County Commission District 2
Nancy Robinson and Rose Rocco have both changed parties since they faced off in a County Commission race four years ago, but both say they haven't changed their minds.
Both lay claim to decisive leadership. Both accuse their opponent of political pandering. And both share the same weakness: trying to convince voters that their party switch wasn't pure political opportunism.
Rocco's supporters call Robinson a pawn for big business interests. Republicans call Rocco a Democratic puppet.
Both women veer between catering to their new base, and trying to cling to their old. It has been a difficult balance for Robinson to strike in recent months. Three hotly contested votes pinched Robinson between her old Democratic base and her new Republican constituency: Hickory Hill, tax cuts and the supermajority vote.
It's Robinson's fifth run for the seat, her first since her mid-term defection to the Republicans in 2004. Rocco left the GOP in March. The two women last faced either other in 2002, from opposite sides of the aisle
In June, Robinson voted in favor of transmitting to the state a controversial comprehensive plan amendment that would pave the way for Hickory Hill, a three-golf-course subdivision slated to replace a 2,800-acre ranch in rural Spring Lake, east of Brooksville. The 3-2 vote split along party lines, forwarding the proposed subdivision on to the state for review.
Robinson said her vote was based on what she considered to be in the county's best interest; she said she wanted feedback from the state before proceeding.
Rocco joined the Democratic chorus criticizing the development as premature and potentially costly for the county.
The vote alienated many growth management proponents, and drove off any vestigial Democratic support Robinson carried over from past elections, predicted Jay Rowden, chairman of the county Democratic Executive Committee.
"Her interests are corporate interests, not people's interests," said Rowden.
Robinson retorted: "I don't pander to anyone."
Robinson solidified GOP support by voting in favor of a controversial reduction in the property tax rate in September, said Ana Trinque, chairwoman of the Republican Executive Committee. With the commission chambers packed with Republican supporters, Robinson moved to reduce the millage rate by 50 cents for every $1,000 in taxable, assessed value. It passed 3-2 in a vote that again was split along party lines.
"She heard what the public wanted," Trinque said. "They want the spending to stop, and they want deep cuts."
Rocco criticized the cut, and said it gives struggling homeowners minimal relief while putting the county's fiscal future in jeopardy.
"I pay taxes, too," Rocco said. "But they're not looking at where the problem is, and that's irresponsible, fast-paced growth."
Robinson said she voted her conscience. Taxpayers were suffering. Even if the average homeowner only saves $36.09, that money belongs back in taxpayer's pockets, not the county's bank account.
"My opponent worries about government having money," Robinson said. "I worry about the people having money."
Robinson followed up the tax cut with staunch opposition to a new ordinance requiring four of five commissioners to approve changes to the county's comprehensive growth plan. Robinson blasted the supermajority plan as antidemocratic.
Again, Rocco disagreed. Developers keep cramming more development into the overburdened county, while communities feel railroaded, stuck with the bill for roads and schools they didn't want in the first place, she said.
Developers, bankers and real estate brokers rallied against the supermajority law, working in concert with Republican opponents. But Republican Commissioner Jeff Stabins held firm in his support of the supermajority proposal, saying he refused to bow to big business. He joined the two Democrats on the board for a 3-2 vote in favor of the proposal, which passed earlier this month.
Rocco said Robinson's opposition to the law proves that Robinson is out of touch with voters. The crowd in the commission chambers might support Robinson, and businesses might finance her campaign, but the voters want a harder line on development and more control of their communities, Rocco said.
It's a long way from Rocco's previous campaigns, when the retired sales representative ran on a platform of encouraging new businesses and jobs to move to Hernando County, arguing that growth was not out of control, and urging increased dialogue with developers.
Rocco said she hasn't fundamentally changed her position. The County Commission needs to take a harder line in negotiating with developers to pay their share of the freight, she said. She would also still like to see more light industry and better-paying jobs move to the county.
"I've always been probusiness," she said. "I have a probusiness record."
But Trinque said Rocco changes position to suit her new party. Rocco, she said, will follow orders from commission Chairwoman Diane Rowden and her husband, Jay.
"I think Rose is going to do whatever Diane Rowden wants her to do," Trinque said.
"I'm nobody's puppet," Rocco shot back. "The last time I ran, they said I couldn't be controlled, so I would ask them to make up their mind."
It is Rocco's third commission run. After losing to Robinson in 2002, she ran again in 2004. She lost in the Republican primary to Stabins, who went on to win the seat in the general election.
The county GOP holds a 3,000-voter advantage over the Democrats. The Republicans also have more money and a well-oiled machine to help get out their vote. But the seat isn't necessarily safe. After all, Republicans held a similar advantage four years ago, when Robinson won as a Democrat.
Asjylyn Loder can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 754-6127
Hannah "Nancy" Robinson, 61, is a four-term commissioner looking for a fifth term. She won her first commission seat in 1992. This is the first election year the former Democrat has run as a Republican. She easily beat a Republican challenger in September's primary. Born in Philadelphia, the semiretired nurse graduated from Lansdale High School in Lansdale, Pa., before receiving her nursing degree from the School of Nursing at St. Agnes Medical Center in Philadelphia. She was nursing supervisor at St. Agnes and head nurse in emergency departments in Philadelphia and Florida. She is married and has three children. She moved to Spring Hill in 1987.
Rose Rocco, 65, is making her third run for the County Commission. The former Republican changed parties to run, and won a three-way Democratic primary in September. Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., she moved to New Jersey. She retired as a customer service representative before moving to Florida in 1993. She is a founder and president of Operation PRIDE, board member of the National Federation for the Blind for Hernando and east Pasco, president-elect of the Spring Hill Central Rotary Club, and governmental chairwoman of United Communities of Hernando County. She lost to Robinson in 2002, and in 2004 for the seat held by Jeff Stabins.