Three Pinellas County Commission seats are being contested in the Aug. 26 primary. Two of the races will decide the Republican candidate to face a Democratic candidate or candidates with no party affiliation in the November general election.
The other race, involving two Republican candidates, will be decided Aug. 26 because there are no candidates from an opposing party.
Incumbent Commissioner Norm Roche and former state legislator Ed Hooper are running in the Republican primary, with the winner facing Largo Mayor Pat Gerard, a Democrat, in the November general election. Because it’s an at-large seat, registered Republicans from across the county can cast ballots.
Roche, 52, worked in private industry and in policy research and development with Pinellas County government before winning election to the commission in 2010. He is widely known for voting to keep fluoride from the water supply. The decision was later overturned. Roche says he was representing what a majority of the people wanted and has no regrets about the vote.
He is against the Greenlight transit initiative that would add a penny to the sales tax to expand bus service and add a light rail line from Clearwater to St. Petersburg. Roche doesn’t think rail will work in Pinellas.
“An improved busing system does make sense,” he says. “But a 19th century fixed rail system does not, given our current state of development.”
If re-elected, he vows to honor a pledge to serve only two terms. He says he wants another term, “because I love the work. I love the job.”
Hooper, 66, was term-limited out of his state legislative seat representing the Clearwater area. He is a former firefighter and Clearwater city commissioner.
He is running, in part, because of what he says is Roche’s misguided fluoride vote. “I support fluoride,” he says.
Hooper is against the Greenlight transit initiative because he thinks it will cause voters to reject the Penny for Pinellas tax for capital improvements when it comes up for renewal.
He also questions whether the proposed rail line will work in Pinellas without being connected to a broader rail system.
Rather than raise the sales tax, as Greenlight proposes, he would propose altering the Penny for Pinellas to fund transportation improvements.
He says he is running because his opponent has been ineffective, and “I want to make a difference in the community.”
Roche is an independent thinker who studies the issues, but his foolish vote against fluoride cast a cloud over the commission and raises questions about his thought process.
Hooper’s background as a firefighter, city commissioner and state legislator bring a skill set that fits well with the duties of a county commissioner. And he understands the issues.
For District 2, in the Pinellas County Commission Republican primary, the Tribune recommends Ed Hooper.
A crowded field of Republican candidates is running to replace Susan Latvala, who is not seeking re-election to the north Pinellas County district.
The winner will face Democrat Mark Weinkrantz and two candidates with no party affiliation in the November general election. Only registered Republicans who live in the district can cast ballots.
Dave Eggers, 57, worked as a strategic planner for a major corporation and as a commercial Realtor before opening his own real estate office. He has served as a Dunedin city commissioner and as Dunedin mayor for two terms. He is a proponent of the Greenlight transit initiative and wants to spur economic development in the county. He says he brings a business perspective to the job.
Wanda Kimsey, 59, is a former executive assistant to Pinellas County commissioners who says she will work to improve the communication between the residents and commissioners. She says there is a transportation problem in the county, but doesn’t think Greenlight is the solution because it commits the county to raising the sales tax for decades. She doesn’t think rail will work in Pinellas.
Peter Nehr, 62, is a former Tarpon Springs city commissioner and former state representative who has owned small businesses. He says he brings local and state government experience to the job. He considers Greenlight to be a tax increase and says it doesn’t make financial sense.
Johnny Johnson, 58, is a pediatric dentist who says he wants to give back to the community. He played a leading role in getting fluoride added to the water after the commission voted against fluoridation. He supports Greenlight because it addresses the county’s transportation needs. Johnson has the endorsement of outgoing commissioner Latvala.
Tim Keffalas, 59, owns a small automotive graphics business and has run unsuccessfully for the Tarpon Springs City Commission. He says he will watch over the taxpayers’ money and will vote against Greenlight because he doesn’t think it does much for north Pinellas.
Macho Liberti, 36, is a Largo firefighter who says he offers an alternative to polished politicians running for the seat and would better represent the people. He is against Greenlight because he doesn’t think it serves north Pinellas.
Jim Ronecker, 49, is president of a printing company and a former Oldsmar City Council member and mayor who has served on county transportation and planning boards. He says he would bring government and business experience to the job. He says he’ll vote against the Greenlight funding plan and thinks the county should pause before making such a big commitment.
There are several strong candidates, and a major issue dividing the field. Ronecker has an attractive political and business background and has served on boards that deal with transportation and growth. Johnson offers a fresh perspective, a personable demeanor and a successful business background. Eggers has served Dunedin well as its mayor, has also served on county transportation and planning boards, and has a solid command of the issues.
We think Eggers is better positioned to hit the ground running and will support a transit initiative important to the county’s future.
For District 4 in the Pinellas County Commission Republican primary, the Tribune recommends Dave Eggers.
Longtime incumbent County Commissioner John Morroni is being challenged by business investor Tom Rask to represent a district that runs across central Pinellas and down the southern beaches. With no candidates from other parties running, this Republican primary vote will decide who is elected to the commission. Because of that, all registered voters in the district are eligible to cast a ballot.
Morroni, 59, was first elected to the seat in 2000 and is seeking his fourth term. He supports Greenlight, particularly the expanded bus service. He voted against adding fluoride to the water but later changed his vote when the commission overturned the decision. He says it shows he is not afraid to learn from his mistakes.
Rask, 50, says he is tired of how Morroni votes and thinks the commissioner’s pursuit of a fourth term flies in the face of the term limits most voters support.
He says Greenlight is an unnecessary tax increase and sued the county’s transit agency over its Greenlight spending. A judge dismissed the suit. He says he can bring government efficiencies that save money and that he would be an independent voice on the commission.
Rask knows the issues but can be strident in his opposition and is potentially a divisive figure. Morroni made a colossal mistake on the fluoride vote, but admitted it and made amends. His support of the Greenlight plan and his experience make him the better choice.
For District 6, in the Pinellas County Commission Republican primary, the Tribune recommends John Morroni.
Candidates not endorsed by the Tribune are welcome to reply. Responses, which should be no longer than 150 words, can be emailed to trib [email protected]