Monday, January 22, 2018
Opinion

Lots to remember as Pasco sheriff's race approaches

You know things have changed around here when your appointment is late because he goes to the wrong Starbucks, the one that is three miles north of Trinity.

Who knew the metropolis that is urbanized west Pasco could be so confusing in this age of GPS, Blackberry and other electronic leashes?

It leaves time to kill as the Pike Place roast cools and 10,000 Maniacs These Are the Days provides the background soundtrack to what will be the opener to the month of March.

Days to remember? High gas prices. Okay, but also high stock prices. Shrinking unemployment. Flat wages. Rising optimism. Lower expectations. Presidential candidates worrying about contraception. The birth of leap-year babies. The death of a Monkee.

If these are the days to remember, for sure, as Natalie Merchant serenades, then what will be forgettable ones?

It becomes apparent, though, that it is a good day to remember for the guy on the other side of the table. Sheriff Chris Nocco arrives tardy, but leaves later with promised votes from two coffee-house customers. He has not addressed them until they speak first, volunteering to move tables to provide more conversational privacy. They stop and speak again on the way out.

When you possess Chris Nocco's face and the customers are older women, you can win votes by smiling and nodding politely. There is a lot to smile about if you are Chris Nocco. On this day, you have been Pasco County sheriff exactly 10 months and the honeymoon does not seem to be ending anytime soon.

You are five months into a fiscal year in which your budget request to the county earned an unabridged blessing from the commission, allowing the agency to focus new resources on fighting illegal prescription drugs.

You are able to point to recently released data showing the crime rate in Pasco County is the lowest its been in 17 years.

This would be back to the pre-Starbucks era when Lee Cannon wore the sheriff's badge and crime-fighting techniques included pushing for a teen curfew.

You are a first-time candidate for sheriff in a county in which you have resided less than four years.

But, you are married to a prolific fund-raiser and the upcoming itinerary includes Pam Bondi, the 4G Ranch, future House speakers and a group of east Pasco lawyers who have all lined up to help support your first campaign.

You will be called young. Green. Politically connected.

You can answer with energetic. A fresh face. And, connections aside, you are not afraid to make changes.

There have been a couple of high-profile departures from the agency, but nothing like the mass firing of administrators that marked the outset of Bob White's tenure or the second round of dismissals in early 2009 that eventually brought charges of age discrimination and a $2 million settlement with six ex-employees.

That was White's mess. And that is what Nocco has done so deftly. He defused the angry, boot-stomping rhetoric favored by White, the ex-sheriff, doting grandpa and now Tallahassee lobbyist who recruited Nocco to Pasco County three years ago.

It leaves the sheriff candidates of 2012, who had saved up a decade's worth of unflattering Bobisms (cronyism, spending priorities, budget bickering) without their expected target.

Maybe it will be a day to remember when someone brings the Pasco sheriff's campaign playbook into the 21st Century. The candidates include a disgruntled ex-employee with no name identification (Maurice Radford) and a pillar of past administrations (Kim Bogart) who probably hopes a Republican primary election will force Nocco to exhaust much of what is expected to be a prodigious campaign account.

We've seen this before. Every four years, it seems like.

Nocco is not without vulnerabilities. Throughout the summer and fall I suspect his political opponents will be doing their best to spur lots of voter memories.

As in, remember "hand-picked.''

Remember "Bob White.''

Remember "Rick Scott.''

Remember it's the electorate that picks the sheriff, not the vulnerable, retiring incumbent nor the politically unpopular governor.

Those are the days the aspiring sheriffs will want people to remember.

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