BROOKSVILLE — Framed by red, white and blue balloons and flanked by the county's Democratic leadership, Diane Rowden on Wednesday announced she is seeking the District 44 state House seat now held by Robert Schenck.
A former county commissioner, Rowden came out swinging at Schenck's record, citing his support for state fee increases, his service of special interests and his absence from frontline leadership.
"Unlike my opponent Schenck, I am a true fiscal conservative who believes government must operate within its means,'' she said, adding that the people of the district "are not being represented in a way that supports their best interests. They're being ignored.''
The district includes most of Hernando, as well as parts of Pasco and Sumter counties.
Schenck later told the St. Petersburg Times that voters need to examine voting records to see the truth.
"For her to call herself a fiscal conservative is almost laughable,'' he said, noting that "you can see a dozen times where she increased taxes and fees to the citizens of Hernando County.''
Rowden said her record as a commissioner proves her commitment. She cited her efforts to manage growth and prevent developers from taking advantage of the county and said that property tax rate cuts during her tenure saved Hernando residents more than $44 million.
She accused Schenck of voting for "one of the largest tax increases in recent history'' by supporting hikes in auto tags, hunting and fishing licenses.
"District 44 desperately needs the creation of new jobs,'' she said, noting that "for too long the only decent jobs available in our area have been contingent on the housing industry.'' She said she would work to create jobs in green energy.
Rowden, 60, was soundly defeated by John Druzbick in her bid for a third term on the County Commission in November 2008. She also has served on the School Board.
She said the same special interests that Schenck serves — the builders, developers and Republican Party leadership and specifically party chairman Blaise Ingoglia — were responsible for her commission defeat. But she said things will be different in the House race.
Schenck, who is seeking his third term in the House, is also a former county commissioner. Asked if he caters to special interests, Schenck said, "If the people of Hernando County are a special interest, then so be it.''
After leaving the commission, Rowden earned certification as a building performance analyst and founded Smart Energy Evaluations, an energy-auditing firm that helps home and business owners examine their energy consumption and recommends energy-saving solutions.
She also works as a community liaison for Capri Home Care.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1434.