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A Times Editorial

Baldwin outshines opponent for District 1 commissioner

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 30, 2000

The person who replaces Pat Novy as the County Commissioner representing District 1 will be a successful, competent, methodical, senior woman who will be more productive than the outgoing incumbent. That is a certainty because both candidates seeking the job possess, at a minimum, those abilities.

That should raise the comfort level for voters in this race. They can count on either Republican Janey Baldwin or Democrat Betty Whitehouse to be a hard-working and productive commissioner. But those strengths and similarities also may make it difficult for most voters to choose between two adept candidates.

However, one candidate has a history of not only staying on top of what's going on with county government, but of offering usually sound solutions to justify her opinions. That candidate is Baldwin, and because she has taken the time to involve herself in the area's governmental affairs for most of the past eight years, she edges out Whitehouse for our recommendation.

Baldwin did not turn her back on the voters who rejected her candidacy when she first ran for the commission in 1992 against incumbent Harold Varvel. She took the defeat in stride and did not allow it to deter her from monitoring the County Commission. Through the years she has delivered lucid commentary on a broad range of topics and has done so in a professional, balanced tone.

But Baldwin has not been content to be an activist in the commission chambers. She also has represented the community by volunteering for several government-appointed boards, including the Hillsborough River Basin Board, the 5th Judicial Circuit Nominating Commission, the Hernando County Strategic Plan Citizens Advisory Committee and the Board of Adjustment and Appeals. All of those jobs have given her valuable insight into government operations and experience in recognizing successes and failures as government attempts to be more responsive to taxpayers.

Baldwin's platform is more defined than Whitehouse's. She has not been vague or timid in her promises to voters. If elected, Baldwin says she will:

"Remove the politics" from the residential road repaving program by revamping it so that roads that need it most are repaired first, regardless of how much money is allocated for other commission districts.

Demand an audit of the operation of Corrections Corporation of America, which the commission recently awarded an unusually long-term contract to run the county jail.

Increase recreational facilities on the growing east side of the county and establish more pocket parks in neighborhoods throughout the county.

Fund a community center in the county to be used as a senior citizens center during the day, an activity center for youngsters at night and as an emergency evacuation shelter.

Persuade other commissioners to approve a ballot question to let voters decide whether they want to build a new library in Spring Hill.

Make sure the commission regularly reviews the comprehensive growth-management plan and adheres to the existing provision to build frontage roads along major corridors, such as U.S. 19, U.S. 41 and State Road 50.

Expand the hours of the Code Enforcement Department to catch violators who routinely defy county laws that aim to protect property values.

In addition, Baldwin has shown she will not hesitate to reconsider her positions. For instance, she recently withdrew her unconditional support of the Economic Development Commission. She now believes continued public funding should depend on the private group's ability to meet specific goals regarding creating jobs and adding to the industrial tax base. In a radical departure from her previous stance on this issue, she now says she would consider bringing the responsibility for economic development back under county control.

Whitehouse has staged an upbeat, issues-oriented campaign, and we applaud her willingness to offer herself for public service. If Whitehouse's opponent were less-qualified than her, it would be easy to back Whitehouse for a commission seat. Whitehouse's experience as a health-care provider and personnel administrator are impressive, and she is a very effective communicator. If she doesn't win this election, we encourage her to remain active in the community and to follow up on her ideas.

But communication is one of Baldwin's strong suits, too, and if she can make the transition from representing her personal views to listening and considering what is best for the majority of her constituents, we expect she'll be an immediate asset on the commission. It's not an easy choice, but Baldwin gets our nod over Whitehouse in this contest between two very competent candidates.

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