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  1. Opinion

Joe Henderson: Hillsborough commissioners flout spirit of term limits

Members of the Hillsborough County Commission are supposed to be limited to a pair of four-year terms before they must surrender their seats. That's what the rulebook says, anyway.

It's more theoretical than an actual thing, though.

Thanks to a loophole the size of Tampa Bay, they can just hopscotch to another district and run there. Three veterans on the commission are doing that, and they can keep doing it as long as voters send them back.

Commissioners Ken Hagan, Victor Crist and Sandra Murman will have served a combined 32 years on the county's governing body by the time the 2018 election arrives. Hagan and Crist are term-limited, but each has already filed to run in what is now the other commissioner's district.

Murman has signaled her intention to seek a different seat as well, which would re-start her four-year clock.

That brings us to the point of today's discussion.

Is this the time voters decide to really shake things up at the county center?

Democrats Mark Nash and Kimberly Overman have filed to run against Crist and Murman, and it's an uphill battle. The advantage of incumbency is immense, especially in money.

According to the county elections office, Crist has raised more than $44,000 while Nash has reported no contributions. Murman has $104,068 in contributions while Overman reports $6,200.

However, we also know what happened nationwide in the 2016 election and that general dissatisfaction with the status quo shows no sign of slowing.

That's what Overman and Nash are banking on.

Overman has name recognition, civic passion, and is working non-stop toward a showdown with Murman — assuming the latter follows through on her stated intention to run for the District 7 countywide seat.

Overman became a leading face of opposition to the Florida Department of Transportation plan that would expand the expressway system. She has argued it would devastate the progress made in Seminole Heights, where she lives.

Overman also is an outspoken proponent for a modern mass transit system.

"We have to help people understand why there is a value in investing in our community," she said. "I tend to be a fighter for people who aren't properly represented. These people weren't properly represented. I've been on that train for a while."

Train? She chuckled at her choice of that word.

"We're not seeing the big picture and caring for our citizens," she said. "That's what investing in transportation does. It creates a reliable way to get somewhere."

Nash is taking another shot. He is busy campaigning for the District 5 countywide seat, which puts him on a collision course with Crist, who has to vacate the District 2 chair.

This is Nash's third attempt to win a commission seat. He lost to Al Higginbotham in 2012, then was beaten in the 2014 primary by Pat Kemp. Nash lives in Brandon, so he has seen stifling traffic up close and personal.

Mass transit also will be a big part of his campaign. He blames past commission decisions for much of the county's unchecked growth and inadequate transportation options.

"I prefer to look at the money we spend in government as investments. The anti-tax, no tax for tracks, and all these phrases that try to connect people to this issue, we have to be bluntly honest about what our future looks like without proper transit," he said.

The gambit by the still-running three commissioners is completely legal, even if ITdoes trample on the spirit of term limits.

In politics, the "spirit" of a law generally means it's only a suggestion to be ignored if you really like the gig. That's what makes it possible for commissioners to play this game.

Voters get to decide if they want to play along too, or impose their own brand of term limits and try something new.