Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Politics

Republicans face off for Pasco County Commission District 4

The two Republicans vying to represent District 4 on the Pasco County Commission say the race boils down to one thing: leadership.

"I've truly seen how one leader can make a difference," said challenger Mike Wells, 42, a real estate agent, former regional manager for Enterprise Rent-A-Car and son of property appraiser Mike Wells Sr. "I commit I will be that leader and stand up to problems and turn those problems into opportunities."

Incumbent Henry Wilson, 40, says he has not only been a leader, but has carried the torch of "conservative values" since 2010, when he upset incumbent Michael Cox, the commission's lone Democrat and a former Port Richey mayor.

A former managed care director, Wilson cites his successes in reducing the county's health care costs for employees and encouraging recycling, as well as his early opposition to a proposed elevated toll road along State Road 54.

"(A leader) stays firm after making decisions, and he's fine with being on the losing end of a 4-1 vote," said Wilson, who is seeking to avoid being a one-term commissioner.

The race has so far been low-key, with both candidates saying they will avoid negativity. Both have clean backgrounds, except for a 1991 drunken driving arrest for Wells when he was 19. Records show Wells completed DUI school and community service after pleading no contest.

"I didn't try to get out of it," Wells told the Tampa Bay Times. "I took responsibility for my actions, and I feel I am a better person because of it."

Each has endorsements of widely known leaders, with Wilson winning the support of Sheriff Chris Nocco, Clerk of Court Paula O'Neil and Republican members of Pasco's legislative delegation. A champion of rank-and-file county employees, he has also won endorsements from the county firefighters and law enforcement unions.

Two former county commissioners, Ann Hildebrand and Wilson's rival, Cox, have lent their names to the Wells camp, as has auto dealer Tom Castriota and west Pasco business leaders Chuck and John Grey.

Each candidate has won the support of county power brokers, but they don't enjoy the same levels of financial support. Wells has raised $73,445 so far, whereas Wilson has pulled in $36,015. However, $9,000 was all it took for Wilson to oust Cox, whose war chest totaled $160,000 in 2010.

Because there is no Democratic candidate, the Aug. 26 primary is open to all voters regardless of party and the winner takes the seat.

"I predict Wells will win with 60 percent of the vote," said Cox, who had considered a comeback attempt since the day he lost. He said one reason he bowed out is that he thought another Republican would stand a better chance of unseating Wilson.

"He's not afraid to form an opinion and take a stand," Cox said of longtime friend Wells, who worked for him as a teen in Port Richey. "That's something we've not had in four years."

Wilson's supporters beg to differ.

"Henry has served as a fair and thorough commissioner," O'Neil said in her statement of support. "He has taken the time to learn about government, spending time with the constitutional officers and departments. He has asked probing questions and has voted based on his conscience, weighing the needs of the citizens on every decision."

On the issues, the two have few differences. Wilson opposes increasing the gas tax to pay for roads, saying he would rather work to change a state law that restricts the use of real estate transfer fees and use them for transportation needs. Wells has expressed his opposition in the past but was noncommittal at a recent candidates' forum.

Wilson favors raising the hotel tax from 2 to 4 percent, but Wells opposes any increase.

"This does not impact our residents," Wilson said. "This will impact the people coming into our county."

Wilson has also expressed support for increasing property tax rates to restore parks and library services cut during the recession.

Wells said that until the county spends the tourism money it has collected over the past two decades, he wouldn't vote to raise the percentage.

"We've all been through tough times, including hotels in our community," he said. "We've all been taxed enough."

Contact Lisa Buie at [email protected] or (813) 909-4604. Follow @Lisa_Buie.

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