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Boring candidates forum leads to imaginary awards

I attended the candidates forum at the Timber Pines Lodge last week, and it appears residents there have other things on their minds besides the upcoming election.

The candidates had on their Sunday best and appeared eager to woo the nearly 4,000 registered voters of the private country club community. Trouble was that the candidates almost outnumbered the audience. When the event kicked off at 7 p.m. Tuesday, 18 candidates were lined up on the stage. I counted 42 people in the audience, and probably a dozen of those were candidates' spouses, campaign workers etc.

While the faithful few listened attentively to the candidates, it was a man in the back of the room talking loudly about the next day's shuffleboard match who turned more heads than the candidates.

Only in Florida.

When things get that boring, you have to entertain yourself. I stayed alert by handing out imaginary awards.

And the winners are . . .

State Rep. Paul Hawkes, R-Crystal River, won the Rodney Dangerfield Memorial "I Don't Get No Respect" award. Instead of having his own chair up on the stage, Hawkes, who is running for circuit judge, was lurking around the back of the room with a handful of campaign literature.

It seems the good folks at Timber Pines neglected to invite Hawkes and his runoff opponent, Judge William Law Jr., to speak at the forum.

"Running for judge is a lot different than what I'm used to," lamented Hawkes, who ran three successful campaigns for the state House.

State Sen. Ginny Brown-Waite, R-Spring Hill, won the Patriotic Duds award. The incumbent was decked out in a smart-looking red, white and blue outfit.

State Rep. Jeff Stabins, R-Spring Hill, won the Best Timely Humor award. As Stabins delivered his three-minute speech, he referred to the accomplishments of the Legislature in juvenile justice reform.

"I'll be facing one of them in court soon," said Stabins, referring to his recent run-in with a youth who allegedly broke into his truck and stole his cellular phone.

The Recycling Award award goes to Joan Smith, the candidate challenging Stabins for the House District 44 seat. Smith wrapped up her appeal for votes by urging the audience to "remember, on election day, vote for Joan Smith: A common name for common sense."

That's real catchy, but not exactly original. Smith's husband, Verne, used the same slogan in his 1992 campaign for Hernando County commissioner.

The "Missing in Action" award will be shared by no-shows Don "Big Daddy" Garlits (running for Congress against U.S. Rep. Karen Thurman, D-Dunnellon), Janet Tolar (running for state Senate against Brown-Waite) and Robert Meissner (running for a spot on the Spring Hill Fire and Rescue District).

Self-praise earned

Tax Collector Leona Bechtelheimer probably is the most low-key politician in Hernando County. She is one of those dedicated public servants who is content to do her job _ and do it well _ without drawing attention to herself.

But, once a year, Bechtelheimer marches into the County Commission chambers and sings her own praises. That's when she hands the County Commission chairman a check, which is the result of the county's share of fees she charges for various licenses.

This year the total reached the seven-figure mark, topping $1-million. Not only was Bechtelheimer boasting about the record-high contribution, she was proud that the sum totaled within 5 percent of the amount she had budgeted. In this era of cost overruns and budget crises, that is a rare accomplishment.

As Bechtelheimer handed the check to Commission Chairwoman June Ester, she commended her staff and apologized for seizing the opportunity to brag a little. "My mother-in-law, who has a German accent, was fond of saying, "Self-praise stinks,'

" Bechtelheimer said. "I try not to be smelly the rest of the year."

Ester assured Bechtelheimer it was okay in this instance. "When you're handing over checks for a million dollars, you can make all the speeches you want," Ester joked.

After Bechtelheimer said her piece, Commissioner John Richardson issued a prompt disclaimer that the money was already figured into the county's budget.

"For the record, we didn't just find $1-million," he reminded the audience.