In Hernando: experience, Democrats

Voters put two familiar faces on the County Commission. Democrats will have a 3-2 majority.

Published November 3, 2004

BROOKSVILLE - Hernando County voters Tuesday chose experienced office holders to sit on the County Commission and ensured a Democratic majority on the board for the next two years.

In District 1, Republican and former state legislator Jeff Stabins soundly defeated political newcomer D.W. "Bill" Fagan, a Democrat, in a race to fill a seat being vacated by Mary Aiken. In District 3, incumbent Democratic board member Diane Rowden survived a challenge from Republican attorney Mark Cattell.

And in District 5, Democrat and former County Commissioner Chris Kingsley defeated Republican Janey Baldwin, who in recent weeks launched an aggressive mailing campaign against her opponent.

With Rowden and Kingsley joining sitting board member Nancy Robinson, Democrats will have a 3-2 advantage over Republicans Robert Schenck and Stabins.

"I kind of feel like the comeback kid," said Stabins, who served as District 44 state representative from 1992 to 1998, when he was unseated by David Russell. "I'm just very grateful to be given this second chance."

Stabins, 44, ran chiefly on a growth management platform that called for a community summit of business, political and civic leaders to develop a more effective response to the rapid development occuring in the county.

During the final campaign reporting period, which ended Friday, Stabins benefited from a deluge of support from the construction industry, with many businesses giving him the maximum $500. Stabins defended his acceptance of the money and said he would not alter his stated position that development must be more thoroughly regulated.

"I'm not a wealthy man, and campaigns are a wealthy proposition," he said.

"I have to assume that they read my brochures and agree with my agenda."

Stabins took a healthy lead over Fagan, the owner of several area businesses, who also ran a campaign focused on developing a more comprehensive approach to growth management.

Final results for the races could not be determined Tuesday night because county election officials were having technical problems registering a few last votes on their optical scan machines, which delayed tallying some 16,000 absentee votes that had been cast.

In District 3, Rowden had a comfortable lead over Cattell, who was the first to announce for the commission races back in 2002 and proved a diligent door-to-door campaigner.

Rowden, 55, said the newly elected board was full of experience. Rowden is beginning her second term; Robinson has served since 1990; and Kingsley, who was defeated by Robert Schenck in 2002, will start his second tour on the commission.

"I just think it is going to be a great board," Rowden said. Cattell said he was humbled by the support he had been shown in a tough battle against a popular incumbent, but said he accepted that the people had spoken in favor of Rowden.

In District 5, Kingsley had a large vote margin over Baldwin, who was making her third bid for the commission. The District 5 seat is now held by Tom Mylander, who was appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush when board chair Betty Whitehouse died of cancer in March.

When Kingsley, now a 52-year-old schoolteacher, was defeated two years ago, some observers of Hernando politics said an apparent arrogance and indifference to others' points of view doomed him.

Since his defeat, Kingsley said he has gone through a period of introspection. The apparent haughtiness some perceived, he said, was in fact a side effect of his idealism and singularity of purpose. He failed to make people understand his passion in the past, Kingsley said, but is now an improved communicator.

In the final weeks of the campaign, Baldwin attacked Kingsley in mailed fliers as a poor steward of public money and faulted him for failing to detect a theft of funds at the Boys and Girls Club of Hernando County when he was a board member.

The adds were a distortion of his record, Kingsley said, but he bore Baldwin no hard feelings.

"She did what she thought she had to do," he said.

Will Van Sant can be reached at 754-6127 or vansant@sptimes.com