Talking Heads Election 2014 – Rating Orlando’s Political Commentators Before Tonight’s Results & Spin Doctoring

    Those watching elections returns and analysis tonight will most likely be hearing from qualified & intelligent political operatives and experts, save for one really bad apple at FOX 35.


    By Jacob Engels


    Unlike the national political pundits on both sides of the aisle who are more likely to induce vomiting, Central Florida is home to some truly talented and insightful political minds when it comes to elections coverage & analysis. Some are mainstays who have been imparting their sage wisdom on the ins and outs of politics, and some are relative newcomers with a certain flair. Below we will evaluate the people FOX 35 and CF News 13 have retained for political coverage this year and for election coverage and analysis following tonight’s results. I have found their coverage and commentary spot-on so far this year, expect for one individual – but we’ll get to that.


    CF News 13 Election Night Team —


    Dick Batchelor (D) – Dick is a Democratic legend in Florida. He served in the Florida House starting in the mid 70’s when Democrats had outnumbered Republicans who were a minority party like Democrats are now. Mr. Batchelor was chairman of several powerful house committees and quickly built a name as an effective legislator and tactician. Long voted as one of Orlando’s “Most Powerful,” Batcheloris widely sought after for political commentary locally, statewide, and nationally. Since his time in the Florida House, he has become a successful businessman routinely recognized by groups in the Central Florida region.


    When he talks, you need to listen up. This guy is one of the few Democratic commentators with a strong business and corporate background who can go toe-to-toe with GOP foes on business, regulation, and tax regulations and legislation.


    Jerimiah Japson (D) – Mr. Japson is at his best and brightest when paired with GOP firecracker Michelle Ertel who we’ll get to next. Japson has previously served as the Chairman of the Orange County and Seminole County Democratic parties and maintains a successful Winter Park law firm. Dude is fluent in English, Spanish, and Chinese – always coming across as intelligent and thorough in his commentary. While I don’t always agree with his opinions, he is at his best when opposite Republican political operative Michelle Ertel who isn’t afraid to challenge him & engage in a passionate yet civil discourse.


    Japson is someone local Democrats need to pull of the bench to run for office ASAP, and I would not be surprised if his stint at News 13 is part of that greater plan. The GOP would face an intelligent and gifted communicator if Japson decided to seek office.


    Michelle Ertel (R) – While she could have easily chosen to ride the political coattails of her husband – Seminole County Supervisor of Elections Mike Ertel, Michelle was a force to reckon with before their marriage and continues to make waves without cashing in on her husband’s name. Lady Ertel was the one of the driving factors behind the birth of the Seminole Chronicle in the mid-2000’s and served as the editor even after the purchase of the paper by Gannet, Inc. – one of the worlds largest multimedia conglomerates.


    Following her departure from the paper, Ertel forged Florida Strategic Advisors – a consulting firm that allowed her to continue advising political candidates, businesses, and other organizations. Ertel, along with veteran political strategist Mike Shirley are widely regarded as having lent a huge helping hand in Orange County Commissioner Pete Clarke’s upset victory in 2012 – a win that shocked the Central Florida political landscape. When Democrats claim Republicans have a “War on Women,” they should try debating that with Mrs. Ertel.


    She is a blunt & engaging commentator who uses equal part humor, snark, and meaningful insight to get her message across and easily dispatch competing opinions. Her analysis and knowledge of Seminole County politics and statewide issues is rarely matched. Screw booking Mary Matalin or Michelle Malkin – Ertel is equally as smart and a more capable messenger of the main tenants of the GOP.


    Lou Frey (R) – Lou Frey has long been the elder statesman of the local and statewide GOP since his chance election to congress in the late sixties when Florida was heavily Democratic. Frey was instrumental in the purchasing of the land where the Orlando International Airport now sits and has remained a powerful force in Central Florida over the past 4 decades. Frey’s hard work and reputation has continued to pay off for the former Congressman, especially with the opening of the Lou Frey Institute of Politics & Government at the University of Central Florida.


    It’s regular forums and gatherings draw a “who’s who” of political power brokers and elected officials. Frey is certainly the Republican counterpart to Democrat Dick Batchelor and like Batchelor, shows no signs of slowing down in the near future.


    FOX 35 Election Night Team —


    Frank Torres (R) – Hispanic veteran Frank Torres imparts knowledge, not spin. Torres is a seasoned GOP operative that delivers a balanced & truthful analysis of all things political in the Sunshine State – with particularly knowledgeable insight on Central Florida political contests. Torres has been working as political analyst locally for years and is often – if not always -the smartest guy in the room. His ability to communicate the feelings of the Hispanic and veteran’s communities is always intelligent and well delivered.


