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GOP bigwig named to commission seat

Gov. Jeb Bush appointed Tom Hogan Sr. to serve on the Hernando County Commission until the November election.

By ASJYLYN LODER
Published August 18, 2006


BROOKSVILLE - Tom Hogan Sr., founder of Hernando County’s GOP, will fill the vacant County Commission seat, Gov. Jeb Bush announced Friday morning.

Hogan, 74, will serve until the November election, when voters will decide the winner of the District 4 seat vacated by ex-Commissioner Rob Schenck. Schenck resigned July 20 to focus on his legislative race.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Hogan said. Although he’s been active in politics for four decades, this is the first time he’ll hold public office.

Only six commission meetings remain in the term, said Commission Chairwoman Diane Rowden. However, those meetings include the September budget hearings that will set the county’s tax rate for the coming year.

“Welcome aboard,” Rowden said. “I’m not surprised, and I have a lot of respect for Tom Hogan’s involvement and concern for the community.”

Hogan will take his seat at Tuesday’s commission meeting. On the slate that day are increases in building and engineering fees, as well as a review of the county’s emergency dispatch services. With Hogan, the Republicans regain their 3-2 margin on the board.

Hogan said he’s in favor of reducing taxes, and that it can be done by curtailing the “extreme waste” and “overregulation” in county government.

“It’s certainly doable,” he said.

“Hooray,” said Commissioner Jeff Stabins when he heard of Hogan’s appointment. Stabins has been pushing to cut taxes this year, said he’s happy to have Hogan in his corner. “Mr. Republican,” Stabins called him.

Over the past four decades, Hogan has become a political godfather of Hernando County’s Republicans.

He is a founder of the county Republican Executive Committee as well as its past president and a GOP state committeeman for 40 years. His wife, Mary Ann, served as a state committeewoman, school board member, and is also a past president of the REC.

The two are regarded as the local GOP’s first couple, paragons of Southern conservatism. So it may surprise some to learn that he began his political career as a Democrat.

Hogan’s political career followed the fortunes of Florida’s Republicans, starting with the slow defection of Southern Democrats in the 1950s and 1960s to their dominance today. He grew up in Clearwater. It was there that he met Mary Ann, a transfer student from Venice. She was a high school junior, and walked into Hogan’s English class in 1947.

Hogan finished high school and a year of junior college before joining the United States Marine Corps reserve. He was called to active duty in 1950, and moved to California, then North Carolina.

Mary Ann completed a degree in sociology at Stetson University in Deland.

The pair married in 1951, and Hogan left the Marines in 1952. Their first child, Tom Hogan Jr., was born in 1954. Hogan graduated from the University of Florida the following year. By then, he was interning at a pharmacy in Tampa, and looking for a business of his own. A friend told him about a Brooksville pharmacist looking to sell his shop.

“He put me in touch with a man up here who was in need of getting out of business,” Hogan said. “That’s what I was looking for.”

He bought the pharmacy at 22 E. Broad St., across from the courthouse, and moved to Brooksville in 1955. The couple had two more children, both daughters and he opened a second pharmacy in 1965, closing the Broad Street store a year later.

Hogan’s first foray into state politics followed nearly a decade later, when he worked on the gubernatorial campaign of then State Sen. Scott Kelly, a Democrat, who was challenging then Gov. Haydon Burns, former mayor of Jacksonville. Kelly and Burns lost the primary to Robert King High, a popular Miami politician.

The primary left the party at odds. Hogan thought High was too liberal, and was reluctant to back him the general election.

“It was no secret that the Democratic party was swinging to the left,” he said. A sort time later, Claude Kirk - the Republican nominee for governor - paid Hogan a visit.

“My first exposure to him was when he walked in my drugstore,” Hogan recalled. “He said, 'I want you to come work for me.’”

The two drove out to the Holiday Inn in Weeki Wachee and talked for a few hours. Kirk himself had changed parties to work for Nixon in 1960. It didn’t take long for him to convince Hogan to come on board.

Hogan was one of a wave of disillusioned Southern Democrats that slowly shifted the state toward the GOP. When he changed parties, his political allies followed suit. “There were some other very prominent people in town who did the same thing I did,” he said.

Changing parties put Hogan squarely in the minority.

“There weren’t any huge numbers of us,” Hogan said. “In the entire county, there were only 400 Republicans, and they were almost all of them from Ridge Manor.”Shortly after going to work for Kirk, Hogan helped found the REC and served as its first chairman.

Kirk won, the first Republican to win since the years following Reconstruction.

Hogan spent most of the next two decades in the county’s political minority. Not until former President Ronald Reagan did the local GOP get “the shot in the arm that we needed,” Hogan once said.

In 1991, the last Democratic holdout on the commission changed parties, giving the GOP 5-0 control. By 1993, the county’s Republican voters surpassed Democrats.

Today, there are 48,476 registered Republicans in Hernando County, compared to 45,166 Democrats.

Times Researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Information from Times archives was used in this report. Asjylyn Loder can be reached at aloder@sptimes.com or (352) 754-6127.