Sixteen years ago, fresh from keeping a medical waste incinerator out of Gowers Corner, Pat Mulieri rode a wave of bipartisan support built on her populist civic activism to the District 2 County Commission seat based in central Pasco.
Over the years, Mulieri has been a strong retail politician — speaking to neighborhood concerns, meeting with Pasco's businesses, even attending opening day of the baseball season at the Little League fields. Mulieri is still a hard-working, hands-on commissioner who prides herself on problem-solving skills.
Along the way, however, she evolved from a commissioner strong on grass roots environmentalism to a sometimes-disengaged politician who touts property rights above all else. Her multiple instances of misrepresenting herself casts doubt on her ability to serve the public faithfully. In the Aug. 24 primary, Republican voters should pick former state Rep. Ken Littlefield as their standard-bearer. The winner of the countywide primary faces Clay Colson, running as an independent candidate, in the November general election.
Littlefield, 66, is far from a perfect candidate. He had an undistinguished legislative career in Tallahassee followed by four years in a low-profile job within the governor's office that no longer is funded. It isn't clear whether he is running simply to collect a paycheck. His pledge not to accept special interest campaign contributions is hypocritical considering how he financed his legislative re-election races.
But ask Littlefield what he can bring to the County Commission seat and he responds: Honesty and integrity. Good answer, particularly in light of Mulieri's missteps.
Since she last faced voters in 2006, some of Mulieri's actions contradict her public statements. She charged taxpayers for travel expenses after telling a reporter she would foot the bill herself. She turned a deaf ear to nonprofit agencies seeking continued funding, saying she always opposed the allocations even though she voted for them for 12 consecutive years. Most recently and most disturbingly, she confessed she voted against the Penny for Pasco sales tax in 2004 just three weeks after publicly proclaiming her unequivocal support for the measure to the entire community.
Littlefield, a self-described fiscal conservative, supported the penny-on-the-dollar sales tax increase. He campaigned for it because he understood the value of improved roads, new classrooms, preserved green space and enhanced public safety equipment.
The shortcomings for Mulieri, 72, are not limited to personal misrepresentations. At times, she is disengaged. For example, she acknowledged she didn't comprehend the ramifications of a proposed separate taxing unit for law enforcement. On that issue, ignorance on the commission wasn't exclusive to her.
Mulieri can point to significant efforts at constituent service regarding transportation issues, including emergency gradings of damaged roads, realigning County Line Road/Collier Parkway at Livingston Avenue, the ongoing widening of Bruce B. Downs Boulevard and the push to finally expand U.S. 41. Those are legitimate. But, she also cites quality-of-life enhancements made possible by the sales tax, in particular her push to acquire portable defibrillators. For that, she deserves no credit.
Service to constituents must start with honest, up-front answers to the public. Saying one thing and doing another is governing at its worse, and Mulieri is guilty of promoting such political deceit.
The Times recommends Ken Littlefield to Republican voters in the District 2 County Commission race.
Opportunity to respond: The Times offers candidates not recommended by the editorial board an opportunity to reply. County Commission candidates should send their replies no later than 5 p.m. Wednesday to C.T. Bowen, Pasco/Hernando editor of editorials, St. Petersburg Times, 11321 U.S. 19, Port Richey, FL 34668; by fax (727) 869-6233; or via e-mail to email@example.com. Replies are limited to 250 words.