Wednesday, June 20, 2018
News Roundup

So, Sager has cooled to tea party politics?

Three years ago, the old Jason Sager signed a pledge with the 10th Amendment Center, a states' rights group that promotes, among other ideas, a return to gold-based currency.

In 2011, the old Sager posted a long entry on the right-wing website Florida Political Press, saying he had lost the Republican primary race for the U.S. House of Representatives "because I refused to play the establishment's game and throw principle to the wind."

The establishment he took on in that post included Republican state senators — including both of the ones representing Hernando — who opposed Gov. Rick Scott's decision to turn down a high-speed rail grant. These senators, Sager wrote, are "not Republican in any sense of the word."

He felt pretty much the same way about his opponent in that 2010 primary, Richard Nugent, saying at one point that he couldn't support him in the general election against a Democrat.

And how different is the new Sager, the Republican candidate for the District 3 seat on the Hernando County Commission?

Hard to say for sure because, this being a race for a local rather than a federal office, he's not talking about his stance on, say, the gold standard, which out of fairness I should add was not specifically part of the pledge he signed.

Also, he can still sound like the hard-core tea partier when promising to never, ever raise taxes. He opposes THE Bus because it depends on federal grants that are "not specifically authorized by you in Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution" (maybe, I'd say, because this was written more than a century before buses were invented).

And, just as he did on national issues, Sager likes local solutions that seem, depending on your point of view, either wonkish or gimmicky: charter government, for example, and zero-based budgeting.

So what evidence do I have of a "new Sager"?

Well, he's now okay with the Hernando County Airport's new control tower, which he used to consider an 80-foot-tall monument to government waste. The economic development plan he unveiled last month calls for private industry to draw investment by working closely with the government — which, he said, upset a few of his more libertarian fans.

And, thankfully, he's okay with accepting the federal transportation dollars funneled into Hernando for highway upgrades, even though that amount can dwarf the sums spent on the THE Bus.

Then there's his relationship with the Republican establishment, which is much, much improved.

Sager's old nemesis, Nugent — who is doing "a stellar job" as a U.S. representative, Sager says — was given top billing as the host of a Sager fundraiser Friday at the Hernando County Association of Realtors office.

Which brings us to one reason for Sager's kinder view of the party establishment:

Even before last week's event, his campaign had pulled into a solid money-raising lead over his Democratic opponent in the District 3 race, Diane Rowden. Much of this was due to donors with last names such as Schraut, Buckner, Bronson, Kimbrough, Ingoglia and Hogan. If you don't know local political shorthand, I can tell you that these are among the leading names in the housing, banking and development industries, that several of them can and probably will bring in out-of-county money to help Sager, and that when it comes to Republicans, they are as establishment as it gets.

This could be reassuring if it means that Sager has come around to the party's long-prevailing what's-good-for-business-is-good-for-Hernando philosophy, which seems downright enlightened compared with some of Sager's tea party views.

But unfortunately, I also think the establishment has come around to Sager. If he wins, Hernando will likely have a majority of commissioners who like to pander to voters' stingiest impulses, a commission on which longtime Republican stalwart David Russell would seem practically liberal.

This prospect, in case you're wondering, is why I have written so much about Sager this election season.

What's good for Sager's political career, I'm convinced, is not good for Hernando County.

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