Rose Rocco and Wayne Dukes are familiar names to Hernando County voters. This is Rocco's fourth time in a County Commission race, her second as a Democrat and her debut as an incumbent. On Nov. 2, Rocco warrants re-election to a second four-year term.
She is being challenged by fellow party-switcher Dukes, who is making his third attempt at the commission in the past four years. Rocco defeated Dukes four years ago in a Democratic primary for the District 2 commission seat, and Dukes is now making his second run as a Republican.
Confused? So are these two. Both offer evolving positions on imperative public issues. Most notably, Rocco, 69, flip-flopped on amending the comprehensive plan, allowing sprawl in the county's northern tier in the form of the proposed Quarry Preserve development. On many issues, she contributes little to the public debate and displays a void of leadership skills.
Dukes is not without his own inconsistencies. Four years ago, he said he supported public transportation and also wanted developers to better demonstrate the need for a comprehensive land use change before the commission forwarded it for state review. Now, he wants to park THE Bus — the county's mass transit system — and has said that he, too, would have voted for the Quarry Preserve project, even though the need for 5,800 additional home sites in the county has not been justified.
Dukes, 65, a retired federal civil servant, rarely strays from the Republican agenda on taxation and spending. He suggests privatizing services, advocates a separate taxing unit for law enforcement and wrongly states that county impact fees put Hernando at a competitive disadvantage with its neighbors, even though single-family home fees in Pasco are four times the charges levied in Hernando. There appears to be little he wouldn't cut, regardless of the consequences. His ideas show no innovation.
That is troubling. Since his first run for the commission, the Hernando County tax roll has lost a third of its value. Much of Dukes' penny-pinching agenda has been accomplished by the current commission as a matter of happenstance because it could no longer afford to operate in the status quo. Spending is down. Property taxes are down. The number of public employees controlled by the commission is down.
Rocco has been a part of that equation, though certainly not a leader. However, her record is distinctive on two fronts. She supports THE Bus and understands the value of public transportation and the role it will play in the future of Hernando County and the Tampa Bay region. Scrapping the fixed-route service would have dramatic, negative long-term consequences for the county as the rest of the region prepares to overhaul how it moves commuters.
Rocco also is a staunch supporter of the effort to revitalize south Brooksville, the long-neglected area at the city of Brooksville's border with unincorporated Hernando. She chaired the Community Initiatives Team that started the work on trying to finance badly needed infrastructure improvements to the neighborhood that is home to modest housing, industrial land and the county's abandoned and contaminated public works site. Seeing the effectiveness there, she duplicated the effort with a second community team in Hernando Beach.
Despite her shortcomings, those stances on transit and redevelopment indicate that Rocco recognizes errors of the past, shares a vision for the future and is willing to put in the hard work needed to move the county forward. The Times recommends voters re-elect Rose Rocco to the District 2 Hernando commission seat on Nov. 2.
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 protected] Replies are limited to 250 words.