Hillsborough voters have an opportunity this year to end the embarrassment that Buddy Johnson has brought as elections supervisor. Johnson's entire record of incompetence is too voluminous to detail, though most should remember the low points: losing votes, switching polling places without informing voters, paying hush money to a departing aide and using tax funds to splash his name and face around in the weeks before he appears on the ballot. His challenger, Phyllis Busansky, has better business sense and is cut from stronger ethical cloth. She can rebuild the office and restore public confidence in the elections process.
Johnson, a Republican and former state legislator from Plant City, was not qualified to be appointed supervisor by then-Gov. Jeb Bush in 2003, as county residents saw during the term he won in 2004. His senior staff became a revolving door as Johnson, 56, managed the office with an erratic style. He mishandled the county mayor initiative in 2006 and sounded clueless about how his office operates after a process server finally found him to testify in a voting rights case. His judgment and the way he conducts himself in office call into question his fitness for public service. Johnson was late paying his property taxes and eventually won a lucrative tax break through a cow-leasing arrangement. Though an elected official, he is often difficult to find and frequently speaks through his lawyer.
Johnson's failures are relevant because they speak to the need for change and amplify the different outlook Busansky has on accountability and public service.
Busansky, a 71-year-old Democrat, was director of aging services and personnel for Hillsborough County government before winning election to the county commission in 1988. She was the driving force behind the county's indigent health care plan, a nationally recognized model that curbed public spending on health care by focusing on preventive care. From 1996 to 1999, Busansky headed Florida's program to put welfare recipients to work. She has strong managerial skills, an ability to inspire and a knack for fixing complex, bureaucratic problems. Busansky would improve training at the elections office, reduce turnover and stabilize morale.
Johnson still cannot get the basics right. Earlier this year, he mailed out 208,200 sample ballots to Republicans misspelling the name of presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani as "Rudi." He took too long to buy new paper-voting machines. His lack of preparation was apparent in August, when Hillsborough — despite having the worst voter turnout in Florida — became one of the last of the state's 67 counties to report its primary results.
Busansky has represented the county with honesty and distinction. Her attention to detail would be a welcome change in an office entrusted with the sanctity of voting.
For Hillsborough supervisor of elections, the Times recommends Democrat Phyllis Busansky.