On Wednesday morning both Tampa Bay dailies' top story above the fold was on the plan unveiled by Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill for a one-cent sales tax referendum to pay for a new comprehensive transportation plan for roads, buses and light-rail.
But if it does go before voters in 2016, Tim Schock will be voting against it.
"I'm absolutely opposed to the one-cent sales tax for light-rail," Schock repeated to CL on Wednesday. The 41-year-old private equity consultant is running in the GOP primary for the countywide District 7 County Commission seat on August 26, where he's a heavy underdog to quasi-incumbent Al Higginbotham.
"Quasi" in the respect that, while Higginbotham has served on the board for some eight years already, technically he's not an incumbent since he's running for the first time in a different, countywide district seat that's been occupied by Mark Sharpe for the past decade. But Schock says it's definitely time for some new blood on the board. "I really think that we do constantly need a new perspective," he says, adding that if Higginbotham is able to win this year and is re-elected in 2018, that will have been 16 years serving on the BOCC, which he says is an "awfully long time."
But back to transportation: Schock believes that an overall comprehensive transportation plan is "desperately needed" in Hillsborough County, but doesn't believe light-rail is the answer, saying it's simply far too expensive. And he notes that while the county is budgeting to spend even more than than the $6 billion over 30 years time on transit and roads (if it passes), cost overruns are inevitable, citing the report that the much-heralded Gateway Expressway in Pinellas County that will link I-275 and U.S. 19 is now expected to cost $454 million, some $116 million more than when Rick Scott announced the plan back in February.
And Schock dismisses concerns among many lawmakers that the lack of a light-rail system is a deal-breaker for perspective companies contemplating relocating to the Tampa Bay area.
As a first-time candidate, Schock says he wasn't surprised at all that both local papers have endorsed Higginbotham in the August 26 primary, although he expresses a bit of bewilderment at being labeled as having a "pinched view of government's role in protecting the area's quality of life," to quote the Tampa Bay Times editorial endorsing Higgy.
When told it sounds like he's being described as a limited government kind of candidate, Schock agrees, and admits that's it's not a bad image to have in a GOP primary. But while he fervently does believe in a smaller government, by no means does he believe that government is inherently bad and should be reduced as much as possible. But he also says that "the liberty aspect requires a limited impact on people's lives to ensure a fair and level playing field of opportunity — not outcome, but opportunity."
Schock does have something that no other candidate in this GOP race can claim: an endorsement from CD13 Representative David Jolly, who has known Schock for years (they both attended Emory University in Atlanta). This fact naturally led CL to ask his thoughts on his friend's announcement last week that he supports same-sex marriage, which has created a furor amongst some Pinellas County conservatives. Schock says that his take on the issue is similar to Jolly's — that he personally believes that marriage is between one man and one woman, but that from a liberty perspective, he believes "the government should get out of the marriage business."
Schock also says he doesn't believe that the government has a right to dictate "who you can leave your estate to, who you can live with, who you can have by your bedside when you're sick or dying," adding, "I'm a Christian, and my Christian faith says first and foremost I have to love God and love people, and I don't see where I can sit there and tell somebody, 'no you can't have your loved one by your bedside while you're dying.' That's absurd."
That appears to distinguish Schock from Higginbotham, who in January of 2013 voted along with three other Republicans on the board to oppose creating a Domestic Partner Registry, which would have given unmarried couples in the county the power to make medical decisions and funeral arrangements for a distressed partner, and to participate in education decisions for their children. (In recent years Pinellas County, Tampa, St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Largo, and Gulfport all have all created such registries).
And Schock is in common cause with the District 7 Democratic candidates Pat Kemp and Mark Nash in admonishing the board for supporting the proposal last year to offer Bass Pro Shops $6.5 million in tax incentives to locate in the county. He says the Board of County Commissioners needs to spend as much time on retaining local businesses as recruiting new out-of-town ones.
He says part of his platform is stressing the importance of "economic empowerment," which means fighting to retain businesses. "We lose a lot of really good graduates and neighbors who end up moving away because they're opportunities are better somewhere else," adding that if the county can retain talented people, "We'd be able to attract it as well."
In addition to Schock and Higginbotham, the GOP District 7 County Commission race also includes Don Kruse and Robert A. Lester.