For County Commission,District 1: Steve Seibert
Steve Seibert is new to politics but not to government. He is a former county attorney who understands land-use regulations and charter provisions, and he has made a convincing case for why people in Pinellas County would benefit from his experience.
In this general election for County Commission, Seibert, who easily defeated two Republican opponents in the primary, faces a man who is a civic giant in Pinellas. Gabe Cazares, a former county commissioner and former Clearwater mayor, has a record of community service that is simply extraordinary. He has been a leader of great causes and great organizations, including Neighborly Senior Services, Pinellas Habitat for Humanity, the Mental Health Association of Pinellas and the Clearwater Free Clinic, and he has won scores of awards for his humanitarian efforts.
Cazares is a gift to this county, without doubt, but the question in this contest is who can make the greatest contribution as an elected official. On that measure, Seibert excels. Though Cazares has made some good points about charter reform and the grip that real estate development interests have had on the current commission, he has not shown the same breadth of understanding as Seibert. Seibert can discourse at length on the vital problems facing this county _ on its sprawling real estate growth, its traffic-choked roads, its threatened water supplies. He understands how growth-management laws were designed to work and the extent to which they are failing in Florida's most populous county.
Seibert is a thoughtful candidate who has issued a variety of position papers and attracted a remarkable range of support. If the way he has conducted his campaign is any indication of his approach on the commission, people can expect a commissioner who will be open to new ideas, who shuns simplistic labels and single-issue politics, and who is able to bring consensus on divisive issues. Who else can claim political support from both developers and leading environmentalists?
The incumbent in this seat, George Greer, is leaving to become a circuit court judge, so voters will get to bring some long-needed change to the commission. Cazares is a good-hearted man, but he has had his chance. We think Seibert deserves his. We recommend that voters elect Seibert.
For School Board, Dist. 3:
Both candidates in this race for the School Board are qualified and have good ideas about education. Susan Rollins Gehring, an artist and a dedicated school volunteer, says schools should treat the student and family as customers. Susan Latvala, a parent, businesswoman and school volunteer, says that teachers and principals need more authority to make decisions about education.
We think Latvala is the better choice for two reasons: her broader community involvement, and her more enthusiastic approach.
Latvala is a real estate broker who once owned an adult congregate living facility, and her community service includes serving as president of the Palm Harbor Women's Club, as president of the Henry Schrarrer Scholarship Fund, chairwoman of the Palm Harbor Community Chest Fund and advisory board member of the North Pinellas Family YMCA. With her aggressive campaign, she was able to beat two primary opponents without need for a runoff.
Latvala has shown an appreciation for the tough jobs that teachers face, and says that school-based management techniques are "vitally important to the future success of our school system." We recommend that voters give the job to Latvala.
For School Board, At-large:
This is one of the easier choices Pinellas voters will make on Nov. 3. Andrea "Andy" Thacker, a bright, energetic parent and former teacher, ran a persuasive campaign to easily defeat board incumbent Lucille O. Casey in the Republican primary. Now she faces a Democratic opponent that is no match.
Thacker, a Realtor associate, is a former teacher with a bachelor of science degree in education, and she clearly has studied her topic. She supports vocational programs as an educational alternative for students, the right of school staffs to make decisions about their own students' educational needs, putting money into classrooms to reduce the teacher-pupil ratios, and "mentor" programs and other activities that draw parents and volunteers into the schools.
Thacker's opponent, retired university administrator Ben Hoffman, has some good ideas about public education but is simply not familiar enough with the Pinellas system yet. He also has used his campaign to endorse the reduction of school property taxes for elderly homeowners, which is, at best, irrelevant.
In this matchup, the choice is obvious. We strongly recommend Thacker.
For state attorney:
Hillsborough County's heavyweight political fight of the year pits two-term Republican incumbent, Bill James, against retired Circuit Judge Harry Lee Coe III, a Democrat.
The challenger has run an aggressive campaign. Coe seems to be everywhere _ standing on the median of Dale Mabry waving to fans on the way to a Bucs game, or showing up at a large wedding to greet guests as they leave the church. His political signs, proclaiming that Coe is "the one man criminals fear most," are just as prevalent. He has recently issued a position paper that lays out his ideas in specific terms.
Coe has scored some points on his opponent. He has reminded James that he once said it was improper for a state attorney to accept campaign money from his staff. Now, 20 percent of James' contributions come from his prosecutors and staff.
And Coe rightfully criticizes James for politicizing his office with its open support of county prosecutors who were running in judicial races.
But Coe has also tried to confuse voters with false and sometimes misleading information both in his campaign brochures and public statements. And while a judge he sealed numerous cases for repeat offenders _ hiding them from public view _ while as a candidate, he has said he does not support such sealings.
The main focus of Coe's campaign, however, is that he would do a better job controlling crime than James. That is an argument that doesn't fit the facts.
As a judge, Coe gained the name "Hangin' Harry" for his stiff sentencing, but he also was overturned on appeal more often than any other judge in the circuit.
Since taking over the state attorney's office eight years ago, James has pushed up conviction rates, lowered the time defendants sit in jail awaiting formal filing of charges and fixed pay inequities, allowing his office to retain professional prosecutors.
