Pasco voters endorsed the direction of their county government Tuesday, re-electing two incumbent commissioners facing spirited challenges from business-friendly opponents promising less regulation and lower impact fees.
Likewise, for the November general election, Republicans nominated Kathryn Starkey, a familiar name and former School Board member, in the race to succeed 28-year incumbent Ann Hildebrand.
The results are welcome and translate to a status quo commission majority hiring the next county administrator. It also means the county will continue its innovative land planning and transportation financing rather than considering a regrettable retreat to the era of development-friendly governing.
In District 1, 12-year incumbent Commissioner Ted Schrader won re-election to what he says will be his final term with less than 38 percent of the vote in a three-way universal primary. Schrader's two opponents, multimillionaire citrus baron Ron Oakley and graduate student Rachel O'Connor, both questioned the commission's preparations for renewed growth and criticized the county permitting process.
In District 5, Commissioner Jack Mariano edged political newcomer Bill Gunter, who started his campaign late but with significant backing from development and public safety interests. Builders had been aggravated by Mariano's flip-flop last year on cutting school impact fees for new home construction. Law enforcement felt aggrieved by Mariano's tough stance on former Sheriff Bob White's exorbitant budget proposal in 2010.
Too bad. The commissioner's scrutiny of Sheriff's Office spending shouldn't be discouraged, considering law enforcement is the largest consumer of property tax revenue in the county's general fund budget. Mariano, however, would do well to abandon one of his key platform planks — rescinding fees at county parks. All other candidates who shared that campaign promise are now on the sidelines.
In District 3, Starkey overwhelmed a five-person field because of her wide community support, high name recognition and previous tenure on the School Board. However, she also stood out because she did not parrot the antigovernment rhetoric of so many other Republicans.
Starkey's resume demonstrates her ability to comprehend the value of controlled growth. As a citizen activist in the late 1990s, Starkey helped nudge the commission to adopt a series of ordinances controlling billboards, commercial signs, big box store architecture, bus bench advertising and tree protections. In November, she will meet Democrat Matt Murphy with the winner becoming the first new face in the District 3 commission seat since Hildebrand's ascension in 1984.
The challenge to both will be to try to continue Hildebrand's sterling performance as an outstanding public servant.