The color spectrum

From red to blue: Pinellas and Hillsborough swap places

Anyone interested in a four-bedroom, two-bath home in the heart of the Bayshore Beautiful neighborhood in South Tampa?

I may have to put my home on the market and join all the other Creative Loafing editorial employees who live in Pinellas County, judging by the results of last Tuesday's elections.

Consider this: Hillsborough County, 15 years ago a bastion of progressive ideas on health care and transportation, last week sent Ronda Storms to the Florida Senate. And voters overwhelmingly approved a straw ballot pushed by Storms, agreeing that county leaders should regulate adult businesses to the fullest extent of the law.

In my South Tampa neighborhood, over at Precinct 133, Katherine Harris actually carried the day at one Bay-to-Bay Boulevard polling site.

I understand how she won precincts out in eastern Hillsborough — Lithia, Keysville, Plant City and other ultraconservative enclaves — but sweet mumbling Jesus, how in the hell can the enlightened cosmopolites in my neighborhood possibly vote for America's Looniest Politician???

Last week, Hillsborough County got redder and Pinellas County got bluer. Eighteen years ago, when I rolled into town, Pinellas County was a Republican stronghold, its entire county commission in the R column. Hillsborough County was the opposite, its county commission running a 6-1 advantage for Democrats.

The 1994 Republican Revolution and the growth of Hillsborough's suburbs changed all that.

Last week, Hillsborough's County Commission added another Republican, making it 6-1 for the GOP. Republicans swept the governor and Cabinet races in Hillsborough. Jim Davis lost his home county to the Republican Charlie Crist.

Over in Pinellas, the story had a different hue. Democrats picked up two Florida House of Representative seats that were held by Republicans. It sent Charlie Justice to the Florida Senate over Republican Kim Berfield, despite Berfield winning in Hillsborough.

A closer read of the results, however, shows less of a polarization and more of a movement to the middle in both counties.

Before we crown Pinellas County as this red state's new bastion of liberal action, look at last week's results more closely:

• Republican icon and appropriations whiz Congressman C.W. "Bill" Young whipped a fringe Democrat, Samm Simpson, 66 percent to 34 percent.

• The Pinellas County Commission is still controlled by Republicans, 5-2, and no Republican incumbent was thrown out of office.

Pinellas residents aren't liberals or progressives; they're pragmatists. Turn a longtime cash cow like Congressman Young out of office just because he supported the war in Iraq? No way.

I have no science on this, but I'll venture a few educated guesses as to what is going on.

First and foremost, St. Petersburg's reputation as a hip, affordable and tolerant place to live is drawing exactly that demographic. Those folks vote progressive and Democrat. Second, the influence of the St. Petersburg Times' strong political coverage is evident in the election results. Editorial endorsements may not count for as much as they used to, but writing about, say, Berfield's negative attacks on Justice does have an impact among readers, especially south of Ulmerton Road.

As for Hillsborough, things aren't as red as the results initially make them appear. The County Commission may well have an additional Republican on the board, but overall, the new commission is less socially conservative than the previous one. Kevin White is more open-minded than the man he is replacing, Tom Scott. Rose Ferlita may not be the human rights champion that Kathy Castor was, but I doubt she'll join the right wing to make gay-bashing and adult-business crackdowns a top priority. Even Storms' replacement, Al Higginbotham, will be more civil about his social conservatism than his feisty and combative predecessor. Republican Mark Sharpe, who has made some bad votes in his short time on the board, is now free to tell the social conservatives to piss off now that he has won a four-year term.

Castor is a more liberal replacement than Jim Davis in the Congress. And in the Florida House, newly elected war veteran and Democratic scion Michael Scionti could well be the rising star that his predecessor, Bob Henriquez, was supposed to be. Scionti has great charisma and a moderate stance on issues that will enable him to work with the Republican majority to advance good causes.

So maybe I won't have to move after all. Even if I continue to drive across the Gandy bridge every few weeks for a grouper sandwich at the Crab Shack.

Scroll to read more News Feature articles
Join the Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state.
Help us keep this coverage going with a one-time donation or an ongoing membership pledge.


Join Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Creative Loafing Tampa Bay. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Creative Loafing Tampa Bay, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at [email protected]