Pat Kemp and Deborah Cox-Rousch at Tiger Bay

01/16/09 Seán Kinane
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The newly elected Republican and Democratic Party chairs for Hillsborough County faced off this afternoon in front of the Tiger Bay Club of Tampa.

Deborah Cox-Rousch is the new Republican Party chair and Pat Kemp is her Democratic counterpart.

Deborah Cox-Rousch owns a catering business and told the Tiger Bay audience that there was a simple reason why she decided to run for Republican chair.

“The one thing that really changed my mind was on Fox News that night when I watched Hillsborough County go blue. And I said, ‘this can’t happen.’ I’m not a politician, I’m not a policymaker, I have no desire to hold public office. I took over the Hillsborough County Republican Party so we can get back to the basics, back to our grassroots, and back to the things we believe in.”

Democratic chair Pat Kemp, who is married to WMNF Program Director Randy Wynne, says she had been in a political depression since the 1980 elections. Democrats were not able to match Republican turnout, especially during the first term of the George W. Bush presidency.

“And then I kept hearing about Karl Rove, Karl Rove, Karl Rove, the politics of fear, that Republicans had an incredible computer program. They tracked everybody. To the uttermost extent, they knew how every different Republican looked at issues; abortion, taxes, everything, and they had pinpointed it. And the Democrats seemed woefully behind, frankly. I would work on campaign after campaign, collect all kinds of information, and each time the campaign would shut down, and the software and programs wouldn’t continue. And the information wouldn’t be passed on, and the volunteers, we didn’t know who they were from campaign to campaign.”

But 2008 was an excellent year for Hillsborough Democrats, according to Kemp, culminating in Barack Obama’s victory in November with 53 percent of the county’s vote.

“I feel it’s a really good time to be a Democrat in this country and in Hillsborough County.”

Republican Chair Deborah Cox-Rousch says that she does not plan to push certain policy issues in her official role.

“As a resident of Hillsborough County … I have my own personal opinion. But your question, I think, was as chairman of the party are we going to be involved in policy issues. I don’t think that’s my job.”

In contrast to her Republican counterpart, Kemp said she would emphasize policy issues that are important to her fellow Democrats.

“Some of the kinds of issues that people – and one that jumps out way ahead of anything else is concerns about mass transit and our lack of it here in Hillsborough County. I think there’s a huge interest in seeing that happen. Also concerning education and redistricting.”

Because the Obama campaign was so effective at energizing youth, Deborah Cox-Rousch says the Republicans must follow that lead.

“I think the thing of the future is, we have to reach out to our youth, 18 to 40 years old. The Republican Party in Hillsborough County is going to make a major effort of that. … We did learn from Obama.”

Both chairs were asked whether the county’s constitutional officers, such as Supervisor of Elections and Property Appraiser, should remain partisan positions. Their responses differed. Republican Deborah Cox-Rousch thinks they should remain partisan, Democrat Pat Kemp thinks they should not.

The next Tiger Bay Club of Tampa meeting will be Feb. 20. It will feature a discussion on the Middle East, Israel and Gaza. Only one speaker has confirmed so far, Ahmed Bedier, who is co-host of WMNF’s True Talk program.

Tiger Bay Club of Tampa

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