GOP Hillsborough Commission Dist. 2 hopefuls take on the big questions

07/30/10 Kate Bradshaw
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Hillsborough County’s 2nd district lies mostly north of USF. Much of that district is unincorporated as well as rural. Commission Chair Ken Hagan currently represents the area on the Board of County Commissioners, but not for long. He’s seeking the countywide seat Jim Norman is leaving to run for state senate. Two Republicans are facing off in the August primary – one with a familiar name, and one you might not know.

It’s probably no surprise that two republicans hoping to represent Hillsborough County’s rural reaches don’t support Hometown Democracy. Linda Pearson, who faces state Sen. Victor Crist – no relation to Charlie – in the August primary, said the proposed amendment to the state constitution would be an expensive headache for local governments.

"I do not believe that our government should be burdened with having to put elections out there every time you want to change a plan or lease on a piece of property. We can't report it, it's ridiculous. We ave a procedure in place. It's called the ballot box."

Probably less expected were the candidate’s negative impression of the St. Pete City Council’s adoption of a substitute comprehensive plan. The new plan limits the number of land use changes that would go onto the ballot should voters pass Amendment Four in November.

"I grew up on the beaches. I'm looking and I see what the impact is having out there and crushing the opportunity to grow, improve, and find jobs. Whether or not St. Pete did a good or a bad thing, the bottom line is that it's gamesmanship. And that needs to stop. The people need to have a better say in what's going on, there needs to be greater input, there needs to be better visibility on the decision making, and the county commission needs to listen and work with the community ensuring that we have the kind of collective buy in we need."

Pearson is a land use expert who has worked for three county commissioners. The St. Pete Times reports that more than a decade ago, Sen. Crist appointed her to review county budget audits. While the District 2’s GOP contenders both vehemently oppose Amendment Four, also known as Hometown Democracy, they disagree on another ballot question. This one pertains to a penny-per-dollar sales tax to fund a massive transit overhaul – and whether it should even be allowed on the November ballot. Pearson said she thinks so.

"I support having it on the ballot. I happen to know I'm walking my districts and ringing on the doorbells in districts too. I have a very educated, informed voter election. I totally support having a voice, whether they support it or not, and if elected whatever their wishes are, then the board need to carry them out."

Crist? Not so much. At least, not during a time when the state is facing a gaping six billion dollar budget hole – and that’s before you factor in the fallout from the BP disaster.

"I'm opposed to putting the one cent sales tax on the ballot because it's not a physically sound or responsible thing to do right now. There's not the full story that's being made available to the public. The state's facing, right now, a $6 billion shortfall when the stimulus money dries up. Another $3 billion shortfall with the economy. The oil hasn't even hit the shore yet, so before we're even going into next year, there's a $9 billion shortfall. A big portion of that's going to roll back to local governments. That story is not being told the voters out there. They're not getting the whole story."

An issue many think is closely tied to transit is that of whether the County should build a stadium to keep the Tampa Bay Rays in town. Person said this, too, should be up to the voters.

"If it ever comes to a board that I'm on, we're going to have to look at the physical question very closely. And it may be another issue that goes back out because it's going to cost a ton of money, and I'm not going to be willing to be committed to it."

Sen. Crist said it’s a matter of collaboration throughout the region, and nothing is worth pursuing if it requires stepping on your neighbor’s toes.

"You know,if you're ever going to achieve the goals and objectives we want, we have to build coalitions. To build coalitions, we have to build partnerships. To build partnerships, you got to reach out to your neighbors and you got to be able to work with your neighbors. Cannibalizing your neighbor is not going to making friends."

Whoever wins the primary election on August 24 faces non-party affiliated candidate Steven Morris in November. Two other Hillsborough County Commission seats have a Republican primary. These are District 1, where Trey Rustman and Sandy Murman seek the GOP nod. The other is District 7, a Countywide seat. Mark Sharpe is running against Josh Burgin. Neither Murman nor Burgin were present at today’s event.

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