Memo to the newly elected Kevin Beckner
Re: Your first foray
Welcome to public office, Commissioner Beckner, Hillsborough County style!
Oh, sure, we know you've lived and worked in these parts long enough to know about that sometimes dysfunctional family you just joined.
We know you're well versed in how the board has, in the past, become mired in self-interest, personal prejudice, petty politics and the occasional religious rant.
In fact, that's partly why you ran for office, right? And managed to oust one of the top offenders, professional-wrestler-turned-podium-pontificator Brian Blair.
Well, Commissioner Beckner, this week you got a taste of what the next few years might be like after you had the audacity to suggest that county staff members be allowed to gather information on expanding health care benefits to unmarried domestic partners of county employees.
Yes, we heard you say these benefits usually help more opposite-sex couples than gay ones. Yes, we know governments and agencies across Florida, including the city of Tampa and the Pinellas Sheriff's Office, offer the benefits. Yes, we heard your contention that this could attract industry and jobs.
And yes, we know you were only asking to be allowed to get information, not to have the commission decide yea or nay that very day.
That didn't matter to some of those citizens who showed up to accuse you, the board's first openly gay member, of pushing a gay agenda.
But what really seemed to get lost is how you were also trying to undo a nasty precedent set by a previous board, with then-Commissioner Ronda Storms front and center.
Years back, that board voted to forbid the staff from any effort toward gathering information about domestic partner benefits (also known as the You Will Never Speak of This Evil Again motion). Boy, that Ronda sure liked to nail the door shut behind her, didn't she?
This week, only Commissioner Rose Ferlita seemed to grasp the indignity of a long-gone board member keeping current members from exploring any issue they chose. Ferlita alone voted with you. She made it clear she could not see supporting new benefits that would cost more money in these lean times, though she wanted to see the information and look at future options.
And some of the others who voted no? It was about cost and nothing else, honest. At least this dismal economy's good for something, if only a little duck-and-cover.
Now you have to give your colleague Jim Norman credit for straight-out saying he was voting no because he believes family benefits mean husband and wife, period. Points for at least owning up to who he is.
So, Commissioner Beckner, you ended up on the short end of a 5-2 vote, which, given the makeup of that board, you may well see again. If you start to get discouraged, remember former Commissioner Kathy Castor, who often found herself on the lonely side, too, managed to get elected to Congress anyway.
"This is what good government is about, having open conversations about new ideas," you said at the meeting before you made your pitch. And in your time in Hillsborough County government, Commissioner Beckner, we wish you the best of luck with that.