    Mr. Torres also runs the best political (Orlando Political Observer, formerly Florida Politics with Frank Torres) blog in Central Florida and has his work routinely printed and sourced in publications like the Orlando Sentinel andSaintPetersBlog – which is ranked by the Washington Postas one of the best statewide political blogs in the nation. If there is a political event or happening occurring in Central Florida, Frank Torres will be there. While I prefer a more Hunter S. Thompson style and gonzo style journalism, I respect and admire Frank’s reserved and non-confrontational delivery of news and commentary.


    Scott Sturgill (R) – It’s hard to imagine why FOX 35 selected Scott Sturgill to deliver commentary and analysis for the GOP. Sturgill, a failed state house candidate and former Seminole County Soil and Water Supervisor, is hardly plugged into local politics and is definitely not “in the know” when it comes to the pulse of Republicans locally and statewide.


    The Seminole County republican establishment rejects him and you will always see him on the outside looking in. While he may be able to buy his way to dinner with the governor, he isn’t invited to sit at the local dinner table because he is not trusted. In an interview with our sister publication Seminole County Post during his primary campaign against Longwood Mayor Bob Cortes, Sturgill called Rick Scott a “PR nightmare” and bashed the GOP’s stance on social issues and called for the legalization of marijuana.


    His bizarre interview, which his consultants pressured us to censor, cost him the support of several high powered GOP donors and operatives who bolted from his campaign quicker than an Olympic sprinter from Ghana. He was later exposed a fraud by a former business partner who provided evidence that Sturgill was lying on the campaign trail about owning and profiting generously from the sale of a robust safety products business. His presence on FOX 35 is confusing and alarming.


    This guy is totally out of the loop when it comes to the GOP statewide and local republicans cut the cord on Sturgill as soon as they realized he was not honorable. Sturgill is about as qualified to commentate on the GOP as he is to lead the next NASA mission to the moon. Fox 35 can do better.


    Sean Ashby (D) – Few Democrats have been able to achieve the longevity and rise in power as Ashby has in the past 2 years. Ashby, a school teacher and golf coach at Timber Creek High School in East Orlando almost knocked of Tom Goodson – a wealthy incumbent legislator who outspent Ashby 10-1 in 2012. Following that defeat, Ashby ran a brief campaign to take on Orange County Commissioner and ethical train-wreck Jennifer Thompson before dropping out to campaign for Chairman of the Orange County Democratic Executive Committee.


    When Ashby aborted yet another campaign, many wrote him off and proclaimed him DOA. However, Ashby wisely maneuvered himself to become the Chairman of the well-funded PAC, Citizens for Informed Elections that is behind the partisan elections ballot amendment in Orange County (Question C) – which has raised and spent well over $100,000 this year. Along with Orange County Democratic Party Chair Carlos Smith, Orange County Tax Collector Scott Randolph, and State Representative Joe Saunders, Ashby is widely regarded as one of the top-tier Democratic leaders in Orange County. His commentary and delivery is well-crafted and reflects his time spent as the head of Timber Creek High School’s award winning mock-trial team.


    Sean Ashby’s star is on the rise, and his leadership of Citizens for Informed Elections is just the beginning of his political career.


    Bertica Cabrera Morris (R) – It’s hard to find an Hispanic woman in the state of Florida who is a better communicator of the GOP’s message and mission than Bertica Cabrera Morris. A seasoned and skilled political operative, Morris has been sought after by numerous presidential, statewide, and local political candidates looking to woo Orange County’s vast and constantly expanding Hispanic demographic. A former member of the Valencia College Board of Trustees and longtime GOP lobbyist, Morris is feared and respected by fellow GOP operatives.


    If you find yourself on the opposite side of one of her candidates or clients, be prepared to for the fight of your life. Skilled in the old-style politics, Cabrera Morris is not afraid to use every trick in the book to achieve victory. As deadly as she is knowledgeable, Mrs. Morris is well-connected and influential in the Hispanic community – serving as Queen Regent of Hispanic women in the GOP.


    I am sure there are a few people who will be commentating tonight that I missed, or will be last minute additions, but for the most part – these are the people to watch when it comes to political commentary in Central Florida – election night and beyond. Tomorrow, we will do a post-election wrap-up to see who gave the best live analysis.





    Jacob Engels, is the Founder of East Orlando Post & Seminole County Post. He is a seasoned political operative who has led numerous statewide political groups and has worked on several high-profile local, statewide, and national races. Jacob has been interviewed on national television & radio programs, with his work having been featured in the Orlando Sentinel, New York Times, Washington Post, Miami Herald and other publications nationwide. He can be reached at