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For Hillsborough County Commission: Times Editorial Board recommendations
Four candidates are vying for two seats on the board.
This aerial photo of downtown Tampa overlooks the Tampa Riverwalk and Hillsborough River. But Hillsborough County is a huge land mass that expands far beyond Tampa's boundaries, and the county commission represents interests of the entire county.
This aerial photo of downtown Tampa overlooks the Tampa Riverwalk and Hillsborough River. But Hillsborough County is a huge land mass that expands far beyond Tampa's boundaries, and the county commission represents interests of the entire county. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Jul. 26|Updated Jul. 26

The Hillsborough County Commission faces a number of big decisions in the years ahead, from improving transportation to ensuring that its public safety, social services and park systems keep up with the growth. Two seats on the seven-member board are on the Aug. 23 primary. Because only Republicans qualified for District 4, the race is a universal primary open to all voters. The District 4 seat is for a two-year term; the District 7 seat is a four-year term. Commissioners are paid $105,239 annually.

Related: Read the Times recommendations in other races

District 4 (east county), Universal primary: Michael Joseph Owen

Both candidates for this suburban seat are sensitive to the environment and understand how local government works. Michael Joseph Owen, though, has a broader perspective.

Michael Joseph Owen
Michael Joseph Owen [ Michael Owen/Noelle Licor ]

Owen is a 46-year-old attorney whose practice focuses on real estate, estate planning and other civil matters. The Bloomingdale Senior High School graduate ran unsuccessfully in 2020 for a Florida House seat from east Hillsborough. He knows the district and the players in the local political world.

Owen wants to work with state and federal officials to explore financing options to expedite transportation projects. He supports the county’s wetlands protection efforts, and strengthening regulations in coastal high hazard areas to protect properties from catastrophic flooding. He would closely examine job development incentives to ensure they were not “a windfall” for companies or developers. Owen also wants to “reevaluate” multifamily housing in the far-flung suburbs, saying those developments are more appropriate for urban areas and job centers.

Challenger Noelle Licor, a fellow Republican, also focuses on infrastructure. Like Owen, she opposes tax subsidies for a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays, and supports recent efforts at the state and local levels to make communities more resilient to flooding. Licor, 39, has served on Hillsborough County’s citizen advisory committee, giving her a solid grasp of policy issues. She appreciates the rural nature of the district and is worried about the impacts of mismanaged growth on east Hillsborough’s quality of life.

Both candidates are prepared, but Owen seems better positioned to deliver on his agenda. The Tampa Bay Times recommends Michael Joseph Owen in the universal primary for Hillsborough County Commission District 4.

District 7 (countywide), Republicans: Joshua Wostal

Two Republicans in this primary are seeking to challenge the incumbent, Democrat Kimberly Overman, in November. Both are conservative, and share a similar agenda, but Joshua Wostal seems the party’s stronger choice.

Joshua Wostal
Joshua Wostal [ JESSICA CRUZ PHOTOGRAPHY | Jessica Cruz Photography ]
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Wostal, 38, is a Navy veteran and small business owner making his first run for elected office. He vows to make smarter spending decisions, focus the transportation budget on fixing roads and to make county government more transparent.

Wostal is a free market advocate who believes the county’s taxation rate has hurt businesses and working residents alike. He would have the county partner with the private sector to protect the environment by advancing green technology. He opposes spending tax money for a Rays stadium, insisting instead that the county invest in basic infrastructure. He also vows to stop spending on commissioners’ “pet projects.” That’s easier said than done once a candidate takes office.

Chase Harrison, 62, is a retired Air Force intelligence analyst and Tampa Police Department officer. Like Wostal, he promises to be a budget hawk and to focus on road improvements. Harrison says the county needs to be more proactive in planning for growth; he wants infrastructure in place before major projects occur and for environmental concerns to be addressed “as a high priority.”

Wostal, though, seems to better appreciate the varying needs between city and suburban residents, a balance that’s essential for a countywide commissioner. He understands the upside of growth and the need for Hillsborough to mature “responsibly and sustainably.” Wostal’s criticism of county government also seems more constructive in nature. That would help him on a seven-member board to build consensus and a winning record.

The Tampa Bay Times recommends Joshua Wostal in the Republican primary for Hillsborough County Commission District 7.

The recommendation process

Before making a recommendation, the Times Editorial Board asks candidates to fill out questionnaires and sit for an interview. The process can also include running criminal and civil background checks, interviewing candidates’ colleagues and employers, reviewing voting records and financial disclosures and examining their past and current positions on relevant issues.

Candidate replies

Candidates not recommended by the editorial board are offered an opportunity to reply. Judicial candidates may send replies of up to 150 words by 5 p.m. Aug. 4 to Editor of Editorials Graham Brink at voterguide@tampabay.com.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Conan Gallaty. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.

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