Wednesday, January 17, 2018
News Roundup

Pinellas commissioners may lose seat over fluoride debate

The issue is the economy.

(Not fluoride.)

Jobs need to be saved.

(Not teeth.)

Voters care about choices.

(Not conspiracies.)

And that, in a nutshell, is the story of the two Pinellas County Commission races on the ballot.

If incumbents Neil Brickfield and Nancy Bostock are correct — they say residents aren't focused on their role in the elimination of fluoride from the county water system — there's a good chance they will be re-elected next week.

And if they are wrong, you might consider the possibility that county voters are sending a message about extreme politics.

Because history says Brickfield and Bostock should not be in any danger. History says Republican incumbents on the Pinellas commission never lose in the general election.

Heck, most times they're not even challenged.

Go back 25 years and you'll find no Democrat has come within 10 points of an incumbent Republican. And that's when the Democrats are actually trying. In 17 of the past 23 races, the Republican ran unopposed.

So what's the reality? Is the fluoride debate actually having an impact on what, at this point, appear to be close races?

Brickfield and Bostock insist it is more of a media-driven issue than something voters care about. Both say the topic is rarely broached by people they see on the campaign trail.

On the other hand, opponents Janet Long and Charlie Justice just might be doing Crest commercials by the weekend.

"We're facing two opponents who have served in the state Legislature," Bostock said. "So if it turns out the races are close, I wouldn't necessarily write it off as a fluoride question. To me, these are just good, competitive races with real choices and different points of view. And that's not a bad thing."

Odds are, the issue is beyond all of their control at this point anyway. In a handful of days, we'll have a much better idea whether this debate was real or overblown.

For those unhappy about losing fluoride, Brickfield and Bostock happen to make easy targets. The only other seat up for grabs this year belongs to one of the three commissioners who voted in favor of fluoride. And — Surprise! — Karen Seel is unopposed.

Going beyond the actual question of fluoride is the perception that a historically moderate commission got hijacked by a handful of politicians who caved to the anti-government and tea party extremist crowd. In the end, that may end up being more costly.

And that probably explains why Brickfield and Bostock are framing fluoride not as a scientific argument, but as a question of individual freedom.

"A lot of people have said to me that they don't like the idea that the government puts something in the water and they have no choice about it," Brickfield said. "It doesn't mean fluoride is bad; they're just objecting to the idea of not having a choice."

When the commission voted to end fluoridation last year, it was estimated the county would save a little more than $200,000. Brickfield and Bostock have combined to raise a little more than $200,000 in their re-election campaigns.

The numbers are coincidental.

The results may not be.

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