They were sure feeling their oats two years ago, buzzing from a feeling of power. The political tide was turning in Pasco, and they were going to be the ones to set the agenda from now on.
They even came up with a clever little slogan, one that ended up on lapel buttons and bumper stickers: "Two down, three to go." The two down were longtime county commissioners Curtis Law and Sonny Safranek. The three to go were commissioners Sylvia Young, Mike Wells and Ann Hildebrand.
These five commissioners had worked together over the years in a nonpartisan manner to improve things like roads, sewers, parks and libraries, and so taxes went up to pay for all that. They became easy targets for opportunistic politicians who swore they would hold the line on spending.
Now it appears that those politicians were intoxicated by their newfound power. Their judgment was skewed, and what they thought was a strong anti-incumbent commissioner wave was really just a ripple.
Things have changed so dramatically in the past few weeks, in fact, that some politically astute folks are joking about distributing new lapel buttons and bumper stickers: "Four down, four to go."
The four down would be Sheriff Jim Gillum, Mike Fasano, Russell Smith and Timothy "Glenn" Adkins. The four to go would be Clerk Jed Pittman, supervisor of elections candidate Karen Hession, and commissioners Bonnie Zimmer and Ed Collins.
It was Zimmer and Collins who knocked off Law and Safranek and then lined up together against the remaining three. Collins, as vice chairman of the Republican Party of Pasco, was the most manipulative of the tandem, dedicating himself to getting the right Republicans in office; that is, the Republicans who would support him and his wing. Wells and Hildebrand are Republicans, but they had earned the enmity of Gillum and Pittman with their votes, and so they were targeted.
Fasano, a Republican state committeeman and president of the West Pasco Republican Club, was an aggressive strategist in the move to gain control of the County Commission, and he worked with the others mentioned to assist political newcomers Smith and Adkins in their recent election campaigns.
All this maneuvering left some folks at the county courthouse nervous, especially those who work for County Administrator John Gallagher. Collins had gone after Gallagher, and it sure seemed that the professional staff would be breaking up once the new commission majority got into power.
Even though Collins was a vote away from making things happen, he and his party wing pals were able to make themselves happy through the radio waves, as Adkins ran the local AM station that was so transparent that it became known as WGOP. Pittman, Gillum, Collins and Fasano were regulars, and Adkins had a grand time beating up on the likes of John Gallagher. Included in that wing were Peter and Karen Hession.
Somewhere along the line, things started to fall apart. Adkins left the radio station and while running for the seat Mike Wells was vacating, he suddenly began telling people that Gallagher was a terrific administrator after all. Then, in the first primary, Fasano lost his bid for the state House, and Hildebrand routed Smith. In the runoff, Gillum lost big and Adkins dropped a squeaker to former commissioner Doc Hollingsworth.
Though Mrs. Hession is still a candidate, the only candidate of that Republican wing still considered seriously in the running is Pittman, and former School Board member Betty Thompson is trying to get him lined up in her cross hairs. She figures that Pittman's well-publicized ties to Fasano and the others will work to her advantage on Nov. 3.
And so here we are, two years after Collins and Zimmer began what everyone thought would be a changing of the guard. That their best laid plans didn't quite work out speaks to the intelligence of Pasco voters, and specifically their memory of what Pasco government was like before Gallagher. He's not out there campaigning for candidates, but he is an issue. Those who would cheapen his accomplishments, and the work of the commissioners who supported and guided him through a dozen years, ought to realize now that such a position is politically dangerous.