With early voting starting today, we here at the Alligator thought it would be a good idea for you to take a look at your local candidates.

Either skim the page or use the menu below to browse different candidate profiles.

Florida House of Representatives District 23:

Chuck Chestnut IV

With more budget cuts looming on the horizon in the upcoming congressional session, Charles "Chuck" Chestnut IV knows where he doesn't want to make cuts - education and social services.

Disability and child-welfare programs can't afford any more hits from budget cuts, said Chestnut, who's running for re-election in the Florida House of Representatives District 23.

"We've cut to the bare bone now," he said. "So we're talking about cutting to the bone marrow."

Across-the-board cuts could completely destroy small programs, Chestnut said. Instead, he said Congress should prioritize by cutting back on larger programs that accomplish the same goals.

Chestnut, a former Gainesville City Commissioner, has lived in Gainesville all his life and runs Chestnut Funeral Home on Northwest Eighth Avenue, which has been in his family since 1914.

He became involved in politics after seeing areas of East Gainesville that he thought should be improved.

"District 23 is my concern now," he said.

He said he hopes to continue his platform of environmental protection, economic development and education.

With the bad economy, he said, colleges and universities should be accessible to people going back to school to become qualified for better jobs.

Bright Futures, though, might be too much of a luxury. Chestnut suggested making the scholarships need-based.

"I think it might have to be revisited," he said.

With the economy tight for everyone, Chestnut said he would also fight for subsidized health care and try to create new jobs by developing the biomedical industry.

If elected, his first plans are to continue pushing a bill he introduced last session and establishing a special zone for economic development in Ocala, on the other end of the district.

Bernie DeCastro

For Bernie DeCastro, improving the state's criminal justice system is a personal matter.

The former felon, who is now running for the District 23 seat in the Florida House of Representatives, spent a total of 18 years in the prison system after he was first arrested as a juvenile.

While in prison, DeCastro became addicted to drugs, but he dropped the habit after a religious conversion in the 1980s.

"That's what turned my life around," said DeCastro, who now runs a 100-bed private correctional facility in Ocala. He was pardoned in 1994.

Since being released, Castro has served on the governor's Faith-based and Community-based Advisory Council and still sits on the Drug Policy Advisory Council. He ran for the Republican nomination for governor in 2006.

"I think we incarcerate far too many people," DeCastro said. "Going to prison ruins a person's life. It doesn't help them. It doesn't rehabilitate them."

While dangerous, violent people should be locked up, he said, it shouldn't be the state's first solution.

"If you're sitting there smoking a joint or reefer, you're not bothering me. You're hurting yourself," DeCastro said.

While he didn't suggest legalizing anything, he did advocate treatment and increased work release programs.

Economic and environmental issues can both be tied back to the state's problems with the criminal justice system, he said.

DeCastro said he recognizes that the prison system employs thousands of people in Alachua and Bradford counties, but he said that just as many jobs could be created if the area pursued alternative energy research instead.

This would also help reduce dependence on foreign oil, he said.

Education is also an important issue, he said, and he encourages systems that would reward good teachers and encourage bad ones to search for other professions.

DeCastro has not served as an elected official before, but said he is a fast and eager learner.

"I think I could get up to speed pretty quick on the issues," he said.

Alachua County Judge:

Denise Ferrero

As a civil traffic infraction hearing officer, Denise Ferrero estimates she hears about 6,000 cases a year.

With her experience deciding cases, she feels she's qualified to hear the 100 to 200 cases per morning required of an Alachua County judge.

"I understand the enormity of what to expect," Ferrero said.

As a hearing officer, Ferrero said she's learned that no court is too low, and no role is too small.

"To them it's the most important thing they've done that day," she said of the people who come before her. "It could be the most important thing they've done all year."

People who come into the traffic court are nervous and treat the hearing officer with the respect they would a judge, she said.

"If they feel like you've listened to them and made a decision, they value that," she said.

Ferrero, who attended Vanderbilt University and UF Levin College of Law, said she originally wanted to be a lawyer.

After graduation, she started out working as a prosecutor in the state attorney's office. She's worked in traffic court for the past three years.

Working with other judges gave her people to look up to, she said.

Ferrero said she feels it's also a judge's responsibility to do volunteer work, which she has been doing since law school when she worked at Shands at UF. She has worked with the Child Advocacy Center, Alachua County schools and the Black on Black Crime Task Force.

"I wouldn't say I was a politician - this is my first time," she said. "I really want to do the work of a county judge."

She said she's proud of the number of people who have vouched for her integrity by endorsing her as a candidate.

The most important things for people to keep in mind when deciding who to vote for is experience, she said, but voters should also think about compassion and whether the candidate is a fair person.

"I think people deserve someone who is going to give them a fair shot," she said.

Lorraine Sherman

Burglary, sex offenses, theft, drug crimes, money laundering - as a private and circuit court attorney, Lorraine Sherman said she's dealt with them all.

Sherman said her job has given her invaluable experience making decisions, which would help her if elected as an Alachua County judge.

