It's the Environment, Stupid

Growth issues fuel Kevin Beckner 's campaign for county commission.

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Kevin Beckner thinks he knows Brian Blair's Achilles heel: the environment.

For those who don't follow Hillsborough politics, Blair is a county commissioner under fire for his attempts to gut wetlands protections and for using his influence to force taxpayers to clean up the lake on which he lives. He's also been linked in media reports to lobbying that helped a politically connected Palm River woman get her sea wall replaced at taxpayer expense.

Beckner, a 36-year-old Ybor City financial advisor who is running against Blair, hopes to use those incidents and more to unseat the conservative former pro wrestler and gym owner.

But don't go booking Beckner's seat on a Greenpeace mission just yet: His environmentalism takes a balanced approach.

Listen to him on the wetlands issue: "The wetlands serve this environment in ways we may not understand. If we can streamline this [development approval] process and make it easier for developers, I'm for that. But everybody needs to come to the table" to ensure that wetlands aren't harmed as a result.

Brian Blair has inherited the social conservative mantle, if not the media attention, left behind by now-state Sen. Ronda Storms. So, for some Democrats in Tampa, running an openly gay man such as Beckner against him seems to be throwing red meat to the east Hillsborough GOP machine, guaranteeing a high turnout from Christian Coalition voters.

But Beckner dismisses those concerns, saying that people are so dissatisfied with local government that his sexual orientation will prove secondary.

"Long ago I accepted who I am and who I love," Beckner said. "I'm open and honest about that."

He does expect to be politically attacked because of it, adding that "it will be interesting to see the amount of poison in some human beings."

And Beckner is also going to have to fight to prove that he is, as he claims, a fiscal conservative "at my heart." Not only have Republicans staked out that turf, but Beckner's campaign has already spent a good deal of his campaign cash. He has received more than $25,000 in contributions for his commission campaign, but election records show he has spent nearly half of that — $12,466.87, to be exact. He's also loaned his campaign $10,000.

Blair is fighting back against media reports that he used his influence to push for his local lake clean-up. In an e-mail sent to supporters and neighbors, Blair blasted the media and passed along photos showing how fouled the lake had become.

"Although the enclosed photographs (dated Oct. 2003) were available to the media, they declined to print them, since their real aim was to discredit me," Blair wrote. "We should all be extremely disappointed that local residents cannot rely on the media to print the truth and facts, free of complication and collusion."

The St. Petersburg Times revealed Blair's actions, and a Tampa Tribune editorial called him a hypocrite. Blair says the county fouled Noreast by pumping sludge from a neighboring lake into it. "This occurred prior to my election to the County Commission. It was this issue and the support of my neighbors that encouraged me during my run for public office. I will not apologize for representing them; I do the same for all of our citizens."

With Democratic campaigns such as Barack Obama's O-Train and John Edwards' One Corps already well ahead in organizing in Tampa Bay, Rudy Giuliani is counting on Team Rudy to energize its grassroots component.

The Giuliani campaign is hosting a volunteer training session Saturday at the Tampa home of supporter Daniel Singer. Giuliani's Florida Executive Director Paul Seago and Hillsborough campaign chairwoman Rose Ferlita are scheduled to be on hand.

In a state where Giuliani is seeing his lead slip and where unannounced candidate Fred Thompson is surging, grassroots could play an important role.

"Volunteers have an integral role as the foundation of a presidential campaign," wrote Giuliani local field director Heather Weintrobe. "A two-minute conversation with a person volunteering their time turns more heads than a 10-second liberal news clip. The calls you make from a phone bank get voters to the polls."

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