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Column: Voters ripe to elect vengeance at the polls

Just five days after U.S. Sen. Barack Obama clinched the interminable race for Democratic presidential nomination, the real politicking started in Pasco County.

Up went the campaign signs. Incumbent Republican Sheriff Bob White, Republican County Commission challenger John Nicolette and School Board candidate Kurt Conover now have their names across Pasco's roadsides.

Don't worry. More will follow.

You'll see them as you drive to the convenience store and pay close to $4 for a regular gallon of gasoline.

You'll see them as you drive past the public libraries closed earlier in the evening.

You'll see them on your way to the recreation centers now closed on Sundays.

Some of you will see them and wonder: Which one is the incumbent? Then you'll vote for the other person.

Except the locals have no control over the price of gas, and you helped reduce government services when you voted for Amendment One to the Florida Constitution, which gave you a bigger residential property tax break.

Doesn't matter.

"People can be impatient and angry and that is a formula for a high turnout and a toss-the-incumbents-out philosophy,'' said Susan MacManus, a University of South Florida political science professor and Land O'Lakes resident.

Or, as the Bill Clinton campaign put it so famously in 1992 — It's the economy, stupid.

The building and service industry are the historic backbones of the local economy. Now, construction work is scarce and real estate agents are making their way to the Good Samaritan Health Clinic, the medical center for the working poor without health insurance.

Voters will blame Washington. We are fighting a war we entered under false pretenses and we are nearing the end of the administration of the most unpopular president since Nixon resigned in disgrace.

Voters will blame Tallahassee. Homeowner insurance rates remain high. Businesses and landlords feel cheated by Amendment One. Public employees are going without raises. And, the governor just ordered another 4 percent cut in state spending after the constitutional amendment for which he campaigned did not jump start real estate sales and accompanying tax collections as predicted.

Voters will blame the Pasco Government Center off Little Road. There are double-dippers not showing up for work, questionable spending priorities in law enforcement, new fees for recreation and significant budget cuts looming.

The Rev. William Greene of Hudson wrote in to suggest that voters remove all elected officials after two terms.

"With a constant turnover of elected employees, we would have fresh blood with new ideas, an interest in balancing the budget and making the education and sheriff's departments more efficient,'' said Green.

There is historical precedence for the fervor. Locally, Pasco voters turned out two incumbent county commissioners in 1990 after the tax bills increased to staff new parks and libraries that voters had approved in 1986. Newt Gingrich and the Republicans used the Contract with America ploy to take control of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1994, only to lose it in 2006 amid ethical and sexual misconduct scandals and President George W. Bush's shrinking approval ratings. In Florida, Democrats are emboldened after winning nine state House seats from Republicans.

Whether the anger results in political turnover remains to be seen. Pasco is a much different county than it was in 1990. The State Road 54 corridor of new voters from Trinity to Wesley Chapel went Republican in November 2004, just eight months after the same group helped approve a higher sales tax for new schools, roads and environmental lands the party had opposed.

In 2008, the sheriff's badge seems to be made of Teflon. Some county commission challengers are having trouble raising money, and a School Board member, state legislator and a pair of constitutional officers are unopposed.

The qualifying period for local candidates begins at noon Monday and concludes Friday. A lot can happen between now, the Aug. 26 primary and the November general election. But, the race is on, and there might be one more campaign sign appropriate for 2008:

"Incumbents beware."

Column: Voters ripe to elect vengeance at the polls 06/14/08 [Last modified: Friday, June 20, 2008 4:23pm]
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