1. Opinion

Times recommends: Willis, Schock for Hillsborough County Commission

Six candidates are seeking to succeed Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner, who is term-limited out of the District 6 countywide seat. With Hillsborough facing major issues with transportation, job growth and the environment, the next commissioner needs a forward-looking approach to protect the area's quality of life. Both Democrats and Republicans will be selecting their choices in the Aug. 30 primary election.

Brian Willis


The four Democrats have individual strengths, from long records in local office to civic activism that made the region better. But first-time candidate Brian Willis brings a compelling vision and a fresh sense of urgency.

Willis, 33, a Hillsborough native and Tampa lawyer, has been an outspoken advocate for improving transportation in both Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. He recognizes the region must work and grow together, and his transit plan calls for new bus, rail, road and ferry options that would connect the Tampa Bay's job centers.

Willis recognizes that curbing sprawl is the only way to protect the quality of life in rural areas. He would steer development to the urban areas to make more efficient use of public services and infrastructure. He would better target the county's job-development efforts to diversify the economy and attract higher-wage jobs. And Willis is a strong supporter of the environment. He also is committed to working with regional leaders on tourism, the Tampa Bay Rays and other efforts that help define Florida's west coast.

John Dicks, 63, a Hillsborough native and lawyer, served three terms as Plant City mayor. He also supports broad new options for transportation and more focused job-development efforts. Dicks has proved himself in elected office and demonstrated crossover political appeal. He has a firm grasp of policy and the people skills to move an agenda.

Patricia Kemp, a 59-year-old Tampa lawyer, has a long record as a progressive activist on growth and transportation issues. She also supports smarter transit and development policies. A former aide to a state legislator and a county commissioner, she understands the political process and the value of constituent work. She is tireless in advocating for greater public involvement in governing.

Thomas Scott, a former county commissioner and Tampa City Council member, has served his community for decades as the pastor of the 34th Street Church of God. Scott, 62, was a moving force for his heavily minority, inner-city district while in office, championing transportation, jobs, housing and health care. Having served in both city and county government, Scott has a unique perspective on how to balance this countywide seat.

Willis has a broad agenda and optimism that set him apart. He brings a sense of clarity, common sense and fair-mindedness to issues that often is absent in local government. His outlook is remarkably fresh, and Willis' listening skills would be a source of strength in this increasingly diverse community.

In the Democratic primary for Hillsborough County Commission District 6, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Brian Willis.

Tim Schock


This one is an easy call. Tim Schock is making his second run for the Hillsborough County Commission. His opponent, Jim Norman, had a terrible record on the board before leaving elected office after an ethics scandal. And Norman has nothing new to offer now.

Schock, 43, a transportation consultant, ran unsuccessfully for the commission in 2014. His approach is conservative; Schock would limit job incentives to high-wage industries and focus transportation spending on buses and improved roadways and intersections. He is the only candidate in this primary who grasps that the region must work together to promote growth. And Schock further distinguishes himself by being open, candid and willing to debate.

Norman, 62, championed sprawl, bigotry and political pork during his 18 years as a county commissioner. He dropped his bid for re-election to the state Senate in 2012 after revelations that one of Norman's political benefactors bankrolled a waterfront vacation house in Arkansas for Norman's wife. If Republicans want to win this seat, Norman would be a toxic choice.

Schock might have a learning curve, but he is bright, engaged and sensitive to the high ethical bar that should be expected in public office. His focus on small businesses also would bring a welcome change to the county's economic strategy. In the Republican primary for Hillsborough County Commission District 6, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Tim Schock.