Tuesday, November 20, 2018
Politics

Bob Henriquez defeats Ronda Storms for Hillsborough property appraiser

TAMPA — Former Democratic state Rep. Bob Henriquez asked voters to make a hiring decision rather than a political one in choosing the next Hillsborough County property appraiser.

Voters offered the job to Henriquez over Republican state Sen. Ronda Storms, with all precincts reporting Tuesday.

Henriquez won by a commanding 52-43 percent over Storms, who had quit an uncontested re-election bid for the Senate to run for the office stained by current appraiser Rob Turner's porn scandal.

While Storms easily knocked off Turner in the Republican primary, her success in that contest failed to carry over to the general election.

Henriquez, 48, attributed the victory to a late surge of support from across the political spectrum.

"To be very honest with you, this whole process has been very humbling," Henriquez said. "I'm humbled and ready to go."

Just three months ago, Storms appeared to be riding a wave into the office. She had trounced Turner, a 16-year incumbent, taking 70 percent of the vote in a low-turnout primary. She enjoys tremendous name recognition as a sitting officeholder and former Hillsborough County commissioner who is quick with a colorful quote, particularly in pushing her socially conservative agenda.

But she failed to win any of the major endorsements leading into the general election and her campaign donations slowed to a trickle just as those to the Henriquez campaign surged.

"When you looked behind the numbers (behind her name recognition) you found it was hard for her move the needle," Henriquez said, talking about her ability to build on her base and the outrage generated by Turner.

Storms, 47, offered only a brief statement by a text message late Tuesday.

"Congratulations to my opponent," she wrote. "He won decisively."

This will be the first time in 14 years Storms has not been in elected office. She served six years in the state Senate after eight years on the Hillsborough County Commission.

The appraiser sets values for all properties in Hillsborough County for the purposes of determining their tax bills. The office has roughly 130 employees and an $11 million budget. The property appraiser serves a four-year term for a job that pays $153,052.

Turner appeared headed to an easy fifth term, facing challenges from two little-known candidates running without party affiliation, Rob Townsend and James DeMio, who got few votes Tuesday.

Then the Tampa Bay Times revealed in May that Turner had sent dozens of pornographic emails to his human resources director. Turner once dated the woman, Carolyn Filippone, while she worked in his office and subsequently fired her as the Times was preparing a story about her sexual harassment complaint against him.

Filippone is now suing the office for wrongful termination.

Within days of the revelations, Storms and Henriquez announced their intention to run for the office. Storms campaigned against Turner in the Republican primary largely by publicizing newspaper headlines about the scandal.

Things settled down after the primary. Henriquez, who faced no challengers from his own party, tried successfully to make the campaign a contrast of resumes. A former state legislator, he served eight years in the House before leaving due to term limits in 2006.

He is best known as the head football coach for Tampa Catholic High School, but had supervised the Pinellas and Pasco county regional office of the state Department of Children and Families for three years ending in 2011. He has worked as a planner and in various roles with private-sector engineering firms.

At a campaign celebration Tuesday, a supporter handed Henriquez a Halloween-style prop broom as a joke, though he quickly set it aside.

"I want to say how much I respect Sen. Storms' service," he said by phone later. "I'm sure she's nowhere near being out of this arena."

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