Saturday, January 20, 2018
Politics

What we'll remember: Jason Sager stuns John Druzbick in county primary, but is done in by extramarital affair

A very small number of votes sparked a very big story.

By the end of the day on Aug. 14, incumbent county Commissioner John Druzbick and challenger Jason Sager were locked in a tie in the District 3 Republican primary race.

After a day of recounts, Sager — a favorite among tea partiers — was declared the winner by just eight votes.

It was a stunning defeat for Druzbick, a longtime School Board member who had lent a moderate voice to the commission during his first term. But what happened after that made it the most intriguing contest in an election year that dramatically changed Hernando's political landscape.

Less than two weeks before the Nov. 6 general election, Sager acknowledged an extramarital affair with his campaign's media liaison, Danielle Alexandre. Sager's admission came after the Tampa Bay Times questioned him about hundreds of explicit emails, photos and videos provided by Alexandre's ex-husband, Eddie.

Sager would go on to lose the general election by 3.4 percentage points to Diane Rowden, a former School Board member and two-term county commissioner who had been ousted by Druzbick in 2008.

Rowden's return brings a bit of diversity to a County Commission dominated by Republican men. In fact, Rowden is the only elected Democrat in county government.

The races for the other two County Commission seats provided a lot less suspense.

Republican Nick Nicholson, a Brooksville engineer, easily won over Democrat Arlene Glantz and independent Joseph Swilley in the District 1 race. Incumbent Jeff Stabins decided not to run for re-election.

Commissioner Jim Adkins, a retired Brooksville fire chief, easily won his second term for the District 5 seat.

As we head into the new year, here's a look at who will be representing Hernando County and how they got there.

• • •

The School Board got one new face and kept a familiar one after member James Yant decided not to seek a second term in the District 4 seat.

Gus Guadagnino, a semiretired business owner and longtime Brooksville resident who headed the Hernando Education Foundation, won a double-digit victory in a runoff against Robert Neuhausen for the District 4 seat. It was the second try for Neuhausen, a purchasing manager and export control manager.

Matt Foreman, a lawyer from Hernando Beach, easily won his bid to keep the District 2 seat that Gov. Rick Scott appointed him to in September 2011 to finish the term of Pat Fagan. A political newcomer who graduated from Springstead High School, Foreman defeated William Kingeter with roughly 75 percent of the vote.

The board members have a big task ahead of them in 2013. Superintendent Bryan Blavatt retires on June 30, and the search for his successor is already under way.

• • •

Four of the five races for the county's constitutional offices brought new but familiar faces.

The fifth affirmed Sheriff Al Nienhuis' place as the county's top cop. Appointed in 2010 after Sheriff Rich Nugent won a congressional seat, Nienhuis had to win over many in the community because he was not Nugent's choice as a successor.

Nienhuis went on to easily defeat Robert "Bobby" Sullivan in the Republican primary, even though Sullivan tried to cast Nienhuis as an outsider who didn't have enough patrol experience to understand the rank and file. Nienhuis' margin of victory in November over Democrat James "Eddie" McConnell, who sounded some of the same notes as Sullivan, was larger.

The other four constitutional officers are retiring next week, and three of them are making way for groomed successors.

Sally Daniel, a 28-year employee in the Tax Collector's Office who serves as chief deputy to Juanita Sikes, ran uncontested.

So did Don Barbee, a former assistant state attorney who was hired by Clerk of Court Karen Nicolai in 2011 to serve as director of court services and general counsel.

John Emerson, a longtime employee of the Hernando County Property Appraiser's Office, soundly defeated roofing contractor James "Jamie" Williams in the primary. Emerson, a Republican, has 23 years of experience in the office, the last several as chief deputy to Property Appraiser Alvin Mazourek. No Democratic or no-party candidates qualified for the race.

The race for supervisor of elections sparked some fireworks.

Retiring Supervisor Annie Williams, a Democrat, never made an official recommendation in the race between two people gunning for the job. But the dynamics of the race made it clear where her loyalties were.

Republican Shirley Anderson, district coordinator for Nugent, highlighted several missteps in the office in recent years to try to discredit Democrat Elizabeth Townsend, who was promoted by Williams to director of operations in December 2010.

Anderson went on to win by a little more than 3 percentage points. She ran unsuccessfully for elections supervisor in 2008 and is the first Republican to win the office in more than three decades.

• • •

The once-a-decade redistricting process ushered in one change for Hernando County's representation at the state level. In other cases, redistricting didn't stand in the way of incumbents.

Until this year, the county was split between two state Senate districts, represented for years by Republicans Mike Fasano and Paula Dockery. Both Dockery and Fasano reached term limits. The entirety of Hernando is now in District 18, which also includes west Pasco, Dade City and most of Sumter County.

Dade City egg farmer and businessman Wilton Simpson walked into the seat, avoiding a potentially bruising primary after state Rep. John Legg, R-New Port Richey, decided to run in an adjacent Senate district just weeks before the August primary election. Then Simpson's Democratic opponent dropped out and the party didn't field another candidate.

State Rep. Rob Schenck, a Spring Hill Republican, easily won a fourth and final term representing Hernando County in the Legislature. Schenck, a former Hernando County commissioner, went unopposed in the primary for the District 35 seat, then glided to victory over Democrat Rose Rocco, also a former Hernando commissioner.

Schenck will have considerable influence as chairman of the House Rules Committee.

Most of Hernando is in Schenck's district. The rest — generally west of the Suncoast Parkway and north of State Road 50 — is in House District 34, along with all of Citrus County. Republican Rep. Jimmie T. Smith of Inverness won that seat by a large margin over former state Sen. Nancy Argenziano of Homosassa, who ran as an Independent. This is Smith's second term.

Nugent, the Spring Hill congressman, also had an easy path to re-election. The former sheriff's House district shrank considerably in size but still includes all of Hernando.

Nugent did not have a primary opponent, then trounced perennial Democratic candidate H. David Werder.

There are signs that Nugent's profile is rising in Washington. Earlier this month, he was named to the House Armed Services Committee.

Reach Tony Marrero at [email protected] at (352) 848-1431. On Twitter: @TMarreroTimes and @HernandoTimes.

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