Former Tampa Electric Co. executive Ed Blommel is running for tax collector, giving Mike Olson his first Republican challenger for the office in 16 years.
"It's time for a new set of eyes," said Blommel, 62, who spent 40 years at TECO before retiring in 2009. His last 17 years with the company were as a regional manager in Pasco. He now works part-time with the East Pasco chapter of Habitat for Humanity and was recently appointed to the board for the Pasco County Housing Authority.
Blommel said he wants to focus on customer service. Although he wouldn't bring major changes to the office, he said he would provide tweaks and technology upgrades.
"I've got a passion for people," he said. "If you look throughout the county, (that office) serves the most people, in terms of customer service."
The tax collector provides businesses with tax receipts, processes property tax payments and also sells hunting and fishing licenses. But most people interact with the office when they get a new driver license or car tag.
Olson, who has held the job since 1981, said 99 percent of the more than 100,000 customer comment cards his office has received rate the service as good or excellent. He also pointed to several infrastructure upgrades — including a high-tech cashier system and new software that processes auto registrations quicker — that make the office run more smoothly.
"I know what our customers think," said Olson, 66. "If the elections are a referendum on my management of the office, I'm going to be re-elected."
Pasco's only Democratic officeholder, Olson last faced a Republican opponent in 1996. He won with 72 percent of the vote. He also cruised to victory in the 2000 Democratic primary. He said Republicans likely have a case of the "Henry Wilson syndrome" — referring to the newly elected county commissioner who defeated Democrat Michael Cox last fall.
"Henry came on last year in a different set of circumstances and beat a well thought of, highly regarded and well-funded commissioner," Olson said. "It's normal that anybody on the Republican side would look at that situation and say, 'Wow, all I've got to do is get on the ballot, campaign a little bit and win.'"
Blommel denied that he's running because of the "D" after Olson's name. "People who know me know I'm not like that," he said.
Lee Logan can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6236.