Hillsborough County faces significant challenges in the coming years, from improving public transportation to expanding development efforts to attract higher-paying jobs as the economy improves. The outcome of three primary races for County Commission on the Aug. 26 ballot could go a long way toward shaping Hillsborough's future.
District 4 (east county),
The winner of this race is virtually certain to represent east Hillsborough on the commission for the next four years and faces only a write-in candidate in November. Given the stakes, Republicans in these crowded suburbs should look for the candidate who is serious about confronting the growing pains ahead.
Janet Dougherty, 53, is the only candidate in this race with the background and people skills to begin addressing east county's backlog of needs. She knows the costs that heavy traffic imposes on families and businesses. Her years on the governing board of the region's water management district enable her to see the connection between protecting the environment and the area's quality of life. No one in this race can match her knowledge of the district or long commitment to civic causes. She is liked and respected across the county.
Stacy White, 41, is a pharmacist who has served one undistinguished term on the Hillsborough County School Board. He offers no direct solutions and seems more interested in pushing partisan buttons than in addressing real problems in the growing and aging suburbs.
Rick Cochran, 49, is a retired Tampa police detective who offers nothing fresh on transportation, job development or the environment.
Dougherty is a solid choice with deep local roots. Her history in private industry and public service would enable her to be immediately effective on the commission.
In the Republican primary for Hillsborough County Commission District 4, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Janet Dougherty.
Patricia "Pat" Kemp
District 7 (countywide),
Patricia "Pat" Kemp and Mark Nash are well-known Democrats who have previously sought elected office. Both would be competent commissioners, but Kemp's wider experience, activism and sense of urgency give her the edge.
The two candidates are not far apart on the issues. Both support stronger growth management, more money for mass transit and more focused efforts to attract new industry. Both have served as legislative aides to Hillsborough commissioners, giving them an understanding of the political process and the demands of constituent service.
Kemp, 57, is a lawyer who offers more specific solutions. She supports a sales tax referendum for transit projects, and she is stronger on environmental protection. She offers a nuanced approach to job creation, acknowledging that the county cannot exclusively target high-tech industries.
Nash, 52, is a business consultant who has the knowledge of public policy and the energy level to serve in a countywide office. But Kemp's work over a long period on environmental, growth and planning issues from New Tampa to Town 'N Country, Ruskin and Apollo Beach give her a more rounded perspective. She understands what local government does and does not do well, and she delivers her message in straight and sensible language.
In the Democratic primary for Hillsborough County Commission District 7, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Pat Kemp.
District 7 (countywide),
During his eight years on the commission representing the suburbs of east Hillsborough, Al Higginbotham never pushed urban priorities. Now that he's running for a countywide seat, his support for mass transit, growth management and other urban initiatives looks like an election-year conversion. Still, Higginbotham has a better grasp of the issues and a broader vision than his primary challengers.
Higginbotham, 60, focused early on small-bore issues. But he has turned his attention in recent years to broader matters, from improving economic development efforts and relations with the city of Tampa to international trade. He opposed the transit referendum in 2010 but now vows to support a similar package emerging from a city-county work group, even if it includes a new rail system and new taxes to support it.
Robin A. Lester, 52, is a business consultant concerned about improving transportation and job-development efforts, but her ideas are not fully formed. Don Kruse, 54, is a small business owner who is not as versed on the issues as voters should expect for a countywide commissioner. Tim Schock, 41, is a private equity consultant who has a narrow agenda and a pinched view of government's role in protecting the area's quality of life.
Higginbotham has pushed the county to be more transparent. Unlike his opponents, he is up to speed on policy issues, and he has shown a long and continued commitment to be politically involved.
In the Republican primary for Hillsborough County Commission District 7, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Al Higginbotham.
Read all of the Times' recommendations for the Aug. 26 primary at www.tampabay.com/opinion