Hillsborough District 4 commission race is winner-take-all primary

Two Republicans, Michael Joseph Owen and Noelle Licor, seek to succeed Stacy White as commissioner for east and south county.
Republican District 4 Hillsborough County Commission candidates Michael Joseph Owen, left, and Noelle Licor.
Republican District 4 Hillsborough County Commission candidates Michael Joseph Owen, left, and Noelle Licor. [ Michael Owen/Noelle Licor ]
Published Aug. 9, 2022|Updated Aug. 9, 2022

Michael Joseph Owen says he can work across the aisle with Democrats to get things done. Noelle Licor says she already has.

The two Republicans will get a chance to show their cross-party appeal on Aug. 23 when they compete in the winner-take-all primary for the District 4 Hillsborough County Commission seat. The election, open to all registered voters in the district regardless of party affiliation, will fill the spot being vacated by incumbent Republican Stacy White because of term limits.

Registration for the district, based in southern and eastern Hillsborough, shows 104,500 Republicans, 75,500 Democrats and 78,000 voters with no party or minor-party affiliation. Because of redistricting, the job carries a two-year term. The annual salary is $105,239.

Owen, 46, is a Brandon attorney heading his own practice that includes real estate law and estate planning. He is making his second run for office after an unsuccessful bid for the state Legislature in 2020. He said he is the only true conservative Republican in the race in the reddest district in the county.

“I think it’s important to have a real conservative on the board to kind of balance things out. There’s five Democrats and two Republicans, and I think it’s very important for this side of the county to have a conservative, but also someone who can work across the aisle,” Owen said.

He pointed to Licor’s appointment to the county’s citizens advisory committee by Commissioner Mariella Smith, a Democrat, as proof of his own stronger GOP bona fides.

Licor, 39, is a community activist, volunteer environmental educator and small-business owner. She noted she recently was unanimously elected chairperson by the rest of the 14-member citizens’ panel, which includes six Republicans.

She also counterpunched, calling Owen “worse than a politician. He’s a politician wanna-be. I really feel like he’s going from race to race looking for somewhere to land. It’s about his career.”

“I just want to leave it better than I found it,” answered Owen. “Trust me, I’m not doing this for a job.”

Both said the backlog of infrastructure needs in southern and eastern Hillsborough is the top issue confronting the district.

“Roads, roads and roads. We’ve just been choked over here with growth and not allowing our roads to catch up,” Owen said.

“Everybody around me is worried about it as well,” said Licor, of Ruskin. “Infrastructure is the backbone of economic growth. Traffic just impedes business.”

Both also oppose the 1% sales tax for transportation referendum on the Nov. 8 ballot and said they believe the county can redirect existing resources toward the district’s road network.

Similarities, however, end at the bottom line of their campaign bank accounts. Owen, endorsed by elected Republican officeholders around the county, has strong financial backing from the business and development communities. His campaign had raised $277,000 through late June and still had $214,000 on hand. Licor had raised $8,000 and had $150 remaining after paying the candidate filing fee in June.

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The impetus for her candidacy, she said, was the $20,000 in bundled contributions Owen received last year from companies tied to Jeffrey Hills. The developer’s Eisenhower Property Group and other entities remain mired in litigation with Hillsborough County regarding land-use rulings affecting residential development in Wimauma.

“That was the final straw,” Licor said. “I wanted to give my district another alternative, so we didn’t have to go with the same old same old.”

Owen said he doesn’t know Hills and may have met him once. He highlighted his other support coming from small businesses throughout the district.

“It’s really easy for people who aren’t fundraising to pick apart people that are actually fundraising really well,” he said.

Early voting continues until Aug. 21. Election Day voting is 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Aug. 23. Mail ballots must be received by the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Office by 7 p.m. Aug. 23.