Monday, July 23, 2018
Opinion

Dan Ruth: Time is ripe, Democrats may not be

If you are a Hillsborough County Democrat you are probably licking your chops like a lion spying a lost Bichon Frise.

The country is presided over by John Belushi’s Bluto Blutarsky in Animal House. Alabama is poised to elect to the U.S. Senate a Republican accused of pedophilia. And Florida is governed by a bloodless motherboard.

True, Democrats certainly have their own baskets of deplorables. But as the 2018 midterm elections loom, one could make a reasonable argument this might not be the greatest year for GOP electoral success — particularly here in Hillsborough County.

As Tampa Bay Times reporter Steve Contorno noted recently, Republicans have dominated the County Commission for the past 15 years. Indeed, sitting commissioners Sandy Murman, Ken Hagan, Victor Crist and Stacy White have what seems like a combined 378 years of serving in public office between them. These folks have been around so long you get the feeling they all partied with Teddy Roosevelt during his stay at what is now Plant Hall at the University of Tampa. Wild and crazy guy old TR was.

And so, the conventional wisdom suggests the time might be right for a partisan shift on the commission when the face of the Republican Party is a humorless septuagenarian Carrot Top with anger management issues.

That might be true, except for one minor issue. While the Republican commission incumbents might well be vulnerable, their ace in the hole is that they will be running against Democrats, who will manage to blow things up.

They are Democrats, after all. They trip over themselves.

There are 60,000 more registered Democrats in Hillsborough County than Republicans. Given that advantage you might well think the county would look like a Democratic bastion. Not so.

Tampa remains a dominant Democratic haven, holding the mayor’s office and City Council. The rest of the county is steadfastly Republican — ergo the challenge of flipping the County Commission.

Crist, Murman, Hagan and White collectively raised $795,000 for their political war chests. Contrast that with the $42,500 contributed to Florida House Minority Leader Janet Cruz, who is running for the District 1 seat.

In a perfect world, if you truly wanted to inject new faces into the commission, you could pass a law preventing commissioners from undermining the concept of term limits to cling to power.

Murman, for example, is vacating her South Tampa commission seat to run for a countywide position. Crist is trying to jump from his north Hillsborough seat to run for a countywide seat currently held by Hagan, opening the door for Hagan to run for Crist’s seat. You’ll be quizzed on this game of political musical chairs later.

Term limits should be just that. Once commissioners are limited out of office they should have to wait at least a full term before attempting to return to their former glory. Anything short of that is a cynical abuse of the system.

For the sake of argument let’s assume Murman, Crist and Hagan are the three greatest statesmen since Benjamin Disraeli, Thomas Jefferson and Joan of Arc last dined together. But it is the height of hubris for Murman, Crist and Hagan to conclude that somehow Hillsborough County will descend into something out of the dystopian "Mad Max" movies unless they are able to remain in office.

For all its shortcomings, the concept of term limits was designed to encourage fresh blood to get into governance.

We hear a lot of disingenuous talk about "cleaning the swamp." But the muck just gets moved around and that’s called progress.

     
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