Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Bell Shoals Baptist political forum draws Ronda Storms, Rob Turner, others

Politics and piety shared the same roof Thursday night in Brandon when more than 400 people turned out for the Bell Shoals Baptist Church Candidate Forum.

Candidates for federal, state and county offices, 49 in all, turned out for the forum, which has become a staple of east Hills- borough politics since Bell Shoals, Brandon's largest Baptist church, first hosted the event in 1984.

"It's a chance for voters to see the candidates side by side and hear what they have to say and then make their own judgments about who they want to vote for," said Jeff Lukens, a forum organizer.

Joe Cacheiro is one of those voters.

"I came here to try to get to know the candidates and get more information," Cacheiro, of Brandon, said. The Christian conservative wanted to know each candidate's position on abortion and fiscal issues. "Those are very important to me," he said.

Candidates for county property appraiser drew the most attention.

Some of the loudest applause of the night came when Ronda Storms, a former state senator, vowed to "bring out my broom" and clean up the office of property appraiser.

As first reported by the Times, incumbent property appraiser Rob Turner has admitted 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 prepared a story about her sexual harassment complaint against him, saying several aspects of the complaint, which was dismissed in April, were false.

Storms, who said Turner's behavior drew her into the race, 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 Filippone could cost the county hundreds of thousands of dollars, as did the sexual harassment case White faced in 2009.

Turner, whom some credited for at least showing up, 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.

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.

Turner made no mention of the scandal in his address to the mostly conservative audience, instead concluding: "As a Christian, I pray for guidance to continue my work."

Before the event, candidates fronted tables bedecked in campaign brochures and banners, shaking hands and answering voter questions one on one during an informal 90-minute session in the church's Welcome Hall.

"We knock on doors every day, but it's difficult to find events like this where you can speak to large groups of regular voters," said Jake Rayburn, who is vying for the Republican nomination in state House District 57. "(Bell Shoals) is also a very influential church that tends to be politically minded and make its members aware of what's going on."

Elizabeth Belcher, the Democratic candidate for state Senate District 24, said the large turnout of voters made the event mandatory for her.

"I want to explain to people that there are alternatives out there," Belcher said.

Candidates who wanted to attend the forum filled out a 15-question form on "issues of importance to the church," said Lukens, the organizer. The questionnaire included questions about abortion, the federal budget, same-sex marriage and schools. Each candidate's answers were handed out to those attending the forum.

"The church has values about what they believe in but the church does not endorse any specific candidates," Lukens said.

Apart from a few barbs at opponents, polite pleas for votes characterized the candidates' two-minute presentations, with some issuing rousing pleas for change in government.

Rich Glorioso, a Republican candidate for supervisor of elections, cited his experience as a state representative and his military logistics background in his pitch to voters.

"I'm a new guy with new eyes," Glorioso said. "Competence, integrity and transparency" would guide him in office.

Craig Latimer, current chief of staff at the elections office, said his record speaks for itself.

"Earl Lennard (current elections supervisor) and I have brought leadership and accountability back to that office," Latimer said. "I am also the only candidate that has conducted an election."

Thomas Scott, a pastor who is running against Latimer in the Democratic primary, cited his experience as a Hillsborough County commissioner, a post he held for a decade.

"You can count on me to protect the integrity of your vote," Scott said.

Ray Wishmeyer of Riverview scratched "at least 10" candidates off his list after the debate.

"I wanted to get an idea about each candidate tonight. I also wanted to see some enthusiasm. At least four or five of the candidates appealed to me, but now I will do some research on them. I want someone with some backbone."

The loudest applause of the night and a standing ovation was reserved for a video tribute to James W. Pope, a former coordinator of the candidate forum and a member of Bell Shoals Baptist who died in an auto accident in 2010.

Times staff writer Bill Varian contributed to this story. Kevin Brady can be reached at

Bell Shoals Baptist political forum draws Ronda Storms, Rob Turner, others 07/14/12 [Last modified: Saturday, July 14, 2012 4:31am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Buccaneers-Vikings Turning Point, Week 3: Overreaction vs. reality


    "None of us really know how this group of 53 guys is going to come together and how we're going to play this season."

  2. Triad Retail Media names Sherry Smith as CEO


    ST. PETERSBURG — Triad Retail Media, a St. Petersburg-based digital ads company, said CEO Roger Berdusco is "leaving the company to pursue new opportunities" and a member of the executive team, Sherry Smith, is taking over.

    Roger Berdusco is stepping down as CEO at Triad Retail Media to pursue other opportunities. [Courtesy of Triad Retail Media]
  3. What to watch this week: Fall TV kicks off with 'Will & Grace,' 'Young Sheldon,' return of 'This Is Us'


    September temperatures are still creeping into the 90s, but fall officially started a few days ago. And with that designation comes the avalanche of new and returning TV shows. The Big Bang Theory fans get a double dose of Sheldon Cooper's nerdisms with the return of the titular series for an eleventh season and …

    Sean Hayes, Debra Messing and Megan Mullally in Will & Grace.
  4. Eight refueling jets from Arkansas, 250 people heading to new home at MacDill


    TAMPA — The number of KC-135 refueling jets at MacDill Air Force Base will grow from 18 to 24 with the return of a squadron that once called Tampa home.

    A KC-135 Stratotanker, a military aerial refueling jet, undergoes maintenance at MacDill Air Force Base. The planes, many flying since the late 1950s, are now being flown more than twice as much as scheduled because of ongoing foreign conflicts. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]
  5. Bucs couldn't connect on or stop deep passes in loss to Vikings


    If two things were established as storylines entering Sunday's Bucs-Vikings game, it was that Tampa Bay was still struggling to establish the deep passes that were missing from its offense last year, and that …

    Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs (14) gets into the end zone for a long touchdown reception as Bucs free safety Chris Conte (23) cannot stop him during the second half. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]