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By JEFF WEBB, Editor of Editorials
Published November 4, 2007
Jim Malcolm stood in the parking lot of the Hernando County School District headquarters and gave the woman speaking to him his full attention, that being one of the requirements of his job as a member of the School Board.
The woman, who minutes earlier had given the full board and superintendent her two cents about school attendance zones, minced no words when she approached Malcolm outside.
"Are you ever going to retire from that seat, or are you just going to die in it?" she asked.
One might guess this would have been an awkward juncture in the conversation, even for a veteran politician like Malcolm who has an empathetic ear and the gift of gab.
Instead, Courtney Rinier's good-natured query was evidence to Malcolm that, in addition to a sense of humor, she might have more than a passing interest in his response.
Two years later, Rinier, 38, still doesn't have Malcolm's answer, but she does have her eyes on the District 4 seat he has held since 1992. That's five years before Rinier even moved to Hernando County.
Rinier, along with Spring Hill businessman James Yant, have prequalified as candidates for the nonpartisan position; neither waited to see if Malcolm planned to seek re-election to another four-year term on the board.
In Rinier's case, it did not matter. And in an odd twist, Malcolm is the one who advised her not to make him a factor in her decision.
"Courtney told me that she really wanted to serve on the board," Malcolm said, "but then she said 'I really don't want to run against you.' And I just told her, I truly hadn't made up my mind, but it would be better for you if you go ahead" and announce, he said.
He's still undecided, which makes Malcolm the only incumbent for a countywide office who has not declared if he is seeking re-election.
"I'm in my mid-60s 64 to be exact and I am finishing my fourth term. That's 16 years on the board. If I run again and I'm re-elected, I'll be almost 70 when my fifth term ends," he said. "Louise (his wife) and I are really doing some soul-searching."
Malcolm insists he is "not being coy or trying to gauge" his opposition by delaying his decision, but "I don't want to say 'I'm not going to run' and then change my mind. That would be worse."
Malcolm is emphatic that he has not "lost my passion for what I'm doing. It's just a little too soon to decide." He said he probably will make a decision "early next year."
But if Malcolm decides to take the fifth, so to speak, it may be up to Yant to crash the mutual admiration society between the incumbent and Rinier.
Malcolm on Rinier: "She really is a neat person. I certainly have enjoyed her when she comes before the board. She speaks from the heart, and she has passion, and she has a sense of humor."
Rinier on Malcolm: "What can anybody say bad about Malcolm? He always takes a strong stance and he is always looking to better the school district. It would be my pleasure to serve behind him."
So, what is Yant's take on his for-sure, and still-unsure, opponents?
"I don't know much about Ms. Rinier, but I am sure she is concerned about the school district and wants to make a difference," said Yant, a 61-year-old insurance agent and former educator at Hernando High and Pasco-Hernando Community College.
Regarding Malcolm's status as a candidate, Yant said he drew inferences from statements the incumbent made in his 2004 campaign that he would not be running again. Then Yant joked that even though he has "voted for (Malcolm) in the past, this year I will vote for myself" no matter who is on the ballot.
It seems a safe bet that this race, even if others enter it, will be a genial gallop to the finish, compared to the spiteful sprint facing candidates for the County Commission in 2008.
And for those keeping count, the general election is only 365 days from today.
Jeff Webb can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 754-6123.
[Last modified November 3, 2007, 20:00:14]