Did you know that there are 46 different breeds of mosquitoes in Pasco County? Or that the Mosquito Control Board spends about $4.4-million a year to keep the little bloodsuckers' numbers in check?
Well, neither did Steve Luikart, until the recently retired Pasco schools administrator started researching these things for his run for Mosquito Control Board.
"You're driving around spraying chemicals in the air," Luikart said of the board's work. "People need to know, what's this helicopter doing over my house?"
Luikart, 57, and Nancy Britton, 50, are challenging Seat 1 incumbent Sandy Applefield, 67, for a spot as a commissioner on the board. Applefield is running for a fourth term.
Incumbent Gary "Buck" Joiner, 67, is running unopposed for a second term on Seat 3. (Seat 2 will be up for election in 2010.)
The highest vote-getter on Nov. 4 earns $400 per month, and must attend a monthly board meeting to handle the budget and personnel issues for Mosquito Control.
The agency, headed by director Dennis Moore, has 26 full-time employees who disperse chemicals and bacteria by trucks, boats and aircraft to rid the county of mosquitoes.
"It's not high-profile, like sheriff or County Commission," Moore said.
And voters respond accordingly. In 2004, 130,170 Pasco voters cast ballots — but 19,473 of them didn't choose anyone for Mosquito Control.
The lower on the ballot a race is — Mosquito Control was sandwiched that year between a School Board race and a seat on the Lake Padgett Estates Independent Special District — the more undervotes there usually are, said Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley.
"Voters sometimes tell me that they sometimes skip races if they don't know any of the names," Corley said.
Having a nickname can help: Matthew "Skeeter" Abbott won Seat 2 in 2006.
"In certain cases, people will pick people based on a name they like," Corley said. "If it sounds like one of their grandkids or relatives, they pick that name."
Britton, of Port Richey, doesn't have an unusual name, but she has some name recognition as a former Port Richey City Council member. She's also a marketing director for a home health care company who is involved with community organizations like the New Port Richey Rotary Club.
She points to her City Council work and her personal experiences raising two sons as ways she's learned about budgets. She said she can apply that experience to the board.
Applefield manages a warehouse complex and some residential properties she owns in Port Richey.
Applefield, also of Port Richey, said voters should re-elect her because of her experience, such as attending a Mosquito Control Association seminar.
She was the top vote-getter in the 1996 election, and ran unopposed in 2000 and 2004. She said running with opponents this year has been interesting.
"My opponents both have well-meaning campaigns," she said, "but I am not sure what their motives are."
Luikart was once known as "Cool Hand Luke" when he played basketball at Gulf High School, and later at a community college in North Carolina.
When the movie of the same name faded in popularity, however, so did Luikart's nickname.
"I wish I had something fancy that readers could look at and say, 'I'm voting for that guy,' " he said, laughing.
He said he decided to run against Applefield instead of Joiner because Joiner is "highly qualified," and that he hadn't seen a wealth of leadership roles in Applefield's past.
Luikart was a school administrator for 24 years. He said working as an assistant principal — he retired from River Ridge High School on June 30 — will help edge out his opponents.
"I have written curriculum and gotten it funded and done things I think can be beneficial to an organization like the Mosquito Control Board," he said.
Joiner, of New Port Richey, is a retired environmental specialist for the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. He said he used to regulate the chemicals used by the board to control mosquitoes when he worked for the state.
He also raises beef cattle and cooks for events like Chasco Fiesta and for local rotary clubs.
"I have to have something to do," he said. "I like to stay involved in the community."
Britton said she wants to control the county's mosquitoes to help keep illnesses down.
"We've gone to the moon," Britton said, "but we can't take care of mosquitoes."
Camille C. Spencer can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6229.