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Sunday, Sep 21, 2014
Joe Henderson Columns
COLUMN

Thanks for giving me the power to help shape Hillsborough’s future

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There were lots of good parking spaces available when I pulled up to my polling place Tuesday morning in Brandon. Lots and lots and lots of available spaces.

Inside the church where I went to cast my vote, I had my choice of booths to mark my ballot because, well, I was the only one voting at the time. The nice lady at the exit made sure the machine recorded my vote, handed me an “I voted” sticker, and that was it.

Although I didn’t time it, I’m guessing the whole process took no more than five minutes to go from parking, to check-in, to the booth and then to exit. Who says your vote doesn’t count? I actually feel humbled to be among the nearly 16 percent of registered voters given so much power to help plot Hillsborough County’s destiny by the many who couldn’t/wouldn’t be bothered to cast a ballot in this primary election.

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Yeah, yeah, yeah — I know the reasons people give.

The races for governor at the top of the ticket were hardly compelling.

And, sure, it’s hard to know who to vote for in all those judicial races. You’re probably figuring you’ll never end up in court anyway.

It’s also true the county has an increasing number of non-affiliated voters. In Florida’s closed primary system, that means you and I couldn’t vote in any of the races involving the two major parties. For the non-aligned, that left only the confounding judicial races and the non-partisan Hillsborough County School Board.

The school board races had some sizzle for sure — in District 6 especially.

No one was quite sure how things were going to go for April Griffin in her run for a third term. She is, of course, notable for being the chief irritant to Superintendent MaryEllen Elia. That feud has gotten especially nasty and personal in the last couple of years, so much so that Griffin failed to win the endorsement of either large newspaper in this market.

But Griffin’s battles with Elia earned her name recognition any candidate would love to have, and that didn’t hurt her Tuesday. She had the most votes in the eight-candidate field, although Elia doesn’t need to order a jumbo tub of antacids yet. Because she didn’t exceed 50 percent of the vote, Griffin will need to prevail in a November runoff to keep her seat.

“I think it played out exactly the way my campaign and I thought it would,” Griffin said. “In a field this large, we knew there was no way any one candidate would get more than 50 percent of the vote.”

She has been battling a cold and stuffy nose since Saturday, the result, she said, of last-ditch campaigning.

“I’m sick as a dog. When you’re out putting signs up until 5:30 in the morning, that’s hard on the old immune system,” she said. “But when I go out there, I think people understand I did exactly what I said I would do if they elected me to the board. I didn’t misrepresent my positions or how I would approach the job. And people tell me to keep fighting for them.”

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The most interesting school board result, though, goes to District 4.

That’s where Terry Kemple earned his way into a runoff with Melissa Snively.

Kemple is among the archest of arch conservatives and a darling of the tea party, which proved again the power of commitment. In November, when more voters presumably will be engaged, Kemple’s past may be more of an issue.

He gained notoriety for leading a movement in 2012 to keep the Council on Islamic Relations out of Hillsborough classrooms. He is also outspoken against gay rights and Common Core, and he certainly has allies there. Those allies undoubtedly were behind him Tuesday, and they made their point.

If you want a say in how things run, show up. That’s the way things are supposed to work around here.

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