Monday, February 19, 2018
Politics

Hernando County Commission winners look to get down to work

BROOKSVILLE — With the hand shaking and sign waving behind them, the exhausted candidates for the Hernando County Commission were attempting to get back into a normal routine Wednesday.

For the three who won seats, it was time to prepare to take office, or, in the case of incumbent Jim Adkins, continue the efforts he has been supporting.

The losers were talking about what cost them the election.

And party leaders offered their take on the message they took away from the results of the 2012 general election.

For Diane Rowden, a former commissioner and former School Board member, Wednesday came with the realization that she would be the only sitting Democratic elected official in Hernando.

Ousted from the District 3 seat by John Druzbick four years ago, Rowden said she will have an advantage in getting up to speed on issues quickly because she already knows many of the county directors and staffers.

She said she is anxious to get with County Administrator Len Sossamon, who is still relatively new to the job. She wants to find out "what kind of direction he wants to take us in.''

Rowden also planned to research other current issues and find out the status of the strategic plan Sossamon has been working on with his leadership team.

Nick Nicholson, who will be the new District 1 commissioner, has an ambitious list of tasks ahead of him, beginning with becoming familiar with the county's budget.

Nicholson wants to do a budget comparison back to 2002. He also wants to help create a five-year plan for spending, but first he said the commission needs to immediately begin cutting recurring expenses.

Nicholson's get-started list also includes studying management qualifications and work habits, ridding the county of unnecessary rules and ordinances, and exploring changes in land development rules, bus routes and the permitting process.

For Adkins, who is returning for his second term, the focus continues to be on economic development He said that he anticipates more announcements in early 2013 about new businesses coming to the county.

To keep the county moving in that direction, he said, the staff must continue to work on infrastructure to serve the Interstate 75 industrial corridor, where the potential for new business development is high.

While the winners were preparing for future commission decisions, those bested in the election were thinking about what went wrong and what they learned.

Ramon Gutierrez, whom Adkins beat, said he will run again. While he was disappointed by the outcome, he said he believes the results show why the county's Democrats need to get better organized.

Arlene Glantz, who was defeated by Nicholson, said she learned that it was difficult to get one's political message out to the voters. But despite her loss, she vowed to keep working on issues of critical interest to her, including helping to establish an adult technical training program in the county and setting up new streams of revenue.

Greg Sheldon, the no-party candidate who earned 8.63 percent of the vote against Rowden and Republican Jason Patrick Sager, said he had hoped he would do better, but had learned that, without a Democrat or Republican designation, a candidate is unlikely to win.

While he was encouraged by Republicans to leave the race to give Sager a better chance of winning, Sheldon said he believes he took votes from both Rowden and Sager.

"Ultimately, what helped Diane win was Jason Sager's extramarital affair,'' Sheldon said, referring to Sager admitting several weeks ago to a three-month affair with his media liaison, an affair that cost her her marriage. "If that hadn't happened, I think he would have won.''

Blaise Ingoglia, chairman of the Republican Executive Committee, agreed with Sheldon's take on the race. While having a third-party candidate in the race improved Rowden's chances, Ingoglia said, "obviously the overriding factor in the situation was the Sager affair.''

Sager did not return phone calls or emails on Wednesday seeking comment on the election outcome.

Ingoglia said the party leadership was pleased with the overall outcome of the election, with Republicans winning every other elected office in Hernando. He said Rowden needs to know residents want smaller government.

Steve Zeledon, who heads the Democratic Executive Committee, said Rowden's victory was encouraging to his party and that her record of showing concern about residents and their needs was what got her elected.

He blamed statewide rules shortening early voting and the current, all-Republican County Commission for cutting the budget of the supervisor of elections and reducing early voting opportunities, costing Democrats votes.

Zeledon said the strong Republican showing has riled up Democrats.

"The Republican efforts to suppress the vote have backfired on them because it has mobilized the Democratic Party,'' Zeledon said. "It has brought together a great deal of Democrats and unified them.''

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.

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