TAMPA — On a recent weekday morning, John Dingfelder stood outside a county library, greeting voters on their way to polling booths.
While his wife and father stood nearby holding campaign signs, Dingfelder shook hands and discussed ballot issues with potential supporters.
"Everybody is confused," he assured one person who didn't understand that a proposed 1-cent sales tax would pay for local light rail, not a high-speed rail line connecting Tampa to Orlando.
The sales tax is a key issue that separates Dingfelder, a Democrat, from his Republican opponent, Sandy Murman, in the race for the County Commission seat representing District 1, which stretches from the south shore of Hillsborough County through South Tampa and into Town 'N Country.
Dingfelder supports the tax, saying it will create jobs and provide badly needed funds to the county's bus system.
Murman opposes it, saying raising taxes in a down economy is a bad idea.
"Higher taxes are not going to solve our problems," said Murman, who spoke with voters this week just yards from where Dingfelder waved his signs. "He's promoted a lot of increases and fees, and that's a huge difference between us. My message to voters is we need to live within our means and get the economy and the budget under control."
Murman, who served in the Florida House of Representatives from 1996 to 2004, said if elected she will call for a 5 percent salary cut for commissioners and press for easing government regulations on businesses.
Dingfelder counters that many of those regulations are in place to protect neighborhoods and the environment. As a City Council member, Dingfelder worked for creation of a green building ordinance and neighborhood improvements such as sidewalks. He fought against privatization of some city services to save jobs.
As a county commissioner, he said he'd like to create jobs through development of a business incubator in conjunction with the University of South Florida that is focused on energy, health care and high technology.
After serving seven-plus years on the City Council, he said he's used to casting a vote and then having to answer for it when he runs into constituents in the grocery store.
"There's a huge difference between being a local legislator as compared to going to Tallahassee," Dingfelder said. "You're a little bit closer to the people when you're in local government."
Janet Zink can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3401.