The Hillsborough County Commission faces two critical issues in the coming term — shaping a transportation package for bus and rail, and adopting a smarter approach to job development. Voters should look for candidates who are committed to making the county and region more competitive.
District 2, north county
Incumbent Victor Crist is more inclined to talk than listen, and his scattershot views on job development and transportation make for an uninspiring approach in this north county district. Still, the Republican has a better understanding of a range of issues than his opponent. If he puts that experience to better use in another term, this district could make significant headway toward addressing its serious urban problems.
Crist, 57, knows the area well, having represented north county in the Florida House and Senate. He has worked to improve job, housing, health and educational opportunities, and he knows the role that Hillsborough should play in the regional picture. Elizabeth Belcher, 64, is a retired investigator for the Internal Revenue Service. The Democrat has valid concerns about the county's poor transit system and the lack of planning for a smart overhaul. But she lacks a grip of the basic issues, and she offers no specific agenda for this district. Belcher also seems to be uncompromising on job development, management and other issues that are more nuanced than she acknowledges.
Crist's big problem has been his fumbling transition from the back-room dealings of the Legislature to the openness of local government. But he is far more prepared to lead. For Hillsborough County Commission District 2, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Victor Crist.
District 7, countywide
This race pits an experienced legislative aide and longtime community activist against a conservative officeholder whose views on transit and civil rights became more forward-looking as he moved to leave a suburban district seat and represent the entire county. Pat Kemp is the best choice.
Kemp, 57, is a lawyer who is a former congressional and County Commission aide. She offers a depth of experience and policy knowledge that a countywide seat requires. Kemp supports new funding for transit, better targeting of job development efforts and offers innovative plans for helping small business and startups.
Al Higginbotham, 60, is a Plant City native who was first elected in 2006 to an east County Commission seat. The Republican has pushed a fairly narrow agenda, focusing on making county government more efficient. He has taken on more urban interests of late and has played a role in improving the county's relationship with the city of Tampa.
Kemp has a better feel for constituent work and the diverse nature of the county. She has advocated for better transit and smarter planning for years, and she recognizes that the county needs jobs of all kinds, not only in the high-wage sectors. Kemp also has long been a voice for open government. She would bring a consistency to office that comes from decades of work at the neighborhood level. For Hillsborough County Commission District 7, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Pat Kemp.