1. Opinion

Ruth: Dottie Berger MacKinnon had plenty of mettle, thankfully no tinfoil

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Published Oct. 18, 2013

With her death at 71 days ago after a long struggle with cancer, Dottie Berger MacKinnon will be best remembered as a tireless and respected advocate for at-risk children.

Along with her husband, Sandy MacKinnon, Tampa Bay has been blessed to have had two individuals who captured the essence of what the term "community service" truly means.

Dottie Berger MacKinnon was instrumental in the founding of Joshua House and later A Kid's Place, contributions that would represent the gold standard of giving back. And that is as it should be.

Given her accomplishments, it could probably be argued that her single term on the Hillsborough County Commission from 1994 to 1998 ranks lower on Dottie Berger MacKinnon's resume. And that is as it should be, too.

But her time in office is noteworthy since she could be considered one of the early first victims of the tea party movement before there even was a tea party. As defeats go, this might have been one of Dottie Berger MacKinnon's proudest badges of honor.

In 1996 Hillsborough County voters were asked to approve the Community Investment Tax to raise money not only for transportation and schools but for what would become Hellooooooo Sucker Stadium in order to appease Tampa Bay Buccaneers owner Malcolm Glazer and his rug rats, What, me? and Worry?

An earlier CIT effort had failed, but that measure included only transit and schools, not a football stadium for a billionaire. And since the body politic at the time feared that the Bucs would leave town without a stadium built with taxpayer money, CIT II was approved. How's that vote sitting with you now?

Dottie Berger MacKinnon supported the CIT vote on the basis that if the public wanted to tax themselves, well, they ought to have every democratic right to tax themselves. It's taxation with representation. Hardly a radical concept.

Except that it was, especially to two of Hillsborough's early tea party progenitors, wealthy big shots Ralph Hughes and Sam Rashid, who viewed the commissioner's acquiescence to the CIT referendum as heresy.

Rashid scraped up a local political gadfly, Tim Curtis, to oppose Dottie Berger MacKinnon in the Republican primary in 1998. Curtis eventually would become one of the louder tea party bloviators in the county. With Rashid's and Hughes' financial help, Curtis beat the incumbent in the primary.

The good news is that Curtis was then soundly beaten by Democrat Pat Frank in the general election. Dottie Berger MacKinnon went on to serve her community with grace and distinction. Pat Frank, another able public servant, went on to become the Hillsborough clerk of courts.

And hapless politician Tim Curtis went on to rack up a string of losing elections rivaling the Washington Generals. Oh, and for a special cherry on top of all this, Ralph Hughes eventually dropped dead as a phony tax cheat.

Dottie Berger MacKinnon lost an election, but not her core values. She was a common-sense Republican the party used to embrace before the tinfoil hat/Agenda 21/Glenn Beck Chicken Littles took over the GOP.

In death, her contributions to society and to Hillsborough County will live on far longer than those who opposed her. Not only did Dottie Berger MacKinnon get the last laugh, but an enduring ovation from the grateful community she so unselfishly served.