Michael Cox's push to create jobs in Pasco County couldn't save his own and as a result political neophyte Henry Wilson Jr. is about to join the Pasco County Commission.
Wilson, a Republican making his first run for office, stunned Cox in Tuesday's election amid heavy GOP turnout fueled by tea party activism and anger over a prolonged sour economy. Cox had made job creation — including the romancing of T. Rowe Price and the projected 1,600 jobs at a new Land O'Lakes office park — the centerpiece of his campaign for re-election. Regardless, even with Cox's treasury dwarfing Wilson's by an 18-1 ratio, Pasco voters opted for new blood and turned the board into an all Republican commission.
Wilson now must devote himself to climbing a steep learning curve regarding land use and government spending — the two issues that dominate the commission's agenda. But, he also should not veer from the path the current commission is taking to bring more jobs to Pasco County as part of an effort to curb the live-here, work-there lifestyle that has tens of thousands of Pasco residents commuting to other counties for work each day.
We trust some of Wilson's campaign rhetoric — firing County Administrator John Gallagher, advocating a moratorium on development orders, faulting the commission for lowering property taxes — will take a back seat to a more thoughtful approach to governing when it comes to decisions on personnel, land use and spending.
Spending also will dominate the agenda for the Pasco School Board, which features three newly elected members about to take office amid dreary fiscal circumstances. Voters rejected giving the board permission to consider a quarter-mil property tax and declined to relax the requirements in the class-size amendment first approved in 2002. It means Cynthia Armstrong, Alison Crumbley and Steve Luikart are about to join holdover School Board members Allen Altman and Joann Hurley in confronting a 2011 budget deficit projected at more than $40 million.
The quarter-mil tax is generating $5.6 million in the current budget that cannot be renewed and meeting the class-size requirements cost the district an additional $12 million this school year. While looking at less revenue, the board must simultaneously negotiate with its employees' union over proposals governing compensation for extra work, limiting base salaries and other cost-savings while the union wants raises after forgoing salary increases for three years.
It is a difficult challenge. But, the platitudes and talking points of the campaign are over and the public will be served best by the individuals who transition from candidates to leaders.