Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Politics

DeWitt: Hernando County Commission losing a trusted voice

You probably think it's too early to contemplate the 2014 election, and it is — except that we already know one result.

And very possibly nothing that we find out 19 months from now will be quite this dramatic:

David Russell will not be re-elected to the Hernando County Commission. We can be sure of that because he said last week that he will not run. And there is no chance that he will change his mind, he said.

"This is the real deal."

I take him at his word because, in his eight years in the state House of Representatives and his six-plus on the commission, I've found his word to be pretty good.

That's one reason he's the commission's most effective dealmaker, the one with more power to guide his colleagues than any other. He's trustworthy. At least I've never heard anyone say otherwise.

There's also his experience in the Legislature, which gave him more knowledge about public policy than most, or probably all, of the commissioners with whom he's served.

Remember the call to ax THE Bus? Remember how insistent it was in 2007 and 2008, especially from Russell's fellow Republicans?

Russell realized the commission needed to resist the call, that it would be shortsighted and expensive to pass up the grant money that came with THE Bus, yet still be saddled with federal requirements to provide transportation to disabled residents.

He had worked on growth management bills in the Legislature so he understood the high cost of sprawl — and, so, he cast the lone "no" vote on the moronic Quarry Preserve project in 2011.

That was unusual, Russell on the short end of a 4-1 vote, because one other thing he's always been is moderate.

It's worth pointing out that unlike two other formerly sensible, homegrown Republicans — Ginny Brown-Waite and Richard Nugent — he stayed moderate even as his party moved right.

No, he didn't face the pressures they have, serving in the U.S. House of Representatives. And I don't mean to suggest he resisted all special interests — certainly not when it came to impact fees — or the slash-and-burn wing of his party.

Hernando was too late in raising its property tax rate as property values plunged. It allowed too many good employees to leave, too many services and facilities to decline. It chewed up its reserves and relied on gimmicks such as raiding an environmentally sensitive lands fund, which, we shouldn't forget, was Russell's idea.

But when party members went wild talking about "Government Gone Wild" in 2007, he didn't agree to cut the county tax rate as much as they wanted.

And he helped bring the commission — one that included two of those slashers, Wayne Dukes and Jim Adkins — around to the idea of a tiny tax rate increase in 2011, which stopped the worst of the bleeding, and then, last year, an increase large enough to keep property tax revenue flat.

We've been talking mostly about political moderation. But Russell has demonstrated the personal kind, too, a tendency not to dig in his heels too deeply, which most recently helped the county avoid wasting money on a fight over the name of its airport.

For whoever replaces him, it's something to think about: Extremists might make the most noise, but moderates make the deals.

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