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Judge Ronda? Think about the political possibilities

By ERNEST HOOPER
Published October 13, 2005


Judge Ronda.

No two words create more intrigue about the political future of County Commissioner Ronda Storms.

Storms is serving her final three years as the representative for District 4 (east Hillsborough) because of term limits, and just about everybody who cares about local government is asking what is she going to do. Although her term doesn't officially end until 2008, the upcoming 2006 election cycle presents Storms with a number of opportunities.

She could jump into the District 10 state Senate race, which is already shaping up to be a Republican doozy between former state Rep. Sandy Murman, former Hillsborough school superintendent Earl Lennard and Plant City businessman Ray Young.

Given Storms' recent interest in the overcrowded schools crisis, some are speculating she's setting up to campaign against Lennard. Storms issued a denial Tuesday, but word on the grapevine is that she will be a late entry.

She also could challenge state Rep. Richard Glorioso, R-Plant City, for his District 62 seat. She ran for that position in 1996, losing to Johnnie Byrd.

Although some pundits - not me - insist Storms couldn't win a race beyond her east county base, running for a countywide commission seat is a possibility. In 2006, Storms could challenge current chairman Jim Norman or newcomer Mark Sharpe, who has to run again after his successful 2004 campaign to fill the vacancy left by Pat Frank.

Or maybe, just maybe, she will focus on a seat on the circuit or county court bench.

My mind runs rampant pondering the possibilities.

Local newspapers would have to change the way they cover the courts. Given her penchant for dynamic quotes and eye-popping decisions, they would have to hire "Ronda Reporters" who would have to attend every hearing and trial, even if she is working in traffic court.

Storms: A bane upon you. May the worms of your avarice consume your intestines.

Defendant: But your honor, I was just going 47 in a 35.

Storms: You know, you're the most incompetent driver in the history of the universe.

And how long would it be before Hollywood would come along and offer Storms her own television show. C'mon, she can be just as savory as that Texas judge and just as brutal as Judge Judy.

Keep in mind, this isn't something I've made up. Speculation about Storms' interest in becoming a judge is making the rounds at County Center. In a lot of ways, the move makes more sense for Storms than any of the other possibilities.

For starters, it would allow Storms to use her Stetson law degree. Storms' performance on the commission certainly shows she has a strong grasp of the law, as well as rules and procedures.

Of all the things her critics say about her - and they do say a lot - they never call Storms stupid. If they do, they are severely underestimating her savvy.

Being a judge also would allow Storms to stay in Hillsborough, close to her husband and preschool-age daughter. The idea of Storms taking on Tallahassee as a state lawmaker has a certain appeal, but I don't think she is crazy about spending long days in the capital, away from her family.

Storms' husband runs a commercial landscaping business, so her salary may not be a factor. But let's enter it into the discussion, just for the record.

As a commissioner, she makes about $85,000 a year. Any other political position would be a pay cut, except for county and circuit judge, which would actually boost her pay to about $130,000.

I don't know if Gov. Jeb Bush would appoint Storms, but with her name recognition, she would have a chance of winning a seat through a general election in 2006 or 2008. If a circuit judge decided not to run again next year, that would put an inviting open seat on the 2006 ballot with no incumbent.

The 2008 scenario may be more plausible for Storms, however, given that 31 of the current 41 circuit court judges will be up for election.

Storms did not return calls to her office, so I'm not sure what she thinks about such speculation. Until she makes a decision, however, I think people are going to keep talking.

I think she likes it that way.

That's all I'm saying.

Ernest Hooper can be reached at 813 226-3406 or Hooper@sptimes.com