Hillsborough County Commission candidates agree on eliminating write-in provision

There are four Hillsborough County Commission seats up for election this year, two of them open seats.  However, only three of those seats are being contested, as the Democrats have failed to procure a live human being to challenge Ken Hagan in his Countywide District 5 seat.

Certainly the most interesting primary election that will be decided next month is who the Democrats will nominate in the Countywide District 7 race between activist Pat Kemp and Eastern Hillsborough resident Mark Nash. Both got into the race relatively late after initial Democratic candidates Mary Mulhern and April Griffin dropped out of the contest earlier this year.

Nash admitted on Friday at a Tampa Tiger Bay Club luncheon held at Maestro's at the Straz Center that Hagan's huge cash buildup (over $300,000 at this point) made him look for another race to try to win, which meant going up against a fellow Democrat in District 7, dividing the party, at least for now.

Chris Brown, a former vice chair of with the Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Committee, said it was "disheartening" for him to see two of his favorite people — Nash and Kemp — go up against each other on August 26. He asked if the loser would help the winner and unify the party.

"Politics is about math. And the opportunity for a Democrat to serve this community is by running countywide," Nash replied, putting in a good word for himself by stressing that he's the only Democrat who has actually lived in the County (meaning outside of Tampa, though he's lived there as well). "I have the broader perspective, and is the reason I'd be a better candidate," adding that he did indeed have respect for Kemp.

Kemp took the opportunity extoll her virtues for a full minute, but essentially failed to answer the question directly, prompting the moderator to ask again if she would support Nash in November? "Absolutely," she then promptly replied (Nash agreed, and said he'd support Kemp if he were to lose).

As is usually the case when talking about major issues with Hillsborough County, transportation was front and center during the hour-long forum. But there was hardly a consensus between what is actually needed to address those issues, and the question of and how to pay for it.

"Next year we are going to put less than $10 million of a $3.9 billion budget towards transportation. Just fixing our existing roads, let alone doing something else. So it's a question of priorities," said Republican Tim Shock, running against Al Higginbotham in the GOP District 7 primary. "There are solutions out there that don't require a tax increase but generate from other revenue sources."

"One of the things that people aren't talking about are toll roads," said Janet Dougherty, an environmental consultant running as a Republican in the eastern Hillsborough District 4 race. "We're $5 billion in arrears on concurrency right now." She said as a businesswoman she's used to learning how to do more with less, but felt that there may simply not be enough existing revenues in the county coffers right now to pay for the transportation improvements that Hillsborough County needs.  

Retired Tampa Police officer Rick Cochran is running against Dougherty in the District 4 GOP primary. He said that he thinks the money is there to pay for all of our transportation needs.  

Victor Crist says it's important for the county to make smart moves, as he dismissed the notion of using prime downtown Tampa real estate for a ballpark, saying if such a scenario presented itself the region could avail itself of federal and state funds by placing it on a blighted area like the empty dog track in Tampa's Sulphur Springs neighborhood, where there are enterprise zone dollars, brownfield dollars, historic preservation dollars and stormwater litigation monies available.

Crist is running for re-election in November for the Hillsborough District 2 seat, which includes most of the northern part of the county. He's opposed by Democrat Elizabeth Belcher, a former IRS agent turned community activist. She says she follows the money and "the way I find the way the money is being spent in this county is absolutely appalling."

The candidates all came together when GOP District 7 candidate Don Kruse assailed the issue of mysterious write-in candidates, such as Christopher Weaver in the District 4 race. His insertion in the race effectively disenfranchises 120,000 registered voters in Hillsborough County by keeping Democrats and independents from voting in next month's primary.

"You know the people I feel most sorry for?" Kruse asked. "The people of Hillsborough County. By having someone file a piece of paper that costs no money at all that disenfranchises 120,000 people. That should be illegal!"

The only candidate (other than Weaver) who wasn't present was school board member Stacy White, also running in the GOP District 4 primary.

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