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    A Times Editorial

    Reverse course for commission

    © St. Petersburg Times
    published September 7, 2002

    The last-minute attacks by the Hillsborough County Commission candidates are a reminder of what's at stake in Tuesday's primary elections. Voters have a special interest this year in putting aside the smear campaigns and electing candidates who have the character to serve. Those who skip public forums, distort their opponent's record and mislead voters about their own achievements are not the people to make important decisions about the future of our community.

    There is a reason, for example, that Ken Hagan and Stacey Easterling dodged so many public debates. They are unfamiliar with the issues, have little community experience and are uncomfortable with the idea of working in the public eye. To them, an election is a sales job, not an opportunity to engage an informed electorate. Chris Hart is another who jumped into a commission race because he saw a chance to win, not a reason to serve.

    Five of the seven commission seats are on the primary ballot, and the choices voters make Tuesday will shape the region for years to come. Gene Wells, Dee Layne and Jim Norman are Republicans who can move the county and their party forward. On the Democratic side, Kathy Castor and Pat Frank distinguish themselves in strong primary fields. In east Hillsborough, Republicans and Democrats alike who vote in the open primary have in Arlene Waldron a candidate who can rebuild public faith in county government.

    This is not to say these candidates are not separated by core philosophical beliefs. The Democrats and Republicans disagree on many issues, from health care and growth management to protecting the environment. What is important is their willingness to work together -- to turn county government from a destructive force into a constructive one. Ideologues who fault this admirable quality merely offer residents more of the same: more bickering, theatrics and uncertainty from a board already written off as dysfunctional. Reversing course is what this election is about.

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