Sunday, January 21, 2018
Politics

Election contradicts Pasco's bellwether label

After last week's election, it might just be time to hit the pause button on Jeb Bush's old mantra that Pasco is a bellwether county.

Following the 2004 election, the former governor uttered this famous phrase: "As Pasco goes, so does the state of Florida, and as Florida goes, so does the nation."

On Tuesday: Pasco went strongly for Mitt Romney (by 7 points). Florida narrowly voted for President Barack Obama (a sliver outside automatic recount trigger). Obama's popular vote margin was a couple points larger.

"Pasco County is no longer a bellwether," said state Rep.-elect Mike Fasano. In earlier years, "had Pasco County reported Romney winning and Romney winning early and big, that would have sent a signal on the national level that Florida is going for Romney. But it no longer does."

The election highlighted other changes in the region. Thanks to the president's strong ground game and demographic shifts, several Democrats easily won countywide races in both Pinellas and Hillsborough.

"Pasco is now kind of the Republican hub of the Tampa Bay area," said Sen.-elect John Legg, whose district includes parts of south Pasco and the Carrollwood area.

Incumbents cruise, even the Democrat

Sitting officeholders up for re-election all had good nights Tuesday. Voters gave new terms to: U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, Clerk of the Circuit Court Paula O'Neil, Sheriff Chris Nocco, Property Appraiser Mike Wells and Tax Collector Mike Olson. All received more than 60 percent of the vote.

Republicans cemented their 5-0 advantage on the County Commission with Kathryn Starkey's victory in the open District 3 race. She essentially ran as a quasi-incumbent because of her time on the School Board and high name recognition.

But how does Olson's victory square with Pasco's reddish hue? After all, he survived as the lone Democrat elected to countywide office. Fasano said Olson's victory makes sense.

"People don't look at that as a partisan office," Fasano said, adding that Olson's 32-year-long tenure means he's well known among voters.

Weatherford to take helm as speaker

Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, begins his tenure as House speaker on Nov. 20. His Republican caucus no longer has a supermajority, but it still has a hefty 76 members. One reason for the loss in seats might be the redistricting plan he crafted that created more competitive districts and imperiled some GOP incumbents.

He struck a conciliatory tone during a Friday radio interview in Tallahassee, saying he is "over" his party's disappointing results in the presidential election. "Anyone who wishes for (the president) to not succeed at this point is betting against America and they're wishing against the success of America," he said.

Now Weatherford must begin governing. Some immediate problems: ethics reform, fixing Florida's elections embarrassments and implementing the national health care law. Closer to home, County Commissioner Ted Schrader said Weatherford told him to seek state money for a feasibility study of an elevated tollway along State Road 54. "I think we should at least take him up on his offer," Schrader said.

Kind words for those who came up short

For the candidates who didn't win office on Tuesday, former Hallmark writer David Ellis Dickerson wrote a handful of condolence cards. His favorite: "If this had been a real race, you'd have a silver medal. Thank you for running."

A final thought on a retiring commissioner

Here's something that didn't make it into this week's story about Ann Hildebrand, who is retiring from the County Commission after 28 years.

In 1998, she was picked as a founding board member of Tampa Bay Water, the regional utility created to calm the region's "water wars." Activists decried the decision at the time, saying Hildebrand was too cozy with Pinellas, which was heavily pumping Pasco water sources.

Her response: "I don't think every official has to be combative to accomplish things."

It seems history has proven that a wise statement.

Lee Logan can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6236.

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