"You make decisions on the strategy; you make decisions on the witnesses; you make decisions on the evidence," she said.

Running a private practice, Sherman said she has been responsible for a $125,00 annual budget, bookkeeping, marketing and other people's livelihoods. Her business depends on the quality of her job performance, she said.

She works from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., often covering 55 to 75 cases.

"It's kind of like, when you have a family of six, is your laundry ever done?" she said. "I'm definitely ready for the workload."

Sherman also has experience working in 37 counties around Florida, which she said has given her the opportunity to observe and learn how different judges handle their courtrooms.

Sherman said she feels that arguing cases has given her an in-depth knowledge of the law.

"Judges don't know everything," she said. "It's the attorney's job to make sure the judge knows the law."

But voters should look at her integrity as well as her experience when making a decision, Sherman said.

"I'm not politically active," Sherman said. "I don't owe any favors to anybody."

Sherman has intended to work her way up to being a judge since she graduated from UF's law school in 1998, she said.

"I have a strong sense of justice," she said. "I'm very fair-minded."

As a homemaker for about 15 years, Sherman was founder and director of a group that provided weekend Meals on Wheels assistance.

Starting with her as the founder, the group grew to about 15 volunteers.

Sherman went back to college in 1992 to pursue a career in law at Santa Fe College and UF.

Now, she spends her free time volunteering at Teen Court.

"It turned out I really love practicing law," she said. "It's empowering to help people in a crisis. It's a challenging job."

Alachua County Board of County Commissioners District 5:

Rodney Long

In his eight years on the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners, Rodney Long has tried to act as representative for the less fortunate.

"There's someone on the commission trying to help those issues that affect the most disadvantaged citizens in our county," said Long, who is running for re-election in District 5.

He also acts as president of the Florida Association of Counties and sits on the Community and Economic Steering Committee of the National Association of Counties.

He said his experience on the commission should not make others see him as an insider.

"I understand government extremely," Long said. "Being around government and having institutional knowledge is not a bad thing."

Long said he has tried to provide help for the homeless and mentally ill, reduce hunger, promote affordable housing and create alternative transportation.

Long said he has often teamed up with UF students to help fight poverty through projects such as the Homeless Night Out and the Hunger Summit.

His recent Strike Out Hunger Food Drive recently raised more than 13 tons of food for the Bread of the Mighty Food Bank.

Although the county's budget is tight, Long said he believes that not all available resources are being used.

Long said he feels social stigmas prevent people from taking advantage of programs that could provide assistance, such as food stamps or free or reduced lunch.

Long aims to eliminate those stigmas.

"Once people's mind sets begin to change, they'll start applying for assistance," Long said.

Long has lived in Gainesville all his life and owns two businesses, Rodney Long Realty Services and Rodney Long Bail Bonds Agency.

He's also been a supporter of development in East Gainesville, such as the recent construction of the new Super Wal-Mart on Waldo Road.

He said he hopes the area will one day be full of student housing and medical research facilities.

Its proximity to campus and downtown and lack of heavy traffic should make it an ideal location for students, he said.

By 2025, he expects to see 15,000 new residents on Waldo Road.

"We're looking at ways we can get more students on Waldo Road and more biomedical research on Waldo Road," Long said.

Ward Scott

A lot about Alachua County has changed since Ward Scott arrived as a student in 1961, but one thing stands out to him.

"What's grown is taxes," said Scott, who is running for the District 5 seat on the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners.

"In very tough economic times now, we've got to reign in this government spending," he said. "Every nickel it gets, government spends."

Scott has served on numerous local government boards and first ran for the county commission in 2004 as a write-in.

Scott promises to cut back government spending and increase economic development by trimming department budgets and prioritizing what needs funding.

He gave an example from a meeting he attended as part of the county's task force on storm water quality, where it was assumed that Alachua County's water standards should exceed state requirements. Scott wondered if it would be enough to just meet them.

"It's one of those things where if one apple a day is good for you, 10 must be great," Scott said.

He said he hopes to change the philosophy of Alachua County that he feels makes the government err on the side of excessive restrictions.

Scott said he also wants to redistribute spending so that more funding goes to Alachua County's small outlying towns and cities, and give less focus to Gainesville and the central county.

He hopes to encourage development like the biomedical industry that has grown in the city of Alachua, he said.

"I'm going to bring jobs," Scott said. "I'm going to bring economic development."

As a professor at Santa Fe College since 1968 - he's now a professor emeritus - Scott said he's learned about looking for potential and finding a way to tap it, and he sees that in Alachua County.

He offered a message for UF students in particular.

"If I could do anything about roam towing, I'd eliminate it," Scott said.

"That's the only part they'll remember out of the whole article."

Alachua County Board of County Commissioners District 3:

Lloyd W. Bailey Jr.

Lloyd W. Bailey Jr. said he's just doing his duty by running for County Commission.

"It's my duty to fight what is wrong," Bailey said.

Bailey, a local dive-shop owner who is running for the District 3 commission seat, said he is determined to make living in Alachua County fairer by lowering taxes and reducing government waste.

