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Incumbent Republicans win three Pasco County Commission races

Three County Commissioners held onto their seats Tuesday, retaining Republicans' dominance of the board.

Voters gave GOP commissioners Ann Hildebrand and Jack Mariano solid wins over Democrats Terri Conroy and Ginny Miller, respectively.

Commissioner Ted Schrader, 52, a Republican from San Antonio, was re-elected for a third term without opposition for the District 1 seat from east Pasco. The write-in candidate who appeared on the ballot had dropped out of the race in September.

With their wins, Republicans keep four of the five seats on the board, despite heavy early voting this year by Democrats.

"I think the board functions very well. We're accomplishing a lot of good things," said Mariano, who won his second term. "We're doing a lot of good things watching over the taxpayers' money."

The Mariano-Miller campaign was expected to be competitive, but Hildebrand's contest turned unexpectedly close with heavy voter turnout.

"I always knew all along this was not going to be cake walk," Hildebrand, who was seeking term No. 7.

Mariano squeaked out a win to unseat Democrat Peter Altman four years earlier from the northwest coastal Pasco district. Mariano's opponent this year was also familiar to the public: Miller was elected five times to the New Port Richey City Council.

Although Mariano raised $106,000 to Miller's $34,000, the Florida Democratic Party reduced the gap with a final-week mailing attacking Mariano's record. Campaign reports say the party spent $34,000 on it.

Mariano, 48, a former car salesman, campaigned on a populist approach, promoting his work to improve utility service, improve tourism and reducing spending after being forced to cut taxes.

However, Miller, 49, a teacher, seized on less rosy aspects of Mariano's first term. He used taxpayer money to travel far more than any other board member. His opposition to a Hudson development lead the county into a losing lawsuit.

In Hildebrand's race, Conroy, a former permitting manager for a home builder, couldn't match the fundraising and name recognition of Hildebrand, who has represented southwest Pasco for 24 years.

"I think in these times, they recognize that you need to have that stability and that experience," Hildebrand said of voters.

Hildebrand, 70, of New Port Richey, raised nearly $129,000, allowing her to advertise and send mailings to 1,000 absentee voters a day in October.

She focused on her six terms of experience, a record that she said gave her the best perspective as the county faces decisions on growth management and spending.

Conroy, 49, a New Port Richey mother of two running her first race, raised only $8,500. She had little means to persuade voters that Hildebrand was out of touch.

Just as in the August primary, Hildebrand escaped damage from being a "double dipper" — taking advantage of a loophole that allowed her to receive a salary and a pension for the same job. In one flier, Conroy even called her a triple dipper for accepting Social Security, too.

David DeCamp can be reached at ddecamp@sptimes.com or (800) 333-7505, ext. 6232.

Incumbent Republicans win three Pasco County Commission races 11/04/08 [Last modified: Friday, November 7, 2008 12:19pm]

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