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Commissioners handing out party favors Tuesday

So, Hernando County Commissioner Nancy Robinson has switched political parties, capitalizing on her success as a Democrat to join the Republican Party that has worked to unseat her in every election since 1994.

That's newsworthy, I suppose, if for no other reason than that Robinson is the senior member of the commission and arguably the most high-profile Democrat in the county.

But before Robinson puts her donkey in the barn and hitches a ride on an elephant, let's pose this question to all the other critters in the barnyard:

Who really gives a hoot?

It is not going to change a thing for 95 percent of the people who live here. The only people it really affects are those who are politically obsessed, politically dependent or politically manipulated. Much to the chagrin of both major parties, there just aren't that many folks in Hernando County who fall into one of those categories, including me.

Anyone who has had to endure one of my speeches or question-and-answer sessions has heard it before. I think we'd be better off if all county-level elected offices were nonpartisan. That is especially true of the constitutional offices, as it is of School Board members, but the logic extends to county commissioners.

If we could depoliticize the candidates, it might just do the same for the issues. At the very least, it would force candidates to shape their own identities instead of using their party's sound-bite philosophies as a substitute for original thought.

But I digress from Commissioner Robinson's epiphany.

Robinson assures that being a Republican won't affect her decision-making. She'll approach every vote the way she always has, doing what is best for most people. We know that because she said so when I talked to her Friday.

That promise will be tested Tuesday when she convenes her first meeting as a member of the Grand Old Party.

The first order of business at the first commission meeting of every new year is for the commissioners to elect a chairman. The chairman is the person responsible for running the meetings and working with the county administrator to set the agendas. The chairman also serves as the commission's figurehead for the next year , representing the board at various community functions and other governmental activities. In other words, the chairman officially shakes a lot more hands and kisses a few more babies than her counterparts.

Robinson has held the job several times during her 12-year tenure on the commission, including most of the past two years. The vice chairwoman, also elected by the commissioners, is Diane Rowden.

Traditional protocol would see Rowden, a Democrat, rise to the chairman's post Tuesday. But the only way for that to happen is for the Republicans on the board, Jeff Stabins, Robert Schenck and now, Robinson, to vote for Rowden.

That's as unlikely as Gov. Jeb Bush announcing he has become a Democrat.

Electing a chairman is one of the last ways for a political party to flex its muscles, and it's almost certain to happen Tuesday. What makes the ritual more interesting this time around is that Robinson probably will cast the deciding vote, and it could be for herself. Here are a couple of likely scenarios:

Newly elected Commissioner Chris Kingsley, a Democrat, nominates Rowden as chairwoman. The motion dies for lack of a second because neither Schenck nor Stabins will risk immersing themselves in hot water with the local Republican leadership. Same goes for Robinson.

Then, assuming Stabins won't be in the mix because he's only been on the commission about 5 minutes, one of the Republicans nominates either Schenck or Robinson. If the nod goes to Robinson, it'll be a 2-2 tie, leaving her the opportunity to vote herself into another 12-month term.

This satisfies a lot of cravings. The GOP has one of its own in the power seat, and Robinson hangs on to the job she loves.

Then the commissioners must select a vice chairman. Will the Republicans set aside party politics and leave Rowden to exist in second-banana limbo, or will they demote her and elevate one of their colleagues, putting that person in line for the top job in 2006?

Which brings us back to the question, who gives a hoot?

Here's one answer: the people who recognize this for what it is _ energy wasted on building profiles instead of consensus.

Happy New Year.