See those bruises on Buddy Johnson?

Published May 18, 2007

Local pols seem a bit testy about what looming property tax cuts might mean for their budgets.

In one case, about as testy as a WWE Smackdown.

The show played out at this week's Hillsborough County Commission meeting: professional-wrestler-turned-board member Brian Blair, locked in a steel cage death match with Hillsborough Elections Supervisor Buddy Johnson.

Okay, a verbal one.

Seems Johnson had lobbied commissioners about the $2-million to $10-million cost for equipment and training once the governor signs the new voting machine bill.

This comes at a time when cities and counties are sweating the prospect of some serious belt-tightening, given lawmakers' special session on property taxes in June.

Blair later described how Johnson and his staff came in and "really cried the blues" beforehand behind the scenes.

But when it came time to talk tough at the public meeting, Johnson was accused of going gooey.

The elections supervisor didn't ask commissioners to push for a governor's veto, just wanted them to write an inquiring sort of letter. All of which "frosts" Blair's "butt, " as the commissioner put it.

Don't you love local politics?

From the dais, with Johnson standing before him, Blair blasted Republicans who fall in "kissy kissy" lockstep with other Republicans. He implied Johnson was afraid to publicly cross the governor.

Then he launched a piledriver: "If you're going to sit here and suck up and say, 'Well, it's just going to cost us a whole lot of money' and you don't want to oppose it, that's not the kind of guy that I feel that you are, Buddy.

"I thought you would stand up when the tough situation slapped us all in the face, " Blair went on. "That's the way it was talked about in the back room. And I'm hearing a different Buddy right now."

When a reddening Johnson denied this, Blair delivered the flying drop-kick.

"Baloney, " he said.

Johnson later pointed out that he joined with other elections supervisors in a letter expressing concerns to the governor. He said the larger budget issues were the context of Blair's frustration.

Now, about Johnson.

Nothing wrong with warning about impending sticker shock. Nothing wrong, either, with concerns about implementing a new system with a presidential race, a mayoral referendum and, yes, even his own re-election bid coming up on the ballot.

But being all but called politically disingenuous by a county commissioner is just the latest in a string of not-fun press for Johnson.

A former coordinator in his office who worked with the county's African-American population later described the workplace as stressful and uncomfortable.

"It was like the Wizard of Oz over there, " Beleria Floyd told Times reporter Jeff Testerman.

Johnson moved two Tampa polling sites but didn't send letters to voters to let them know. And those were just this year's stories.

Given history - and the task of implementing a new voting system - his matchup with Blair may seem mild in the months to come.