scary. I’m a Latina and a Republican — so am I letting one side down?


Thelma Washington

55, Jensen Beach

Executive director, Gertrude Walden Child Care Center, East Stuart

We have a lack of housing for low-income residents. I see it firsthand on a day-to-day basis with the struggles of the families in East Stuart. I have 120 kids who come from working-poor families throughout Martin County, and I bet you I have 10 people a week come to me to help them find a place to live.

We tell them, live with someone else. Seriously. Or they are living in places no one should be paying rent to live in. Honestly, you’ve got some places around here, especially in East Stuart, that you couldn’t pay me to live in, let alone me paying you to stay there. And I really have a problem with that.

One thing about Martin County, we do have the best of the best. But you have some people who don’t know how the other half lives.


Jeffrey Kirsch

59, Palm City

Attorney and chairman, Friends of NRA Treasure Coast

I don’t like to think of myself as a single-issue voter, but I sort of am. The gun issue, and the Supreme Court issue, those are the most important things to me. Whoever is president is going to get some Supreme Court appointments and that’s going to affect us for the next 25 years. It’s not just gun laws. Do I want a Supreme Court that’s going to expand the federal government’s role in people’s lives, or reduce it and be more closely tied to the way the Constitution was written?

The federal government needs to back out of people’s lives. I see the Democrats and Republicans as two sides of the same coin. The Democrats want to tell me what to do with my money, the Republicans want to tell me what to do with my personal life. I think the government should build the roads, deliver the mail, defend the borders and leave me alone.


Sergio Mota

20, Sebastian

Sophomore economics major and campus Republican leader at Indian River State College; works at Buried Treasures Antiques in Sebastian

I don’t like class warfare. We’re all Americans. We grew up in Section 8 housing in the projects of the Bronx. We didn’t grow up with much, but we always had a sense of faith; we always had a sense of family.

Some of the kids I knew didn’t have as much. I grew up seeing politicians promise them stuff decade after decade … but they would still be in the same socioeconomic situation their parents and grandparents were in. That’s something I don’t like. I want to empower individuals through education.

Many of these kids don’t have dads, don’t have moms. Who knows, they could be the next Steve Jobs or Warren Buffett? Everybody has skills; everybody has something they’re good at. You have to inspire those individuals to find their talent, to succeed.


About this project

Treasure Coast Newspapers’ opinion journalists are interviewing people from across the Treasure Coast about the issues they care about this election year. The interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

Photographer | Molly Bartels

Writers | Rich Campbell, Gil Smart, Anthony Westbury, Laurence Reisman, Lisa Broadt

Digital producer | Dacia Johnson

Social media | Lisa Broadt, Dacia Johnson

Video | Lisa Broadt

Photo editor | Kelly Rogers

Editors | Eve Samples, Louise Phillipine


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