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Sue Carlton: Roche's fluoride flip-flop smells like politics

There are many things in the world I do not understand: uberpowerful men (like the one currently making headlines) willing to risk family, career and reputation for the sake of … what? Risk, maybe?

And also the Kardashians, famous for no good reason I can figure out.

But politics I get — particularly in the never-thought-you'd-see-it post-election fluoride flip-flop by Pinellas County Commissioner Norm Roche.

Two years ago, the Democrat-turned-Republican Roche won the office on his fourth try and, from the start, was not boring. At one point he acknowledged posting online comments on news stories under the name "Reality" (which is kind of funny if you think about it.) He called St. Petersburg "unique" in the county for "thug shootings," "prostitute beatings" and "social services recipients." Reality had also made insightful comments on gays and blacks.

Roche apologized and said, "The only perfect person I know was nailed to a cross 2,000 years ago." So, no — his tenure has not been dull.

Then came the kind of issue that can, pardon the expression, come back to bite you. Last year, commissioners talked about cavity-fighting fluoride and whether it belongs in the county's drinking water.

From dentists and experts: an exasperated "Of course it does."

From suspicious tea party types: "Horrors, no."

The tea party movement at its height has been a fascination in itself, that group waving around the Constitution, pushing antitax and anticompromise causes and opposing politicians considering anything as forward-thinking as, say, light rail.

Fluoride, though? That battle you might have thought was won long ago, but no. Four commissioners including Roche jumped aboard the tea party bus and voted to quit putting fluoride in the water.

Unfortunately for two of them, Neil Brickfield and Nancy Bostock, they were up for re-election this time around, and an educated electorate promptly voted them out. Both commissioners blamed fluoride.

And already, people are rumbling about running against Roche two years into his term.

So here was Roche two days after the election with a change of tune and a plan to support a proposal to add fluoride back to the water.

Hey, might this mean a change of heart on light rail, another tea party scourge?

Via email this week, Roche said only: "Voters can continue to expect exactly what they've come to expect of me: consistency, truth, fact-based decision making, hard work, and strong stewardship of their tax dollars and county services." I'm pretty sure that's a no.

Roche denies politics plays a part in his fluoride stance. He insisted he doesn't base his positions "on campaign donations, special interest endorsements, or newspaper editorial opinions."

But switch he did.

I'm guessing he also doesn't see himself as a canary in a coal mine when it comes to the tea party's waning influence here, but there's that, too.

So I may not understand a lot of things in the world, like powerful men who risk everything or our fascination with the vapidly rich, but I know politics when I see them.

I'm guessing a controversial county commissioner hoping to hold on to his seat does, too.

Sue Carlton: Roche's fluoride flip-flop smells like politics 11/13/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 13, 2012 8:28pm]

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