1. Opinion

Latimer for supervisor of elections

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Published Jul. 19, 2012

Craig Latimer, Democrats

Craig Latimer deserves much of the credit for the turnaround at the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Office. He was the architect behind Phyllis Busansky's 2008 election victory that drove the incompetent Buddy Johnson from office. And in the last four years as the office's chief of staff, he has brought stability and order and restored public faith in the elections process.

These are not minor accomplishments. Johnson was clueless about elections and government in general. His inattention to detail led to uncounted votes, wasteful public spending and a morale crisis that paralyzed the staff. Latimer, a retired sheriff's major who spent 35 years in law enforcement, used his command skills to put the organization on solid ground. He quickly came to terms with the financial crisis, formalized training programs for poll workers and made the office more accessible to candidates and the public.

Latimer, 59, is a no-nonsense leader who has kept ideology out of the office. He understands the role technology and training play in counting the vote, and he sees the larger duty supervisors have to bring more voters into the democratic process. He is open and personable, and as a lifelong Hillsborough resident he has strong ties he can draw upon to be an effective administrator.

Tom Scott served for 14 years as a Hillsborough County commissioner and Tampa City Council member. He knows local government and has shown during his political career that he can work across partisan lines, a trait that would serve him well as elections chief. The longtime east Tampa pastor speaks movingly about the need to protect minority rights, and he is heavily involved in civic life.

Scott and Latimer agree on most policy questions, such as the need for ongoing training and aggressive voter outreach efforts. But Scott says he would focus more on registering voters and on finding more convenient ways for voters to cast a ballot.

Those promises sound good, but Scott, 58, is not offering any real contrast with Latimer. Both pledge to expand voter outreach; Scott's complaint seems to be that Latimer is getting credit for incumbency when he's only the office's No. 2. That's a weak case for a leadership change. And it underplays the role Latimer has had in improving the office and restoring its public image.

Latimer's experience and his proven record set him apart, and he brings much-needed stability to an agency that will have four leaders in four years. The trust he earned at the Sheriff's Office and that he enjoys throughout county government speaks to his work ethic and integrity, and to the confidence that has been well-placed in him over several decades. His energy level and character would make him an able guardian of the democratic process.

In the Democratic primary for Hillsborough County supervisor of elections, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Craig Latimer.