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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Storms, Turner at Bell Shoals Baptist Church for first election square off



State Sen. Ronda Storms went straight after Hillsborough County Property Appraiser Rob Turner's porn sending admission and out-of-country travel in their first joint appearance that involved addressing an audience.

Storms, who is challenging Turner in the Aug. 14 Republican primary, got the loudest early applause among nearly four dozen candidates for office, addressing members of the Bell Shoals Baptist Church -- a friendly audience for the socially conservative politician.

"I'm bringing my broom and we're going to clean up the mess in the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser's office," Storms told a crowd of roughly 700 people.

In her remarks, Storms made a brief comparison of Turner to Kevin White, the disgraced former county commissioner now in federal prison. She said a lawsuit against Turner by a former human resources director to whom he has admitted sending porn and dating is likely to cost the county hundreds of thousands of dollars, like the sexual harassment case White faced in 2009. 

Turner, who gets credit for showing up -- several candidates passed on the event -- got the most tepid opening round of applause before starting his address, at least among early speakers. Then he declined to directly respond to the description of his office offered by Storms, who spoke before him.

Neither of the other candidates brought up his recent headlines and Democrat Bob Henriquez was a no-show. All candidates were given two minutes to make their case and their was no question-and-answer period.

The property appraiser mentioned his 16 years in office, noting that he inherited a shop that was in disarray. He said he turned it around and that the office spends $1 million less than when he took over those many years ago. And he distinguished himself from his challengers by saying he alone has the background and training to do its business, which he said has been run well under his leadership.

"As a Christian, I pray for the guidance, courage and strength to contine that effort,"  Turner said.

"God bless you all and God bless America," he closed to a louder round of applause than the one that greeted him.

The forum came the same day that mailers from Storms hit mailboxes of thousands of Republican voters. In it, Storms also vows that she will "clean up this mess." It includes headlines from a series of recent unflattering stories about Storms, all but one of the eight from the Tampa Bay Times. 

The Times first reported Turner's admission that he sent pornographic emails to his human resources director, a woman he once dated while she worked for him. Turner then fired the woman, Carolyn Filippone, as the Times was preparing a story about her sexual harassment complaint against him, saying several aspects of the complaint, which was dismissed in April, were false. 

The paper also has reported on his frequent travel out of the state and, occasionally, out of the country on behalf of a professional organization, while teaching classes or while attending conferences. Storms was sure to highlight some of the out-of-country travel, which has included China and Jamaica.

The forum also came a day after Turner came in distant third place in a straw poll conducted during Wednesday's Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce 2012 Political Hob Nob, an event that should have been more friendly to him.

Storms got 42 percent of the vote. Henriquez, a former state representative, took 35 percent and Turner finished with just 17 percent.

[Last modified: Thursday, July 12, 2012 9:44pm]


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