Pinellas commission races are an all-Republican affair for the primary

The District 2 winner will head to the general election while the District 4 race will be decided Aug. 23.
Pinellas County Commission District 2 Republican primary candidates Debbie Buschman, left, and Brian Scott.
Pinellas County Commission District 2 Republican primary candidates Debbie Buschman, left, and Brian Scott. [ Buschman/Scott ]
Published Aug. 15, 2022

The two Republicans running in the Aug. 23 primary for Pinellas County Commission District 2 share some common goals.

Palm Harbor Special Fire Control & Rescue Commissioner Debbie Buschman, 53, and Escot Bus Lines owner Brian Scott, 54, both want to lower taxes and enact term limits for the county commission.

But each touts their distinct backgrounds, saying they are the candidate who could go on to beat incumbent Democrat Pat Gerard in the general election.

As the only commission seat that will appear on the Nov. 8 ballot, District 2 will determine whether the board maintains its slim Democratic majority or flips to Republican control.

Scott has been stressing those stakes in his primary campaign and on social media, stating he has the fundraising ability and business experience to bring “a conservative majority back to the Pinellas County Commission.”

In a video to supporters this month, he predicted the general election “is likely going to be the most expensive race in Pinellas County history” as Democrats fight to keep the majority.

Scott has raised $163,413 in contributions for his race, while Buschman has brought in $23,579, according to treasurer’s reports. Gerard has raised $213,146 for the general election.

As president of Escot Bus Lines, Scott says he has expanded the family business into a statewide enterprise and has been an active representative on national transportation boards. He is also president of TRAX Insurance, an insurance provider for passenger transit companies.

He said he wants “to bring commonsense business decision-making” back to the commission. He also said he’d improve transit by investing in smart grid technology to better time traffic signals and improve traffic flow.

Buschman works as coordinator for Pinellas County schools’ lunch pals program, which organizes volunteers to mentor students one day a week during the lunch hour. She spent almost a decade as a forensic diversion specialist with the Sixth Judicial Circuit public defender, where she advocated for people with mental health and substance abuse issues.

She was first elected to the Palm Harbor Special Fire District in 2012, which she said gives her experience working with budgets and policies in the public sector.

As a county commissioner, Buschman said one focus would be on working with local governments and nonprofits to advocate for affordable housing.

She said she also has her eye on flipping the commission’s makeup. But her campaign, which she said is grassroots, has been less outwardly focused on that dynamic.

“I want to work for the residents and not against them,” said Buschman.

The other commission seat up for election is District 4, where incumbent Republican Dave Eggers is facing a primary challenge from advanced practice registered nurse Heather Aynne Vernillo.

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Dave Eggers
Dave Eggers [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

Because there is no Democrat in the race, the primary will be open to voters of all parties within the district, which covers a small part of Clearwater and all cities and unincorporated areas north of it.

Eggers, 65, a former Dunedin city commissioner and mayor, said he would focus on bringing more target industries to Pinellas County with higher-paying jobs if elected to a third term on the county commission.

Last year, Eggers pushed the commission to place a referendum on the ballot limiting commissioners to three terms or 12 years. The motion died with no support except from Commissioner Kathleen Peters.

Vernillo, 42, is a first-time candidate and self-described constitutional Republican who also backs term limits. She has a focus on the environment and impacts from red tide and increased development.

Heather Aynne Vernillo
Heather Aynne Vernillo [ heather vernillo ]

She has been critical of some of the commission’s decisions during the pandemic, including the temporary closing of the beaches and the 2020 mask mandate.

Eggers has raised $73,670 in contributions while Vernillo has raised $9,230, according to treasurer reports.