TAMPA — The Republican primary races for two open Hillsborough County Commission seats have gotten a bit more crowded in the past quarter, suggesting there will be some competition in the 2014 contests after all.
Businesswoman Robin Lester became the latest to join the fray, announcing her candidacy Wednesday for the at-large District 7 commission seat being vacated by Republican Mark Sharpe due to term limits.
Lester, 51, a Republican from South Tampa, is a managing partner of Florida Growth Partners, a consulting firm that helps growing companies connect with potential investors. She said she hopes to bring a focus on luring high-tech jobs and recruiting and retaining young talent in Hillsborough County.
"I feel it's important for our county government to have a business acumen brought to it," Lester said. "I think my resume speaks to that."
She joins Don Kruse, 53, another Republican who filed earlier this summer and is making his fourth bid for a County Commission seat, his most recent two years ago. Kruse is spouting a similar platform as Lester, saying he hopes to carry on the work of Sharpe, who has made diversifying the economy a top priority during his time on the board.
"We have to get our economy away from just construction," said Kruse, president and chief executive officer of Beauty and Health Institute, which he runs with his wife in Westchase. "When construction comes to a halt, jobs shut down."
Both face sitting commissioner Al Higginbotham, a Republican facing term limits in the District 4 seat he currently holds representing mainly eastern Hillsborough. The winner would face Mary Mulhern, a Tampa City Council member who is the only Democrat in the race. Both Higginbotham and Mulhern have been campaigning for months.
There are also two relatively new candidates seeking to fill Higginbotham's current seat on the board.
The first is Janet Lee Dougherty, of Wimauma, owner of Sage Eco Solutions, an environmental consulting business that seeks to help recycling companies and producers of organic foods market their goods and services. Dougherty, 51, a Republican, has held several appointed public positions, including past board member of the Southwest Florida Water Management District and the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council.
"I really want to help shape the community," she said.
She joins two other Republicans who have been campaigning for months in a district that leans heavily in favor of GOP candidates. They are school board member Stacy White and Rick Cochran, a senior detective with the Tampa Police Department.
The winner would face Donna Lee Fore, the lone Democrat in the race who filed this summer. Fore, 60, of Riverview, is the owner of a mobile auto glass company and is the current president of the Riverview Chamber of Commerce.
"I feel that small business is not represented on the County Commission," Fore said. "I feel like I can be that voice."