CLEARWATER — Pinellas County commissioners Norm Roche and John Morroni filed this week to run for re-election.
Roche, who submitted his paperwork to the supervisor of elections on Thursday, will seek a second term on the commission, entering a race in which he could face two high-profile opponents. A Republican, Roche has drawn a primary challenge from state Rep. Ed Hooper, who is term-limited. The Clearwater Republican made it known a year ago that he would run for Roche's District 2 at-large seat, and the latest records show that he has raised $54,830 for his campaign.
Roche has often said that his first term on the commission has not been an easy one. Frequently alone in his opposition to issues that come before the seven-member board, he's had difficulty persuading other commissioners to support his proposals. And though he's a registered Republican and holds conservative views on taxation and the need to reduce spending, many of the leaders of the local party have lined up behind Hooper, who is viewed as more moderate.
Among of the reasons Hooper has given for his decision to challenge Roche is the commissioner's opposition to adding fluoride in the county's water, an issue that came to the fore in 2011 when the commission narrowly voted to stop fluoridation. Since then, the board has reversed its decision and debate has largely faded away, but the issue remains tied to Roche's name and could cause him political headaches in 2014.
One issue on which he and Hooper agree is in their publicly stated opposition to a referendum that seeks to increase the sales tax by one cent to pay for an expanded bus system and light rail.
Largo Mayor Pat Gerard, a Democrat, has also entered the race for the District 2 seat and has raised $13,620. She was a Largo city commissioner for six years before becoming mayor.
Asked to comment on the issues he plans to focus on his campaign, Roche replied via email: "...as Mr. Hooper and his handlers, and Ms. Gerard, have chosen to challenge for this seat — I suspect it is best to allow them to articulate their reasons for their challenge. Once they've done so, I'd be happy to consider responding to your publication as to their reasonings."
Morroni, a Republican who was first elected to his District 6 seat on the commission in 2000, filed to run for a fourth term on Monday. He's being challenged by Republican Tom Rask, a Seminole resident and business owner. The primary winner will face Jack Harris, a member of the Libertarian Party of Florida.
The primary is set for Aug. 26; the general election is Nov. 4.