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Pasco voters send candidates clear message

Pasco County voters did themselves proud Thursday. They marched to the polls and voted against every candidate who had launched a last-minute, misleading, negative attack upon his opponent. Sheriff Jim Gillum's dramatically overblown Monday morning attack upon Bill Rowan; Glenn Adkins' deceptive use of old St. Petersburg Times stories against Jim Hollingsworth; Don Young's sloppily put together "newspaper" against Lee Cannon _ they all failed miserably.

It's enough to renew your faith in the whole democratic process. And I hope it sends a loud message to other candidates to keep their noses clean.

Of the three, Adkins' was the most clever. Last year, Adkins was making his living off bashing the Times and County Administrator John Gallagher on his local radio show. Once he was a candidate and realized that neither the Times nor Gallagher is as soundly detested as his call-in listeners had led him to believe, he dropped his attacks on the administrator and used ancient Times stories to bolster his own campaign.

Gillum is history. He could stand on his head and recite 14 Checkers speeches and he still couldn't resuscitate his lifeless political career. Young fought the valiant fight, but the overzealous backers who talked him into that tacky "newspaper" probably did him in. Young is a fine person, and that's so much the pity. He might return in four years, but I'm not counting on it, especially if the new sheriff does a good job.

The one to watch is Adkins. What this 26-year-old almost pulled off on Thursday was truly phenomenal. Look at the first primary. In a field of four, Adkins got only 5,949 votes to Hollingsworth's 9,798. When third-runner Jack Cochran, who had gotten 4,952 votes, put out a strong recommendation for Hollingsworth, it looked as though it was all over.

But on Thursday, not all of Hollingsworth's backers (perhaps overconfident) returned to the polls. Even with Cochran's support, he ended up with 191 fewer votes than the first time around.

Adkins, by contrast, increased his backing by almost 3,600 votes and came within 60 votes of beating his opponent. Talk about the Comeback Kid!

Adkins gets some credit by virtue of his own hard work and dogged determination, but he must share that success with his backers, particularly Michael Fasano, who lost his bid for state representative in the primary. The Fasano-Ed Collins faction read the tea leaves early on and wrote off their other Republican possibility, Jim Gillum. Then they concentrated on Adkins.

Wisely, Fasano realized his abrasive style could hurt Adkins, so he stayed in the background. Still, the Adkins campaign had Fasano's fingerprints all over it _ meticulous research, articulate responses, smiling at the enemy even when his mouth hurt. It almost got Adkins the brass ring.

Don't think for a minute that this is the last time he will reach for it. The political bug has bitten him. Look for him to be back in two years, perhaps to try for the state representative spot now held by Phil Mishkin. Already, he is mending fences, pledging to back fellow Republican Jim Hollingsworth against Democrat Hap Clark in the November election.

Ironically, it may be Adkins who puts Clark in office. The Adkins campaign was negative and parts of it were misleading. But some of the most searing accusations were based upon fact, perhaps the most understandable and damaging, Hollingsworth's low opinion of Florida's Sunshine Laws. Floridians love that law and, to the end, Hollingsworth refused to disavow his 1984 tirade against it.

Hollingsworth is going to find that running against the mature, well-educated, likable Clark isn't as easy as running against the brash, young Adkins. Clark has a lot of friends and admirers, grown-ups who remember him as their beloved teacher, parents who knew him as their kids' respected principal and customers at his waterfront restaurant in Port Richey who get a kick out of his quiet, laid-back style. To attack Clark would be like attacking writer James Hilton's beloved fictional teacher, Mr. Chips.

At this point, I don't really care who wins. Either way, Pasco's current professional staff is safe and the county's progressive movement will continue.

Now, about that sheriff's race . . .

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