Pasco's most crowded commission race got even more full Thursday as another big-name candidate filed papers to run.
Former School Board member Kathryn Starkey is now the ninth person running in District 3, which opened last fall when Commissioner Ann Hildebrand said she would not run for an eighth term.
Starkey first thought about running months ago, but decided against it. She reconsidered after reflecting on Hildebrand's retirement and the 2014 departure of Commissioner Pat Mulieri. Two longtime administrators are also leaving this summer.
"I just realized so many key people in the county are retiring," she said. "Maybe my background and experiences and leadership could be of value to the board and the community."
Starkey was elected to the School Board in 2004 and served until 2010, when she resigned to run for state House. She lost in a Republican primary to Richard Corcoran of Trinity.
Hildebrand is good friends with two of the candidates vying to succeed her: Starkey and former United Way of Pasco president Susan Arnett. But she said she isn't changing earlier plans not to make an endorsement.
Hildebrand said this year's race reminds her of her first commission campaign, when she was one of seven candidates. With so many competing messages, it might be difficult for a candidate to stand out from the pack. Then again, Hildebrand said, "I think some have more community recognition than others."
Before taking public office, Starkey, 54, was an active civic volunteer. She founded Scenic Pasco, which lobbied for aesthetic landscape and sign requirements, and served on a citizens advisory committee that evaluated Pasco's comprehensive plan. She also served on the Pinellas-Anclote River Basin Board and was recently appointed to the Florida Humanities Council.
"It gives me a background that's unique among the candidates who are running," she said. "I'll be able to hit the ground running."
She also brings coveted name recognition to the race as the daughter-in-law of rancher J.B. Starkey, whose family name adorns the 20,000-acre preserve just north of Odessa.
Health care salesperson Chris Gregg, who so far has spent $8,000 of his own money on the campaign, said he welcomed Starkey's candidacy.
"It dilutes the vote and it makes it fewer votes needed to win the election," he said. "It's going to be closer than I thought."
Other Republican hopefuls include retired U.S. Coast Guard investigator Randy Evans, Homewood Suites sales director Karen King, and Josh Griffin, whose father owns the Hallelujah Land Ranch on State Road 52. Also running are GOP activist Wil Nickerson and Jeff Palmer of New Port Richey.
The winner of the August Republican primary would face Democrat Matt Murphy, a utility contractor and former state committeeman.
Although commissioners are elected countywide, they must live in the district they represent. Starkey is one of several candidates — along with Arnett, King, Murphy and Palmer — who must move into the district by Election Day. District 3 was redrawn last fall and now stretches from the Gulf Harbors neighborhood south of State Road 54 before stopping just before the Shops at Wiregrass.
The field could narrow before the June 4-8 qualifying period. Candidates who aren't able to collect enough petitions to make the ballot by May 7 can choose to pay a $4,800 qualifying fee.
Lee Logan can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6236.