He also has run an office that is open to the press and the public. He has been accused of politicizing the office, but in the political hotbed of the courthouse, a certain amount of politics comes with the territory.
There is no hotter seat in Hillsborough County than the one Bill James' occupies. It will always be controversial. But James has proved he is qualified, both professionally and temperamentally, for the job.
We urge Hillsborough County voters to return him to that critical job.
The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office is nothing if not consistent. Long-time Sheriff Walter Heinrich is retiring, and Cal Henderson, one of his colonels, is his hand-picked successor. Heinrich himself was the hand-picked successor to another longtime sheriff, Malcolm Beard.
Each time, the chosen successor has entered the race with such a huge war chest that no serious opposition surfaced. While such a succession could lead to a Sheriff's Office that is stifled and resistant to change, we tend to agree with Henderson, who said: "If it's working, I don't think there's a big need for an overhaul."
And under Beard and Heinrich, Hillsborough County has been blessed with a Sheriff's Office that is professional, efficient and relatively scandal-free. That's no small feat when you look at the shenanigans of some departments in other Florida counties.
Henderson is a professional police officer with fine educational and law enforcement credentials. He was responsible for an overhaul of the sheriff's operations and he promises more changes _ especially in dealing with juvenile offenders _ if he is elected.
And that election is almost a sure thing. Henderson's opponent, Republican Clifford Paramoure, is running an underfinanced and unfocused campaign.
But when he takes office, Henderson needs to look closely at some critical issues: Why a state-of-the-art jail, pushed by the Sheriff's Office, has failed to meet the county's needs? And how can the sheriff _ who is responsible for running the county jail system _ do that job without bankrupting the county?
For County Commission,
District 1: Ed Turanchik
In just two years on the County Commission, Ed Turanchik has become a substantial force on a commission that isn't populated with lightweights. And he has grown as a politician and a person.
Along the way, he has alienated some of his original supporters, who expected Turanchik to be a rubber stamp for all environmental and social causes. Instead, he has taken a very pragmatic approach that earned him endorsements by such politically diverse groups as the Tampa Bay Sierra Club and the Builder's Association of Greater Tampa.
He has taken a leadership role with issues like environmental protection and mass transit. On both issues, he has chosen a thoughtful, realistic approach. He is working to create a light-rail system, using existing rail lines, that would provide affordable transportation throughout the county and link Hillsborough with neighboring counties.
His Republican opponent, Charles Prout, is running on the anti-incumbency platform so popular this election season. He talks about creating jobs by lowering impact fees on new construction.
Turanchik has worked hard during his two-year term on the board. He has brought fresh ideas and strong leadership to the commission. He deserves to be returned to the board, to complete the good work he has started.
For County Commission,
District 2: Jim Doyle
This race pits two political newcomers and two Jims: Jim Doyle, a Democrat, and Jim Norman, a Republican.
Norman's experience, and much of his campaign, is built around law enforcement issues. He also talks about downsizing bureaucracy and voting against new taxes. However, the commission's role in law enforcement is limited largely to approving the budget of the Sheriff's Office.
Doyle's experience is more diverse and, we think, more appropriate for his job as a county commissioner. Doyle, a former Presbyterian minister, has hands-on experience in elderly, housing, planning and social service issues, both inside and outside of government.
His approach is thoughtful. He doesn't promise to automatically cut government, as some novice candidates do. He promises, instead, to be a full-time representative of his constituents, looking out for their needs and their tax money.
We heartily recommend Jim Doyle to voters in District 2.
For County Commission,
District 4: Lydia Miller
Lydia Miller, a Brandon Republican, has run a successful grass-roots campaign through the Republican primary and a run-off, eliminating opponents with more money and more political experience.
She has done that by knowing her district and being personally involved in the issues of eastern Hillsborough County. Miller is a civic activist who has worked on elderly affairs, drug abuse, road improvement, child abuse and other critical issues.
She has walked most of the neighborhoods in this vast section of the county and at every stop she has repeated a campaign slogan: "If it is pretty and looks nice, Tampa gets it; if it is smelly and dirty, we get it."
While that is an exaggeration, there is some truth there, and it is playing well with the sometimes forgotten residents of this part of the county.
Her opponent, Democrat R.
R. "Bob" Walden, is the son of a former Hillsborough County property appraiser, and a deputy with the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Department. Walden admits that he and his opponent agree on many of the issues in this race.
We feel Miller's hands-on experience with issues in her district makes her the better candidate. We recommend her to voters in District 4.
For county commission,
At-large (District 6):
Few commissioners seem to enjoy their job as much as Democrat Phyllis Busansky. Since upsetting a heavily financed opponent four years ago, Busansky has thrown herself into the job.
She hasn't won all her battles, but she has won some significant ones _ such as pushing for a regional system of supplying water where it is needed, an indigent health care plan, the use of tourist development money to fund and promote the arts and locating seed money for farm-worker housing.
Busansky's name will be the only one on the ballot in this race, because the only opposition she faces is from write-in candidates. The fact that she has drawn no credible opposition is evidence of the success of her stay on the commission.