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Vote for confidence: Incumbent Buddy Johnson says he is running on his record. Challenger Rob MacKenna says Johnson's record is the problem.

Published October 26, 2004

In the race for Hillsborough elections chief, it's the old hand vs. the young gun.

Buddy Johnson is the veteran legislator, successful restaurateur and experienced government administrator who was appointed elections supervisor last year when Pam Iorio quit to run for Tampa mayor.

Johnson wants voters to trust the voting process. His comforting campaign slogan: "Making sure your vote counts."

Rob MacKenna, trained as a computer programmer, is the newcomer who gained political attention as one of the "Dean Dozen" working on the presidential campaign of Howard Dean and winning the former Vermont governor's endorsement for his own bid for office.

MacKenna wants voters to be skeptical of the voting process, to seek safeguards against fraud and lost ballots. His slogan, a caveat that appeared on his Web site before Johnson's, is, "Make sure your vote counts."

After parleying comfort food into a growing restaurant chain, Johnson sponsored antifraud insurance bills during the 1990s in the Legislature, then set about modernizing the Florida Division of Real Estate while director from 2001 until 2003.

As elections boss, Johnson has aggressively pursued voter registration, educated future voters by putting voting machines in schools, and aided minority participation by translating his Web site into Spanish.

Johnson believes voters need an experienced overseer to make the elections process work.

"This is a management job," he says. "the management of an election is similar to overseeing a restaurant. It all comes together on election day."

MacKenna, an easy winner in the Democratic primary, doesn't think service from Johnson so far deserves a big tip.

MacKenna points to Johnson's primary vote tabulation - delayed by computer server problems until 5 a.m. the next day, the loss of 245 votes from a machine left in the "test" mode and data errors on Johnson's Web site as evidence of an administration that's broken.

"Mr. Johnson touts his management experience as his prime qualification," MacKenna said. "But considering the parade of problems he's had down there, I'm not sure I'd be bragging about it."

MacKenna wants to boost registration to 90 percent of those eligible to vote and lobbies heavily for a backup printer for touch screen machines to ensure tabulation integrity.

Johnson wants to upgrade facilities, including consolidating electronic hardware at the elections service center on Falkenburg Road. But he says seeking backup printers is a moot question now, since none can be certified by the state before the general election.


The supervisor of elections handles voter registrations in Hillsborough County, administers government elections and usually sits as a member of the county's canvassing board, which counts votes and certifies election results. The supervisor oversees an office of 29 full-time employees with an annual budget of $6.5-million. The job carries a four-year term and pays $119,684 a year.


BUDDY JOHNSON, 52, the incumbent, is a native Floridian who co-founded BuddyFreddy's restaurant in Plant City, served three terms in the Florida House of Representatives and was director of the Florida Division of Real Estate. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in religious studies from the University of South Florida in 1976 and attended the University of Florida Law School for one semester. He helped found the Plant City Main Street preservation program and the Crisis Pregnancy Center of Plant City. He is on the board of the Spring Center for Women and is a member of several local chambers of commerce and the First Baptist church of Plant City. He is twice-divorced and has three teenage children. ASSETS: Home, lot, art, autos, investments. LIABILITIES: Home mortgage, lot loan, credit card debt. WEB SITE:


ROB MACKENNA, 33, works as a computer programmer for Eckerd Corp. He has also worked as a technology consultant and a civil engineer. He campaigned for former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean and belongs to Democracy for America, the group formed by Dean after his failed presidential bid. MacKenna graduated from Duke University in 1993 with a bachelor's degree in engineering. He also did graduate work in engineering at the University of South Florida without earning a degree. He is married and has a 6-year-old daughter and another daughter expected by year-end. ASSETS: Home, car, antiques. LIABILITIES: Home mortgage, auto loan. WEB SITE:

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