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Clash of experience: Veteran politician Bob Buckhorn, a Democrat, says he already knows the government ropes. GOP challenger Brian Blair says his business knowledge would serve the county well.

Published October 26, 2004

The two candidates for the Hillsborough County Commission countywide District 6 are both touting their experience in this race for an open seat. But each defines "experience" differently.

For Democrat Bob Buckhorn, it's knowledge gained from doing a similar job, as a Tampa City Council member for eight years, which he says will allow him to get to work as a commissioner without any lag time for learning the fundamentals. He says he has the knowledge of important issues that his opponent will have to learn.

Republican Brian Blair, a former gym owner, says his business experience is more valuable. He says it taught him how to make a payroll, the value of a dollar and how to tighten his belt in difficult times, rather than looking to taxpayers for more money.

"I think the big difference first off is that Bob's been a career politician," Blair said. "I've been an athlete and a businessman and bring real world experience to the board. When you're sitting downtown all the time listening to the bureaucracy, that's what you become, part of the bureaucracy."

Buckhorn says there's more to running a government with a nearly $3-billion budget than knowing how to meet payroll or run a gym. It takes an understanding of the intricacies of issues and the knowledge of how to address them. He says he has that.

"Passing out towels at the gym is not running a $3-billion government operation," Buckhorn said. "This is serious stuff. People want someone who has got that ability, who can stand up to the special interests and do the right thing."

The winner will replace Commissioner Jan Platt, known for her pro-environmental stands and her willingness to vote against the majority during her years on the board. Platt is leaving because of term limits.

Both Buckhorn and Blair take a decidedly more conservative view to the role.

Buckhorn casts the race as one that potentially changes the makeup of the commission at a time of critical needs, particularly in the area of transportation. Depending on the outcome, the partisan majority of the board may change, and he said the job takes experience working between party lines.

He left the City Council last year and made an unsuccessful bid for mayor, losing the race to Pam Iorio. He was known for frequently challenging former Mayor Dick Greco's spending plans and for sparring with strip club owners, including winning approval of a rule requiring a 6-foot distance between nude dancers and their patrons.

"The reality is I'm the one in this race who has cut taxes, put police and firemen on the street and passed legislation," Buckhorn said. "Who is it that has a record of helping people?"

Blair narrowly lost a bid to unseat Commissioner Pat Frank two years ago.

He says he's been helping people, too, by serving as a mentor in schools. A former wrestler as part of the tag team known as the Killer Bees, he is also a youth sports coach. He said he has served on the county's Citizens' Advisory Committee, learning about county issues and making recommendations to the board.

He says his opponent is willing to increase taxes where he thinks they should be trimmed and says government should look for greater efficiencies. He has criticized Buckhorn's stated willingness to create a new funding source to pay for building roads and his support of higher growth impact fees, which Buckhorn said are necessary to keep up with the costs of schools and roads.

"When you and I sit around the table at night, we live on a budget. If things are tight, you don't go out to dinner or cut out your cable TV," Blair said. Government officials, like Buckhorn, "they want to go directly to the taxpayers' wallet rather than look for efficiencies.

"Government spending is spiraling out of control. We absolutely need to get a handle on it."


BRIAN BLAIR, 47, of Tampa, a native of Gary, Ind., is a former professional wrestler with the World Wrestling Federation and other associations, and the former owner of four Gold's Gyms. He attended Saint Leo University and the University of Louisville before becoming a wrestler. He has worked as a motivational speaker for the group SERVE and has volunteered with the Forest Hills Little League and the Police Athletic League wrestling program. He has served for the past year on the County Commission's Citizens Advisory Committee. He is married and has two sons. ASSETS: home, rental property and investments. LIABILITIES: none. SOURCE OF INCOME: rental property, interest dividends, autograph sessions. WEB SITE: E-MAIL:


BOB BUCKHORN, 46, of Tampa, a native of Evanston, Ill., is a principal with Dewey Square Group, a public affairs firm. He was previously a Tampa City Council member from 1995 to 2003 before making an unsuccessful run to become mayor of Tampa. Before being elected to the council, he was a special assistant to former Mayor Sandy Freedman and a director of governmental affairs for the Builders Association of Greater Tampa Bay. He has served on several civic boards. He is a graduate of Pennsylvania State University. He is married with a daughter. ASSETS: home, boat, stocks. LIABILITIES: mortgage, automobile, bank loan. SOURCE OF INCOME: Dewey Square Group. WEB SITE: E-MAIL:


Commissioners approve a $2.9-billion budget, run the Environmental Protection Commission, approve local ordinances and decide all zoning issues. The District 6 seat is at-large, and is voted on by all residents of Hillsborough County. The winner will serve a four-year term. The commissioner job pays $84,213 a year.
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