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A Times Editorial

Choose a fresh face for GOP nomination


© St. Petersburg Times
published August 25, 2002

Robert Schenck is not the most dynamic and inspirational candidate we've seen. In fact, at times he seems almost languid as he travels the campaign trail that leads to the Republican Party's nomination to the District 4 Hernando County Commission seat.

But Schenck has two things going for him:

First, the 27-year-old special education teacher is such a political novice that he is virtually a loner. He will be beholden to no one if he makes it into office, a huge plus for voters who value independence in their elected officials.

Second, and perhaps most importantly, he is not one of his opponents, both of whom carry so much political baggage it's a wonder they made it this far without collapsing under the weight of their agendas and egos.

Those are two of several good reasons for Republicans to choose Schenck over his opponents, Robert Kanner and Paul Sullivan, in the Sept. 10 primary.

Schenck's platform is built on the premise that the commission needs to do a better job of connecting with residents. To correct that, he suggests setting up a Web site that allows residents to communicate directly with him about current issues, to review his voting record and to rate his performance. He also promises to host monthly town meetings in different parts of the county and to donate 15 percent of his commission salary to a local charity.

Schenck believes the commission spends too much money on outside consultants to do work that staff members could, or should, be able to accomplish. He opposes increasing the property tax rate and advocates a thorough review of county ordinances with an eye toward culling ones that are outdated and too difficult to enforce. Those initiatives should appeal to Republican voters who subscribe to the party's tenets of less government, less taxes and more individual freedom.

One of Schenck's top priorities is to create jobs. He has reasonable, albeit unoriginal, ideas to achieve that goal, including offering deferred tax payments to new businesses that move into the county, and to spread out the impact fees they must pay over a period of several years.

Finally, Schenck was raised and educated in Hernando County. That history, coupled with being a young man with a family, gives him a perspective that neither Kanner nor Sullivan, who average twice Schenck's age, can appreciate. He has solid communication skills, is thoughtful and sincere, does not make promises he can't keep and is not ashamed to admit he doesn't have all the answers.

Schenck's opponents in this race, neither of which actually lives in District 4, are less cognizant of their shortcomings.

Sullivan was voted out of office in 2000 by 260 votes after enduring one of the most contentious commission races in years. He was opposed most vocally by the commercial fishing industry, which disagreed with his efforts to curb their activities in coastal residential areas.

However, Sullivan did not realize -- and still doesn't -- that the public's disapproval of him was not isolated west of U.S. 19, or in one special interest group. His defeat was partly based on performance and personality. It appears that, with the exception of being somewhat humbled by that loss, he has not changed his too-conservative approach to governing.

Specifically, Sullivan's views on how the county should manage and pay for growth fall short. When he was in office he lacked vision in budgeting and the political will to enforce land management regulations and other ordinances in opposition to popular opinion.

We also are very concerned that Sullivan's tenure with the county, as a commissioner and as a Utilities Department employee before that, has become a drawback. His familiarity with courthouse politics, people and policies have skewed his attitude and predisposed his judgments. On this point, Schenck's ability to look at problems -- old and new -- with fresh eyes holds more promise.

The third candidate in this race, Kanner, is a Spring Hill Fire Rescue District Commissioner who has had his eye on higher office for years. His record as an elected official has been a mixed bag. He deserves credit for holding the line on the tax rate and his dedication to the nonpaying fire district job. But he also has demonstrated tendencies toward micromanagement, pettiness and most recently, secrecy.

Kanner's behavior is not conducive to countywide office because he tries to be all things to all people. Whether that trait is inherent in his personality or a calculated component of it, it nonetheless creates the likelihood that his decisionmaking on the commission would be malleable and subject to shifting political winds.

It's becoming more common to hear people say they don't vote for candidates, they vote against their opponents. That thinking may apply in this race. Given the choice between a couple of political animals with spotty records and an untethered newcomer with potential, we believe Republicans might prefer the latter. We recommend Robert Schenck in the District 4 primary election.

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