Blair considers filing complaint against Beckner

11/13/08 Seán Kinane
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Last week, Democrat Kevin Beckner soundly beat incumbent Republican Brian Blair to win a seat on the Hillsborough County Commission. This afternoon at the County Center in downtown Tampa, Blair held a press conference to call attention to what he called the Beckner campaign’s “blatant lies.”

Blair charged Beckner with crossing an ethical line. But in doing so, Blair may have crossed that line himself.

Flanked by his wife and a handful of county employees, former Commissioner Brian Blair said his opponent put out campaign literature that falsely claimed at least three things. One is that Blair benefited from $1 million in county money to clean up the lake he lives on.

Blair also claimed that Beckner lied in campaign material by saying that Blair gave himself a pay raise. The state Legislature is the only entity that can give commissioners a pay raise, Blair said. Last year Blair objected to freezing his pay and reducing his $600,000 vehicle allowance. Another Beckner flyer claims that that Blair supported the Confederate Battle Flag flying over eastern Hillsborough County.

Blair said “we’ll see” whether Beckner violated laws and left open the possibility of filing a complaint with the Florida Elections Commission.

“When are you stepping over the line? … That’s something that will unfold as the future comes.”

Barbara Linthicum, executive director of the Florida Elections Commission, said fines can be imposed up to $1,000 per count, depending on which Florida statutes the person who files the complaint alleges were violated. Election results are never overturned by complaints filed with the Florida Elections Commission, Linthicum said.

Beckner said he has supporting evidence for everything his campaign has ever printed about Brian Blair and he will be cleared of the accusations.

Blair, who lost by a margin of 10 percentage points, accused Beckner of breaking rules of elections and crossing over the line, but Blair himself may have crossed a line during the press conference.

“There’s got to be rules in everything, I mean, how far can you go? Could I say that, you know that that his boyfriend gave him AIDS or something like that, when I certainly know that’s not true? And I certainly would never say that. I ran a clean campaign above board and never got into some of the stuff that I certainly could have.”

Kevin Beckner is openly gay, but the issue did not come up much during the campaign because, his campaign manager Mitch Kates told WMNF last week, voters were more interested in quality-of-life issues. Beckner reacted strongly to Blair’s statement.

“It’s an extraordinarily off-the-wall, mean-spirited comment. And it was meant as a personal attack on me afterward.”

Marcella Osteen was one of several members of the community who attended the press conference. Some held cardboard boxes sarcastically intended to help Brian Blair move out of his county office. Osteen is a board member of United Citizen Action Network (U-CAN). She’s a Republican but said that local Republicans like Brian Blair don’t represent her, especially with his statement about AIDS.

Blair said his future plans include running for office again in 2010. Two positions he is considering will be open seats: Jim Norman’s on the County Commission, and Kevin Ambler’s in the State House of Representatives, District 47.

Photo by Seán Kinane/WMNF

Kevin Beckner

Kevin Ambler

Florida Elections Commission

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