Hernando County voters opted for familiarity in their local governing Tuesday, while simultaneously ratifying a new taxing district that indicates a willingness to pay for valued services even if it means another expense on the annual property tax bill.
Fiscally conservative Republican Jim Adkins easily won re-election to a second term with the biggest plurality of the three commission races. Former Commissioner Diane Rowden, a Democrat, will join him on the commission later this month, as will local engineer and longtime community volunteer Nick Nicholson, a Republican.
Returning Rowden to office after a four-year absence was not a voter endorsement of her prior performance, but the result of a divided electorate that chose from among three candidates in District 3. Independent candidate Gregory Lewis Sheldon pulled 8.5 percent of the turnout, allowing Rowden to complete a stunning political resurrection and reclaim her former seat with less than half of the overall vote.
Republican Jason Patrick Sager's inability to win — after admitting an adulterous affair with his campaign consultant —- mirrors the tea party failings in U.S. Senate races in Indiana and Missouri, where Republican candidates were doomed by insensitive comments about rape. Sager ousted moderate Republican Commissioner John Druzbick in the low-turnout August primary, but could not overcome Rowden, Sheldon and his own hypocrisy.
Nicholson also won a three-way contest for the open District 1 seat being vacated by Commissioner Jeff Stabins. Nicholson, like Rowden, is well-known and well-versed on county issues. He had the ability to campaign almost as if he was an incumbent and he grabbed more than half the vote even with a conservative-thinking third-party candidate in the race.
The final result is a 4-1 Republican majority on the commission that will be tested almost immediately. It must develop spending priorities to close a projected $10 million budget shortfall in the next fiscal year. The propensity to dip into reserve accounts is not a long-term solution and the new commission should weigh carefully the huge plurality for the mosquito control district tax. It demonstrates overwhelming public support for investing in a government operation that just two years ago commissioners considered worthy of reduction.
Sometime next year, the commission also will be required to reconfigure its impact fees to allow schools and roads to meet future demands from expected growth. It's a key decision that can't be abdicated as a political favor to special interests. Adkins and the two commissioners-elect all claim to be pro-business. But, there will be little reason for new commerce to come to Hernando County if the commission continues to ignore basic infrastructure to serve those businesses, their customers and their employees.