The predominant theme in the Republican primary elections for three Hernando County Commission seats is a greater control of government spending. Even the lone incumbent in the field acknowledges the county can do better. But much of the public debate is overshadowed by the lack of substantial ideas and instead focuses on the obscure — a county fee for installing a new front door — or, worse, the obviously easy target — eliminating a vital public service used by seniors and those without reliable transportation, THE Bus. Public frustration can be expected during a down economy, but candidates trying to capitalize on that discontent by promoting change owe the electorate better than rehashed rhetoric, unrealistic promises or generalities that fail to recognize county government's role in the community. Here are our recommendations in the Aug. 26 Republican primaries:
Jeff Stabins District 1
First-term incumbent Jeff Stabins is seeking re-election and his two opponents provide no substantial reason as to why he shouldn't be allowed to continue.
Stabins admits the county was late in trying to limit spending, but points to the falling property tax rate the past three years as proof of a change in direction. An educator and former state legislator, Stabins understands the importance of increased vocational training as a way to spur economic development. But, he also knows the county cannot grow willy-nilly according to the predispositions of large landowners and developers. Stabins was the catalyst in developing and approving the ordinance requiring a supermajority vote to amend the comprehensive land use plan.
His challengers include Jaz Zydenbos, a self-employed mortgage broker and real estate agent, who blames the commission for all of the economic woes in the county. Far from it. The national real estate malaise can be attributed to inflated prices and dubious lending practices, among other things, not the size of the Hernando County budget. His pledge to cut $40-million from the county budget without affecting public safety is irresponsible.
Michael P. Burmann is a home inspector, who believes there is a disconnect between commissioners and the people they serve. He promoted one idea — using state housing money to rehabilitate older homes — to Stabins that became the impetus for a recent commission strategy to try to jump-start work for private contractors. However, much of the rest of his platform lacks specificity other than to cut spending and provide a change in attitude toward the public. His notion of asking nonprofit groups to provide public transportation instead of THE Bus is unworkable.
The Times strongly recommends Jeff Stabins in District 1.
The winner faces Democrat Ramon J. (RJ) Gutierrez in the November general election. John Druzbick District 3
All three candidates in the District 3 Republican primary, Hubert "Wayne'' Dukes, John Druzbick and Charles Gaskins, are critical of county government and its desire to improve the services it delivers. They differ, however, in how they perceive the issues and articulate their disapproval.
But one candidate clearly exhibits a more informed and temperate approach to problem-solving than his opponents. Combined with a solid record of public service in Hernando County, Druzbick is the obvious choice in this primary.
Druzbick served on the School Board for 12 years before being defeated in his bid for re-election in 2006. During that time, he established a reputation as a good listener, a taskmaster and consensus builder. While on that board his leadership was crucial in persuading voters to approve twice a much-needed and farsighted half-cent sales tax to pay for building new schools.
At the same time Druzbick has maintained a volunteer involvement in a host of community organizations that dwarfs that of his opponents, all the while running a successful small business. That entrepreneurial experience, steeped in a frugal spending philosophy, is a major plank in Druzbick's platform for this office.
The winner of this primary will take on incumbent Democrat Diane Rowden in the general election. Republican voters who want their best candidate to challenge her in November will choose Druzbick on Aug. 26. William "Billy'' Healis District 3
Of the three Republicans who are seeking the opportunity to take on incumbent Democrat Chris Kingsley in the District 5 commission race, William "Billy'' Healis is the best choice for voters who seek a candidate with moderate views and an energetic attitude.
Healis is making his first run for elective office. His opponents in the primary are James Adkins, the retired chief of the Brooksville Fire Department and an unsuccessful commission candidate in 2004, and Michael Robinson, a retired law enforcement officer who ran for sheriff in 2000 and is the husband of former commissioner Hannah "Nancy'' Robinson.
Healis is a training and development manager at the Wal-Mart Distribution Center in Ridge Manor. He is active in several community and charity organizations and is a graduate of Hernando High School.
If elected, Healis promises to promote more responsible land-use development, rein in spending and make government more accountable. None of those pursuits is original, but what Healis lacks in articulating his vision he makes up for in his support of specific programs and projects that are threatened by decreases in tax revenue.
Among those is the public transit system THE Bus. Healis says the commission must "do what it takes to make it work.'' Also, Healis is a proponent of funding a new facility to end the seemingly unending debate about the need to provide more space for a burgeoning court system.
Healis also wants to give residents a new informal platform to share their concerns and ideas at monthly "grass roots'' meetings he plans to organize.
Healis' sensible positions on key issues makes him the best choice of three unremarkable candidates in this primary.