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Storms with big lead over Waldron

By BILL VARIAN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 11, 2002

TAMPA -- It looked early Wednesday as though Hillsborough County's most outspoken commissioner will return to the board for another two years.

Despite an open primary that allowed Democrats to have a say, conservative Republican Ronda Storms appeared headed to an easy victory over recent party convert Arlene Waldron.

With 94 percent of precincts reporting, Storms had a comfortable lead in the race for the District 4 commission seat representing south and east Hillsborough County. Because there are no challengers from any other party, the winner will not face a general election.

"I feel like I have a table presented before me in the presence of mine enemies," Storms said. "If I win, I feel very encouraged and loved by the people in my district. They are reaffirming the marching orders they gave to me four years ago."

Like many of the challengers seeking the six commission seats up for election, Waldron, a bank branch manager from Brandon, was running against what she characterized as a rudderless board.

Storms, she said, was the most dysfunctional of them all, alienating neighboring governments, regional water boards and citizens with frequent and unrelenting rants.

Waldron, 45, had promised to restore civility and "effective leadership" to the commission, and specifically from the District 4 seat. An active member of the Greater Brandon Chamber of Commerce, she garnered many of the major endorsements for her race.

"I feel like we've gotten a lot of support for our campaign," Waldron said. "I think it's definitely going to get some attention that we need some change and I'm still hoping I can be part of that change."

Along with the endorsements for Waldron, several Tampa groups actively campaigned against Storms, including two groups opposed to her recent stance against public access television. The Compass Project, a group of citizens formed to promote challenges to the commission, gave Storms the thumbs down, as did a recent issue-based survey published by the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce.

Nevertheless, Storms, 37, appeared likely to win a second term in a district that has not been kind to incumbents. Not since Jim Selvey in 1988 has a candidate for the District 4 seat won consecutive terms.

A former teacher and lawyer, Storms has been an unabashedly parochial commissioner. She says her district has had its wells pumped dry to feed the thirst of surrounding counties and had politically unpalatable government projects dumped on it.

She has fought against additional taxes and said she will continue to do so.

But her colorful style has not always endeared her to constituents and fellow commissioners, whom she often criticizes.

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