Friday, December 15, 2017
Editorials

Tied Hernando race signals ballot apathy, GOP divide

Every vote counts. It is the immediate lesson from Tuesday's Hernando County primary election. More than 400 Republicans who participated in the primary failed to cast a vote in the District 3 County Commission race between incumbent John Druzbick and challenger Jason Patrick Sager.

The down ballot apathy contributed to the dead heat between Druzbick and Sager with each receiving 6,097 votes, according to the unofficial final results that underwent a recount Wednesday. (The first recount, done by machine, gave Sager an eight-vote edge.)

Compare the turnout to the Republican primary for Hernando sheriff. There, Al Nienhuis and Bobby Sullivan combined for 12,630 votes, 436 more than in the District 3 race. Even the supervisor of elections GOP primary drew greater participation than Druzbick and Sager. Shirley Anderson and her two vanquished opponents totaled 12,290 votes, or 96 more than the commission race.

That Republican voters would show more interest in deciding an administrative position that only gains notoriety every other year rather than picking county policy-makers controlling the property tax rate is both remarkable and befuddling.

The interest can be attributed, in part, to Anderson's political acumen and the stumbling of retiring supervisor, Annie B. Williams, whose performance Tuesday evening again raises questions about her lack of detail. Williams released tardy versions of supposed final results after adding previously uncounted absentee ballots in her Spring Hill office.

In the District 3 commission race, the vote shows the Republican Party's identity crisis. It split evenly between Sager's tea party philosophy of dismantling government services and Druzbick's more moderate approach that included a call for a property tax rate increase to try to balance the county budget with fewer service reductions.

Sager's aggressive but charismatic campaigning, frequent recitation of inflated budget figures, and name recognition from a failed congressional run just two years ago boosted his candidacy. Druzbick's base included much of the old-guard business community and power brokers, but his support fell nearly 1,700 votes short of fellow Republican incumbent Jim Adkins who received similar business backing and cruised to a GOP primary victory in District 5 by touting his conservative credentials. Meanwhile, in the District 1 primary to succeed Commissioner Jeff Stabins, Republican voters opted for the most moderate candidate, Nick Nicholson, over his more conservative opponents, Michael Burmann and Richard J. Matassa.

The winners of all three commission races face additional opponents in November. Sparking public interest beyond 15 percent turnout and encouraging those who do cast ballots to actually weigh in on these important local races is a universal challenge facing all Hernando candidates.

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