Term-limited in the Florida House, state Rep. Ed Hooper will challenge Pinellas County Commissioner Norm Roche in 2014, he announced on Wednesday.
Even before he was re-elected in November to his fourth and final term in the House, the Clearwater Republican had been debating whether to run against Roche, who is seeking re-election.
In November, the ouster of two incumbent Republican commissioners helped him make up his mind.
Nancy Bostock and Neil Brickfield had sided with Roche in a vote in 2011 to stop adding fluoride to the county's water supply.
Both had lost their seats and both blamed the fluoride issue.
Weeks after November's election, when the commission voted to restore fluoridation, Roche was the lone vote against it.
To Hooper, this was a critical mistake.
"It's not necessarily about what you like, or you don't like. You're there to represent the majority," he said on Wednesday, adding, "I'm clearly a supporter of fluoride."
Hooper, 65, represents House District 67, encompassing much of Clearwater and Largo, as well as northern Pinellas Park. He is a former Clearwater city commissioner and a retired firefighter and has never run in a countywide race.
In addition to fluoride, which he said would play a role in his campaign, Hooper is likely to face questions about a proposed one-cent sales tax increase, which could go on the ballot in 2014. Its supporters want to use the money collected to pay for an expanded transportation system in Pinellas, including light rail.
Hooper said he would not support a sales tax referendum. Rather, he said, the commission should convert the Penny for Pinellas — a 1 percent sales tax dedicated to capital projects — into a funding source for transportation.
He is also dubious that a light rail system would work in Pinellas unless it is connected to the rest of the Tampa Bay area.
Though Hooper is the first challenger to announce against Roche, he may not be the only one.
Candidates can announce their intentions to run anytime before or during the qualifying period in June of 2014.
Anna M. Phillips can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8779.