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  1. Florida Politics

Primary victors prepare for battle over Hillsborough's District 6 commission seat

TAMPA — Two years after they both ran unsuccessfully for a countywide Hillsborough County Commission seat, Republican Tim Schock and Democrat Pat Kemp now find themselves in a head-to-head battle for another spot on the same board.

Schock easily won the Republican nomination last week to Hills­borough's open District 6 office, while Kemp coasted to victory in a four-way Democratic field.

Voters chose them over far-more-seasoned politicians.

Schock, a consultant, beat former County Commissioner Jim Norman. Kemp, a lawyer, defeated former commissioner and Tampa City Council member Tom Scott and former Plant City Mayor John Dicks.

Neither has experience in elected office.

In that sense, both Schock and Kemp would bring a fresh voice to a County Commission that features three former state legislators, two commissioners with a combined 24 years on the board and a former Hillsborough County School Board member.

Yet each presents starkly different perspectives for voters to weigh in November.

Schock, 43, said he is a probusiness conservative. Kemp, 59, is a well-known progressive who is an active advocate for conservation causes and transit expansion.

"I think, obviously, one of the great opportunities this presents is to really focus on the issues our county is facing," Schock said. "You're going to see a difference in approach on how to help solve issues like on transportation."

He acknowledged that will take a very different kind of campaign than the one he just finished against Norman.

In that race, Schock sought to make it a referendum on Norman's controversial past. Schock often alluded to the ethics investigation into an Arkansas home purchased by Norman's wife and Ralph Hughes, the late local developer and Norman's political ally. As early voting started, Schock bombarded mailboxes with fliers that highlighted Norman's "baggage" and tried to make the case for new blood on the commission.

"We ran a very disciplined and diligent campaign," Schock said. "We formed a strategy and executed it. And now we got to put a plan in place for the general and start executing."

Kemp plans to continue the campaign she started in April 2015. It focused on expanding all transit options in Hillsborough County, building environmentally conscious communities and attracting green jobs.

"Not relying on the call center, Bass Pro Shop and Walmart jobs," she said.

What gives her confidence that message will resonate with general election voters?

It almost worked in 2014, she said.

Then, she narrowly lost a countywide commission race to Al Higginbotham, a Republican making the jump from a district seat to an at-large one. Higginbotham significantly outspent Kemp in a midterm election that typically draws from a more conservative pool of voters, and yet Kemp lost by fewer than 2,000 votes, or half a percentage point.

Higginbotham beat Schock in the Republican primary that year.

"I felt like I had these same issues in 2014, loud and clear, and that was a year that favored Republicans," Kemp said. "I believe the county is ready for it and the county wants it, and they're looking for leadership."

One issue sure to divide the two candidates is transportation. On paper, they have taken similar positions on two major initiatives to fix Hillsborough's gridlock and crumbling roads. They both opposed a county proposal to raise the sales tax by a half-cent and backed an alternative option to pay for road fixes through growth in property and sales tax revenues. Commissioners will vote on the latter this month.

But Kemp's criticism of the sales tax hike was rooted in her skepticism of the county's plan for spending the added revenue. It needed more transit, she said, and she still supports a future referendum to raise the sales tax if it would go toward a well-thought-out expansion of bus, rail and ferry service.

Schock is unconvinced a tax surcharge is necessary. He doesn't oppose new transit, but is against rail because Tampa's population isn't dense enough to support it, he said. Instead, Hills­borough should bypass rail in favor of more modern technologies on the horizon, like dedicated lanes for autonomous buses.

The District 6 seat is currently held by Commissioner Kevin Beckner, a Democrat who can't run again because of term limits. Republicans have a 5-2 majority on the commission.

Kemp believes her experience in local politics and fighting for progressive causes will keep the seat in Democratic hands. She previously worked for U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor when she was a county commissioner, served as chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Hillsborough County and is involved with the Tampa Bay Group Sierra Club.

Schock, a Minnesota native who moved here eight years ago, is much newer to local politics.

"I don't really know Tim Schock very well at all," Kemp said. "I haven't been familiar with him being in the county or seen him around anywhere."

Schock said he's up for the challenge.

"I look forward to the debate," Schock said. "I think it's great for the county and from that standpoint you've got an exciting two months and a week to go here."

Contact Steve Contorno at scontorno@tampabay.com. Follow @scontorno.

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