Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Politics

Five candidates offer different visions for Pasco commission

Commissioner Ann Hildebrand dropped a political bombshell last fall when she announced she wouldn't run for an eighth term.

Now five Republicans are trying to distinguish themselves in the stretch run of a campaign to replace her. The winner of Tuesday's crowded primary still must face Democrat Matt Murphy in November.

Here's a look at the contenders:

Randy Evans

What qualifies Randy Evans for the County Commission? He points to 27 years in the U.S. Coast Guard, including serving as a special agent with the Guard's investigative service since 1995.

In the service, he was stationed across the country and in Puerto Rico, working on drug investigations and providing dignitary protection. Evans, 48, grew up in Clearwater and is also an Eagle Scout. He earned a master's degree from American Military University. Evans moved to Pasco in 2008 and lives in Trinity with his wife, Michelle, and two daughters.

He has staked out a moderate position on the campaign trail, saying he wants to boost money for public safety, veteran services and animal control. He is also adamantly opposed to the new park fees, saying county parks should be free to all.

Evans said he would guard against inefficient spending, but also noted Pasco has long had a reputation for being fiscally conservative.

"I think everyone's looking for ways to cut," he said at a candidate debate last month. "And they've cut about as far as they can cut. There's probably nowhere else to go except for — gosh, I hate to say it — raising taxes."

Evans has also been the most vocal in criticizing his opponents who did not live in District 3 when they qualified for the race. "That's a big thing for a lot of people," he said.

Commissioners are elected countywide but must live in the district they represent. Evans said he's the only candidate who didn't have to move to fulfill the residency requirement and who also qualified by petition.

Chris Gregg

Chris Gregg, who has been courting conservative and tea party voters, is willing to put up his own cash to spread his message. He spent $16,000 of his own money on his campaign, nearly all of his total campaign receipts. During the 2010 election cycle, he even paid for billboards criticizing the nation's debt.

Gregg, 42, wants Pasco to slowly wean itself off state and federal grants, arguing they add to the country's financial woes. He's the only candidate in the primary who opposes renewing the Penny for Pasco sales tax, which puts him at odds with many Republican elected officials. He also opposes the county's redevelopment efforts in West Pasco, arguing the public should not interfere with the private sector.

He said his campaign is focused on "less spending and doing things more efficiently."

Gregg's campaign fliers have been satirical and negative. Most have included cartoons with rhinoceroses to skewer candidates he considers RINOs — Republicans In Name Only.

Gregg, who has an associate's degree from North Seattle College, is a regional director for a company that operates blood testing labs for nursing homes and long-term care facilities. He lives in New Port Richey with his wife, Lena, and two young sons.

Joshua Griffin

Josh Griffin wants to put his private sector experience to work for the county. Part of a politically active family from Land O'Lakes, Griffin also works for his family's business, Bio Mass Tech Inc. The company does environmental contract work throughout Florida, including shoreline reconstruction and work on stormwater systems. He has also done cleanup work following natural disasters.

Griffin, 28, played football for River Ridge High School before getting injured in his senior year. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in political science from the University of Tampa. He is unmarried and recently moved to a condo in New Port Richey.

Griffin said he would like to make the county friendlier for businesses by streamlining regulations. He said he would bring a distinctive perspective to the County Commission because the younger generation has been particularly hard hit during the economic downturn.

Griffin opposes the county's new mobility fee policy because it punishes property owners in rural areas of the county. He said he would also put restrictions on economic development incentives, warning companies could leave town after receiving the money.

"As far as stroking money to a business to get them to come here, what's going to happen when they feel like that money has dried up?" he said. "They need to want to set up shop here and love the working environment."

Karen King

Karen King said her community involvement makes her stand out.

She points to 20 years of service with numerous community groups, including Rotary, the West Pasco Chamber of Commerce and the Pasco Aging Network. She was a member of the 1996 class of Leadership Pasco and was crowned Queen Chasco at the 2005 Chasco Fiesta.

"It demonstrates that I really care about the community," she said. "I do have a finger on the pulse. ... This is not because I'm campaigning, that's just who I am."

King, 62, is the former sales director for Homewood Suites in Port Richey, and is a member of the Tourism Development Council. She lives in Holiday and has two grown children. She graduated from East Carolina University. She also has no financial liabilities, which she said "shows that I'm a good steward of money."

King has been endorsed by Commissioner Pat Mulieri and has run a grassroots campaign by meeting with numerous community groups. She wants to boost the economy by encouraging sports tourism and has pushed for a 1 percent increase to the county's hotel bed tax. She also would push to refine permitting and the county's landscape and sign requirements.

She also praised the county for "doing a fabulous job with growth management in recent years. For a while there it was out of control."

Kathryn Starkey

In two years, Pasco will have lost two commissioners — Hildebrand and Commissioner Pat Mulieri, who has said she won't seek another term in 2014 — with almost 50 years of combined experience.

Several other top administrators are planning to retire soon. Kathryn Starkey thinks her experience can help during that transition.

Starkey served from 2004 to 2010 on the School Board before resigning to make an unsuccessful run for the state House. Before entering politics, she was a community activist. She also received several gubernatorial appointments, including a spot on a basin board under the Southwest Florida Water Management District.

Starkey, 54, attended Florida State University. She lives in Odessa with her husband, Trey. They have four children.

She praised the county for being "fiscally conservative in a tough time," though she said she would work to streamline regulations. She also hopes to push for a new park facility in West Pasco. "We need to have parks and activities for kids on the west side of the county," she said.

Starkey has received the most establishment support in the race. Her $50,000 war chest far outpaced her other four GOP primary rivals.

She picked up endorsements from Hildebrand, House Speaker-designate Will Weatherford, and Pasco's three main public safety unions.

As the campaign's perceived front-runner, she has also been the target of the most attacks. Her campaign literature has focused on her own record.

"We did not attack anybody," she said. "I thought we ran a very good, clean race in the primary. I feel good about the way we handled ourselves."

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

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