"There are people that are worried about losing their home," he said. "That's not what the founding fathers of this country intended."

He said small businesses are dying because bigger companies receive tax subsidies from the government.

"There is no protection," he said. "That's not right."

One of his greatest concerns is the rapid growth of Alachua County and UF.

Although he supports the university, he said it is expanding too quickly.

"This county can only stand so much of that," he said.

As a cave diver, he's also concerned about the county's effect on the environment, specifically air pollution and the lack of water due to expansion.

He said the amount of traffic in the county is terrible for the environment, and one of his goals is to fix the traffic system.

Mostly, Bailey said he wants government to stick to what it should be: a provider of law enforcement, the fire department and the judicial system.

"This country is greater not because of what government has done but for what government has not been allowed to do," he said.

Bailey said it's not part of government's role to redistribute wealth."Nowhere in the Bible did Jesus say, 'Go out and steal and give the money to someone else,'" he said.

Paula DeLaney

For Paula DeLaney, county services are worth a cost.

Although taxes may sometimes be difficult to pay, they are necessary to fund certain programs, said DeLaney, a Democrat running for re-election for the District 3 seat of the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners.

Some of her major concerns are education, especially after-school programs, and the jail.

She said she has been strongly involved in both during her years as a county commissioner.

She said the county also needs to resolve issues regarding energy, finances, growth management and transportation infrastructure - all of which she has been working on during her last term.

DeLaney said she is also striving to reduce poverty by funding social service programs and nonprofit organizations and will continue to do so until she sees results.

"I just don't see that the world is a better place," she said.

DeLaney said she knows people wish the county commission could fix everything, but sometimes the results take years.

"We would love to wave our wands," she said.

Born in Archer, DeLaney said she understands the needs of the people she serves.

"It really helps to get out and see the people," she said.

Delaney also served as a Gainesville City Commissioner for six years and as the mayor of Gainesville from 1998 to 2001.

She said that though at times she hasn't been the most popular county commissioner, she has worked hard as a policy maker for the taxpayers of Alachua County.

And though she would love to find better and easier ways for residents to pay taxes, such as an increase in the sales tax, she recognizes the cost as a necessary burden.

"My goal is to not not pay taxes," she said. "I try to make the right decision when it may not be the popular one."

Alachua County Board of County Commissioners District District 1:

Mike Byerly

Mike Byerly is worried about water.

"It's been said that the wars of the 21st century will be fought over water," said Byerly, who is running for re-election for the District 1 seat of the Alachua County Board of Commissioners. "We certainly see that in Florida."

His main campaign focus is on the environment because he said it affects all other issues.

"Good environmental policy is not just about doing what's good for the critters," he said.

Byerly said he is proud of his work with the open-space ordinance, which requires developers to set aside 20 percent of land as open spaces, such as parks or walking trails.

Regulating growth and development, transport and traffic, and alternative forms of energy are essential to the survival of Alachua County, he said.

He also supports sweeping reforms to water and energy preservation laws.

"We've been reckless with the land," he said.

Byerly also said finding alternative means of transportation is important in order to give people options on ways to save energy."It's not just gas," he said. "It's energy in general."

Byerly said he is also concerned about the state of the Alachua County Jail.

"It always seems to be overly crowded," he said.

He said the county needs alternative ways of dealing with criminals who need help for mental illness or drug abuse.

Although Byerly said some people think that commissioners should leave office as they become more experienced, he does not.

"The more experience the better," he said

Byerly has served as the District 1 commissioner for eight years. He said being a county commissioner is his way of giving back to the community and getting involved in politics, rather than sitting back and complaining.

"I love this community," he said. "I need to do a better job at protecting the community."

Kevin Riordan

Young people should be livid with the state of their world today, said Kevin Riordan, a first-time candidate for the District 1 seat on the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners.

"You are strapped with a mountain of debt," Riordan said. "You should be mad as hell."

The political newcomer said he believes it's time to get "career politicians" out of office so real change can be made.

"It's not a job," he said. "It's service with a little bit of compensation attached to it."

Because his opponent has been in office for eight years, Riordan said it would take a large voter turnout to defeat him.But the fact his opponent has been in office for eight years because of a lack of term limits makes him question the government, he said."I think it's led to a bumbling mess," he said.

A father of four and a grandfather of five, Riordan said his goals include helping to create an Alachua County that young people will want to live and work in.

"A middle-class American cannot afford to live in Alachua County," he said. "That's a shame."

Riordan said some of the hardest hit have been small-business owners, who need to keep the money they produce.

The world outside the student community, especially in the rural areas of town, is struggling from heavy taxation, he said.

"My way to make government efficient is to make it really small and very accessible," he said.

Riordan also wants to help make traffic flow better through the county by creating connecting streets.

Although he doesn't think the economy has hit the bottom, Riordan said a less obtrusive government would help people get by.

"I'm not a gloom-and-doom guy," he said. "My cup is half full, but there's a lot of things wrong."