Republicans think Diane Rowden is anti-business.
So said Hernando Republican Party chairman (and state party vice chairman) Blaise Ingoglia in a recent fundraising email.
No doubt, this is a good way to fire up loyalists.
But is it true?
That's shaping up as the central question in Rowden's campaign for the District 3 County Commission seat.
She's doing all she can to live down her anti-business reputation, including being one of the few Democrats to venture into the crowd of Republican backslappers at Thursday's unveiling of plans for the new Accuform Signs factory.
And judging from the tens of thousands of dollars commercial interests spent to beat Rowden in 2008, you can bet they'll pour big bucks into fighting this rebranding campaign.
"I know she's supposed to be the new and improved Diane," said Gary Schraut, a Republican who helped mobilize the anti-Rowden forces four years ago, when she was a two-term incumbent on the commission. "But I don't think she understands how business functions."
When developers appeared before the commission, Schraut said, she never failed to put the squeeze on them for goodies such as roads and firehouses. She also voted against plans for several big projects, including the 3,700-unit Lake Hideaway in northwest Hernando and super-posh Hickory Hill in Spring Lake.
The first step in answering the anti-business charge is to point out that not so much as a spade of dirt has been turned for either of these developments.
Also, during the land rush days, Rowden was not only against sprawl, which was her beef with Hickory Hill. She spoke out against "speculative rezonings" — approvals intended only to make properties more valuable so they could be unloaded to buyers who might very well unload them to somebody else.
Now, what's the major obstacle to business in Hernando today? The gutted real estate market, of course.
How did it get to that point? Speculation. Too many developments diluting demand. Too many lots. Too many houses.
When the real estate frenzy was at its peak, Rowden was about the only elected official to consistently argue it couldn't go on forever, that it might come back to haunt us.
Yes, she cast a few knee-jerk votes against worthwhile projects, especially when there was a roomful of voters to please.
But, generally, I think she should be congratulated for her foresight. And I think the local economy would be better off if more people had listened to her.
One other thing. Consider who is leveling this charge, who wrote the Sept. 24 email stating that Rowden was defeated in 2008 because voters were fed up with her "big government policies and anti-business rhetoric."
Ingoglia was the biggest local builder during the boom. He sold mainly to speculators. And as late as March 2007, he was at a Los Angeles real estate seminar handing out fliers — "Housing Bubble . . . What housing bubble?" they stated — dismissing the idea of a bust that by many measures was already under way.
If this is the person Republicans have chosen to lead them, you have to wonder what, exactly, they mean by pro- or anti-business.