BROOKSVILLE — When the smoke cleared from the primary election, those involved in the hottest local races on Wednesday debated the meaning of the results.
District 1 County Commissioner Jeff Stabins collected nearly 45 percent of the vote over his two Republican opponents. The only incumbent commissioner on the ballot Tuesday, he was also the only one who faced a challenge from within his own party.
Stabins said he had set, and met, a personal goal of earning the majority of the vote in the three-way race and that he would work hard in his campaign against Democrat Ramon Gutierrez in November.
Stabins' victory is interpreted as meaning different things by different people. District 3 commissioner Diane Rowden said that it shows the angry, throw-the-incumbents-out segment of the electorate does not dominate.
The low turnout, just 14.8 percent, is another indicator of that, she said.
"Maybe they don't feel we need change,'' she said. "The fact is we have been doing good for the citizens of Hernando County.''
Home builder Blaise Ingoglia, the man behind last year's Government Gone Wild seminars, said the Stabins' result is right in line with the strong community sentiment to oust the incumbents.
Stabins won, Ingoglia noted, but not by very much.
"Jeff Stabins as a Republican incumbent should have commanded 65 percent of the vote. He got 44 percent of the vote. By a good margin, people are not happy with his decisions,'' Ingoglia said.
He argued that Stabins would not have won had one or the other candidates not been in the race.
"Poppycock,'' said Stabins. The people who voted for his opponents, Michael Burmann and Jon "Jaz'' Zydenbos, may have voted for them for any number of reasons. Burmann is deacon at a very large church and has many friends through that, he pointed out.
If Burmann, for example, had not been in the race, Stabins could just as easily have won many of the votes cast for him, he said.
Ingoglia also noted that the other winning candidates in the GOP County Commission primaries, John Druzbick in District 3 and James Adkins in District 5, both campaigned as fiscal conservatives.
Adkins, backed by the anti-tax group Hernando Taxpayers Alliance, won his race while other candidates supported by the group — Hubert "Wayne'' Dukes in District 3 and Jon "Jaz'' Zydenbos — both lost.
Ingoglia said voters chose Druzbick over Dukes because they felt that he had a better chance of beating Rowden in the Nov. 4 general election.
Linda Hayward of the Alliance said she was pleased that at least Adkins was successful even though the other two candidates the group backed were not. "Jim did wonderfully and I think he's going to be a great commissioner,'' she said.
Adkins faces Democratic incumbent Commissioner Chris Kingsley in November.
As for Druzbick beating Dukes, Hayward said that was a sign that the vote was split between the taxpayers for Dukes and "special interests'' for Druzbick.
Stabins said he believes that Hayward's group did get the vote out on Tuesday. "The raw meat crowd did turn out yesterday because they were the most passionate, had the most hatred. You can see where their votes are,'' he said.
He said he knew that group would not have as much impact in November when maybe as many 100,000 voters cast ballots compared to roughly 17,000 Tuesday.
"Their day was yesterday,'' he said.
Ana Trinque, chairwoman of the Republican Executive Committee, also said Wednesday that the less-than-50-percent vote for Stabins showed that voters weren't happy with him.
"Hopefully, Jeff wants to get his name redeemed and be welcomed back into the conservative base of the party,'' she said.
According to Ingoglia, the way for Stabins to do that would be to stop talking about how he helped lower the tax rate and instead lower taxes, "right-size'' government and embrace fiscal conservatism.
"Let's just say that I believe the Republican party is a big tent and if you have room for Blaise Ingoglia and Ana Trinque, then you also have room for Anna Liisa Covell and myself,'' he said.
Covell is a supporter of Stabins and member of the county's Planning and Zoning Commission.
Republicans hope to heal the clear divisions in the party at a unity rally planned for 6 p.m. Sept. 12 at the Hernando County Fairgrounds auditorium. Ingoglia is one of the featured speakers and he plans a motivational speech about the difficulties of getting the conservative point of view across to voters.
Stabins said he would like to see other points of view heard from as well, such as Covell. "We will be a better party for it,'' he said.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.