Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Business

Economic reality makes strange bedfellows

It's more than disorienting.

It's enough to make you look around for other signs of the apocalypse, especially that old standby, dogs lying down with cats.

I'm talking about county Commissioner Diane Rowden and Brooksville Realtor Gary Schraut.

The news here is not, for a change, about them squabbling over campaign signs. They are not fighting over whether a developer should or shouldn't have the right to build a subdivision. Schraut is not, as he often was in the past, working to destroy Rowden at the polls.

They are on speaking terms, even friendly terms. What's more, on several issues they actually — and, yes, you are reading this correctly — agree.

Can't get your mind around this? Considering their history — "Gary and I have been going at it for probably 20 years," Rowden said — I don't blame you.

But relax, the world isn't coming to an end. There are reasonable explanations for this new era of good feelings.

Schraut is chairman of the Hernando County Aviation Authority, which oversees the operation of Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport.

Rowden is the commission's liaison to the authority.

So, she has more opportunity to talk with Schraut and other business leaders.

"It turns out that people who almost perceived each other as enemies have a whole lot in common," Rowden said.

And she and Schraut work together, which means they also watch each other work.

"She is tireless in her efforts with the airport and its staff to get some opportunities down there," Schraut said, "including calling me at 9 o'clock at night when I go to bed at 8 o'clock."

The airport connection put them on the same side — the right side — of the drone issue, agreeing the county should pursue a long-shot chance that the federal government will choose the airport as a testing site.

It also meant Rowden had the support of a lot of other business types while — talk about disorienting — David Russell, the mainstream Republican, the commerce-friendly but drone-averse commission chairman, ended up allied with the Chicken Little crowd.

Some of this, of course, is due to political calculation on Rowden's part.

Formerly a crusader against sprawl, she ran in last year's election as a friend of enterprise and, since being elected, has talked and voted like one.

She's all for extending the Suncoast Parkway, which would serve as a very long, very expensive driveway for the handful of people in Citrus County who might use it.

Last month, when given the chance to vote and speak in favor of progressive, targeted impact fees, she didn't.

But the new Rowden is possible because of a new economic reality that doesn't require her to compromise as much as the old one.

During her previous stint on the commission, to stand up against more home building was to stand in the way of economic growth. The industry was that dominant.

Being pro-business now means finding a long-term replacement for housing, some source of income and employment that is steadier and less destructive.

"We want to grow our economy, we want jobs, and we want to be a place where our kids will come back to live," Rowden said.

Really, it's not a mystery that she and Schraut agree on this. How could anyone not?

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