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Voters find gay isn't a pro or a con

So how is it that a county that bans sponsoring gay pride events — in the middle of a state that forbids gays from adopting or marrying — goes and elects an openly gay candidate to the same board that voted for the pride ban in the first place?

I have to keep telling myself, in a variation on the old political proverb:

It's the issues, stupid.

Along with the national history made this week, Hillsborough County managed some of the local variety Tuesday. (Oops, make that Thursday, when officials finally managed to get the vote counted.)

The results were in, and the Hillsborough County Commission's most controversial member was out.

Wrestler-turned-Commissioner Brian Blair was, in the parlance, KO'd.

(Or is that boxing? Thankfully, I won't have to wonder for another four years.)

Blair became known for moral pontificating on subjects like religious holidays for public schools. He tried to stifle members of the public who came to speak on the opposite side of a big environmental issue. He could make the board on which he served look bad and himself worse.

Enter Kevin Beckner, a financial planner with something to say about neighborhoods, balancing growth with environment, transportation and politicians who seem to serve developers. And, oh, by the way, he's gay.

It is important to note that Beckner was not exactly shouting this from rooftops, nor was he campaigning on a "gay agenda," whatever that is. It was just a fact about him, like learning a candidate is married or has kids.

But some politicos, as well as newspaper types like me, wondered if this would be a factor for him in Hillsborough County. A few even opined privately that it might be a mistake to say it.

"Some (political) people asked why I'd decided to discuss it," Beckner said this week. But, he said, "I really believe what is lacking in our government are public officials being open and honest."

In other words, how do you ask for government to be transparent if you aren't?

So how did this play on front porch steps and in church forums in conservative corners of the county? "It just didn't come up," said Beckner's campaign manager, Mitch Kates.

America has the economy on its mind. Voters wanted to hear about affordable housing, transportation, actual issues.

It would be a disservice to say that Blair beat himself in this race, though not for lack of trying. Beckner politicked the old-fashioned way, on grass roots and shoe leather, and he was everywhere. All those yard signs calling for change might have been doing double-duty for him.

Expect that lopsided board to look a little different when he takes his seat soon among his fellow commissioners.

"We had the confidence and the faith in the voters that at the end of the day, they were going to stop and say this is about good government," said Kates, who calls it "the most important race I have ever worked on."

Turns out the world can make sense now and then, even in politics and even here. A forthright guy who by the way happens to be gay can win the day.

He can get elected not in spite of that fact nor because of it, but because he turns out to be the one voters most want for the job.

Voters find gay isn't a pro or a con 11/07/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 11, 2008 7:10pm]

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