The F-word: Dems pry two seats from anti-fluoride Pinellas Commissioners

11/07/12 Kate Bradshaw
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While the economy was a major factor driving voters to the polls yesterday, a pair of local races may have been decided along simpler lines. The Pinellas County Commission picked up two new Democrats who challenged their Republican opponents’ stance on fluoride in drinking water.

Not long after the polls closed Tuesday, Pinellas Commissioners Neil Brickfield and Nancy Bostock, both Republican incumbents, threw in the towel. The latter was down by five points; the former by nearly eleven. At the Pinellas GOP’s election watch party at the Hilton Carrillon in Largo, Bostock chalked it up to one thing.

“Ultimately the media treatment was exceptional on this.”

Bostock was referring to the media’s portrayal of the four commissioners who last year supported a ban on fluoride in the county water supply.

“In the local newspaper, it turned into just a one single issue, one single vote campaign which is discouraging to me because there are so many issues in this county.”

Fluoride had been added to the county water supply since 2004. Last year, Pinellas gleaned national attention when Tea Party clamor spurred four out of seven commissioners to support a ban on the practice. Bostock, who won her countywide seat in 2008, is considered one of the board’s biggest conservatives. Brickfield, also elected four years ago, said the way the two races were often framed spoke to a bigger question.

“It was clearly a debate over fluoride and the role of government, and the people said that in Pinellas County, they want a government that wants fluoride.”

Brickfield, whose seat was also countywide, said that while he would never vote against fluoride again, the dialogue about the role of government is bound to continue.

“Today people didn’t agree. It doesn’t mean that the debate doesn’t go on.”

To their Democratic challengers, the picture looks a little different.

“Fluoride is a symptom of a bigger disease.”

That’s former state senator Charlie Justice, who won Bostock’s District 3 seat. At the Democrats’ watch party, which took place at Gunslinger’s Saloon – just down the road from the GOP party - Justice said the election results show that Pinellas voters are tired of extremism.

“A couple of them were making decisions based on who was screaming loudest on a given day. And you can’t do that when you represent a million people. You’ve got to make decisions for the entire community.”

Former state representative Janet Long is the Democrat who won against Republican incumbent Neil Brickfield. In addition to being the two newest Dems on the Pinellas County Commission, they have something else in common: Both lost their respective races in the Republican sweep in 2010. She said this year, things are way different.

“I think people are spending more time becoming more educated on the issues and on the candidates and on being a lot more thoughtful and a lot more considerate about where they want the future of Pinellas County to be. I don't think they want it to be on the extreme end of any particular ideology.”

Long said without fluoride hogging the spotlight, the commission can tackle issues that aren’t only concerns among the fringe, like transit.

“If you study history, Eisenhower built the interstates and without them America would not have been so great. I don't think that we can keep our heads in the sand and keep on building roads and looking at the issues in the same way that we always have.”

Justice and Long will be sworn in on November 20 before that day’s regular County Commission meeting.

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