Hernando commissioners face Democratic challengers, questions about contributions

Early voting begins Oct. 24.
Published October 19 2018

BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County voters will choose two county commissioners in the general election. In each race, the choice is between an incumbent and a political newcomer.

For the two candidates seeking additional terms on the commission, the race has allowed them to tout their accomplishments on the board and familiarity with county issues. The campaigns of Wayne Dukes in District 2 and Jeff Holcomb in District 4 are backed by companies that do business with the county and by Hernando's Republican power structure.

Every elected partisan official in Hernando County is Republican, including all five county commissioners.

On the other side of the ticket are Democrats Deborah Salvesen, challenging Dukes in District 2, and Nancy Makar, challenging Holcomb in District 4. For them, the campaigns provide a chance to look at issues in a different way and find solutions to social and environmental problems that have not been the commission's priorities.

Dukes is seeking his third term after narrowly defeating two Republican challengers in the primary. He has focused on his role in expanding the county's paving projects, allowing neighborhoods to petition the county to pave their dusty lime rock roads. Residents pay two thirds of the cost, and the county pays one third; the project has expanded paving, especially in areas of Royal Highlands.

Dukes also advocated for an aquatic resources department that has removed vegetation from Hunters Lake, expanded off-shore reefs and established new oyster beds off Hernando County's coast. He is the county's liaison to Restore Act projects, which the county expects to be funded by oil spill settlement money.

The majority of Dukes' coastal projects have been popular, but some — those paid for with taxpayer money set aside for environmentally sensitive lands — were controversial. Dukes' idea to build a park and beach in the Weekiwachee Preserve was dropped after strong public opposition.

Dukes also championed the Hernando Beach Volunteer Fire Department and its former chief David Freda. Last year, the county closed the department after Freda and two other former chiefs were arrested on charges of organized fraud after paying themselves for volunteer positions. Dukes sided with the department through the final vote to disband.

Dukes also faced questions over campaign contributions from businesses that rely on the county, including several affiliated with CEMEX Construction Materials Florida. The commission granted Cemex a controversial land use change to expand its rock mine outside Brooksville. Dukes also received donations from businesses at the county's airport, businesses that do legal and environmental work for the county, and the county's lobbyists.

And he got money from Republic Services, which recently won a seven-year contract as the county's exclusive garbage hauler.

Dukes said he has heard the criticism about his contributions, but also has heard Democrats say that "they don't think we should have any campaign money.''

"I don't really have any other comment on that,'' Dukes said.

Salvesen's campaign contributions pale next to Dukes'. As of mid-October, she had raised about $4,000, largely from individuals, compared to Dukes' nearly $52,000.

Salvesen, president of the Hernando Democratic Club, said during a speech this year that she represents those who don't believe the commission is listening to its constituents. She urged voters to pick the candidate with the energy and enthusiasm to create career jobs so Hernando County residents can make a good living locally.

Mining may have created jobs in the past, she said, but it is destroying the community.

She lists her top issues as protecting environmentally sensitive lands, spurring small business revitalization, protecting the county's clean water, fostering stronger economic development, protecting children and supporting public schools.

Salvesen said her diverse background makes her the best candidate for the District 2 seat. The daughter of an immigrant, her mother become a social worker for the mentally ill. Her own jobs have included court stenographer, restaurant owner, secretary of an ethics commission, blood-donor recruiter, community relations specialist and her current work with the Better Business Bureau.

"I have a well-rounded background to work with all levels of our community,'' Salvesen said. "When addictions and depression manifest because of our poor living conditions, public safety becomes a real concern. When Hernando County focuses on economic development, public transportation, public education, this will be the glue that lifts our residents."

Salvesen also supports environmental protection.

"Hernando County reports that 74 percent of our taxable value comes from residents, 26 percent from commercial,'' she said. "With this statistic, protecting our environment has got to be our top consideration with regard to future development.''

In the race for the District 4 commission seat, Holcomb had an easy win in the primary. He is seeking a second term after spending more than a year of his initial term deployed with the U.S. Naval Reserve.

He speaks about his record of not raising the general fund tax rate and how proud he is of the county's efforts in economic development. He also touts his support for the county's fire rescue services and opposition to creating a separate taxing district for Sheriff's Office operations.

During the county's budget crisis, Holcomb favored delaying expenses, cutting aid to outside organizations and potentially a hiring freeze. He also said the county must hire good budget managers.

He said he is the best candidate because: "I have the experience dealing with the tough issues facing our community. I have been tough on corruption and any possible tax increases.''

Like Dukes, Holcomb's campaign contributions have come under fire. A citizen lodged an ethics complaint against him for taking more than the $1,000 allowed by state law from two businesses, which Holcomb said he refunded.

His campaign contributions also reflect large donations from companies affiliated with CEMEX, other businesses that contract with the county and the county's lobbyists. He also received money from influential Republican leaders, including banker Jim Kimbrough, realtor Robert Buckner, attorney Tom Hogan and state Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, who leads the Republican Party for the state of Florida.

"I wouldn't vote for Cemex if I didn't think it was the right vote,'' Holcomb said, adding the same is true for other businesses that work with Hernando County. "The dollar doesn't buy my vote.''

Holcomb's opponent, Nancy Makar, has raised about $17,000 in campaign cash, compared to Holcomb's nearly $55,000. Her contributions are primarily small amounts from individuals.

Makar believes the Hernando commission needs diversity.

"Our current Board of County Commissioners, made up of five Republican men, lacks a diverse understanding of the needs facing our county's citizens,'' she said. "Yet they are unable or unwilling to listen to anyone who doesn't look or speak like them. Our residents are tired of not being heard, not being treated respectfully and not having the county's best interest at heart by the current commissioners.''

She sees herself as independent of the special interests influencing the current board.

"I believe in a healthier, happier Hernando," she said, "and will represent all residents to make sure everyone has a voice, because our county belongs to everyone, not just a select few.''

Makar said her background and history in the community makes her the best for that job.

"I am the best candidate because I have lived in this area for 42 years and have been actively involved in our community and business since 1978. When I say that I care about the residents of Hernando County, I have four decades of service to back that up.''

Makar said the county needs to hold multiple budget workshops to discuss its spending plan, as the city of Brooksville did last year. She would like to see meetings and workshops during times that citizens can attend, and she puts environmental protection on her list of priorities.

"Our Weeki Wachee and underwater aquifer must be protected and kept nitrate-free, because we have a very valuable resource here," Makar said. "When we have healthy minds and clean water, then we can responsibly address sustainable budgeting and infrastructure needs.''

The candidates:

District 2

Incumbent Wayne Dukes, 73, a Republican, is a Brooksville native who spent 32 years working for the U.S. Air Force in civil engineering and fire service. A graduate of Hernando High School, he has a bachelor's degree and associate's degrees in management and fire science.

Democrat Deborah Salvesen, 59, is a New Jersey native who has been in Florida for 20 years and in Hernando for five. She is a 20-year employee of the Better Business Bureau and received technical training for certified shorthand reporter and registered professional reporter.

District 4

Jeff Holcomb, 47, is a Republican incumbent. A Maryland native, he came to the area 16 years ago and works as an information technology consultant. He is a member of the U.S. Naval Reserve and was called up for service during his commission term. He has a bachelor's degree in economics and a master's degree in intelligence studies.

Nancy Makar, 68, is a Democrat born in Louisiana who has been in Florida for 44 years, including 21 in Hernando County. She is a licensed clinical social worker and owner of the Pathways Counseling Center. She received her bachelor's from Florida State University and her master's in social work from the University of South Florida.

Contact Barbara Behrendt at bbehrendt@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1434. Follow .