Hillsborough County is poised to rebound economically thanks to the budgeting skills of county administrator Mike Merrill and the County Commission's newfound focus on jobs and investment. Voters this year should look for commission candidates who can keep the momentum going.
District 4 (east county)
Al Higginbotham has grown in the job since first being elected in 2006. The Plant City native knows farming and remains a strong advocate for the district's agricultural industry. But he has broadened his areas of interest and become an influential voice for economic development, open government and strengthening ties between the cities and rural areas.
Higginbotham, 58, should focus more on developing a serious strategy for improving transit, given the terrible congestion in the suburbs and the risk that the county could repeat this mistake throughout the undeveloped south in the future. But the Republican has brought an exacting eye to the county budget. His heavy lifting on jobs initiatives is what needs to be done to lay a stronger economic base. He was instrumental in pushing back an attempt by developer-friendly commissioners in 2007 to gut the county's wetlands protections. And he consistently demands a welcome level of transparency in county government.
Democrat Mark Nash, 50, is a marketing professional and former commission aide who sees the big picture on transportation and job development. His passion for the job and understanding of how government works would be an asset to the district and to the board. Joy Green, 58, a business owner with no party affiliation, has brought helpful attention to issues facing women, children and the homeless.
Higginbotham, though, has the better overall grasp of the county and its challenges. For Hillsborough County Commission District 4, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Al Higginbotham.
District 6 (countywide)
Kevin Beckner is a sensible policymaker whose sharp mind and polite demeanor well serve the county.
The 41-year-old financial planner and former police officer has a broad understanding of social service, job development and budget issues. He has worked to improve services to the elderly, curb juvenile crime and fight prescription drug abuse and insurance fraud. Elected in 2008, Beckner's background in finance has helped guide the county through the recession. The Democrat does his homework, and his even tone makes him effective on the board and with outside groups.
Republican Margaret Iuculano, 46, embraces much of the tea party agenda. She offers little beyond the tired approach of cutting regulations — which this county has already done. And her personal attacks on Beckner are inaccurate and embarrassing. No wonder she is waging her campaign under the public radar.
Beckner needs to come out of his comfort zone and tackle several pressing issues — transportation first among them. But at least he sees the connection between having good transit options and attracting new industry. Beckner also has a regional perspective, which is imperative for a county that is the economic engine of Florida's west coast. For Hillsborough County Commission District 6, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Kevin Beckner.