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Local election ballots take shape as candidates qualify

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South County’s registered voters soon will be hand picking among local, state and national candidates

By MELODY JAMESON

By mail-in ballot, through early voting or at their precincts, South County’s registered voters soon will be hand picking among local, state and national candidates vying to represent them in the years ahead.

Overall, what’s shaping up are crowded ballots in an active presidential election season.

 In addition to the Democrat and Republican primary elections ending on August 14 when voters pare down the lists of candidates running under the two major party banners, the general election ending November 6 will offer up those party winners as well as those without any party label plus whatever write-in candidates voters opt to add to their ballots, and 11 proposed amendments to the Florida constitution.

Citizens, however, need not wander aimlessly through the electoral thicket. At least one public candidates’ forum designed to give local voters a chance to meet face-to-face and to question their would-be representatives is being planned.

South County voters will be weighing in on two county commission races, beginning with the August primaries.

Two Republicans, Margaret Iucalano and Don Kruse, are seeking the District 6/countywide seat currently held by Kevin Beckner. Whoever survives the Republican primary will face Beckner, a Democrat, in November. When the qualifying period ended last week, Beckner had not drawn any opposition from within his own party for the at-large position which serves the interests of South Hillsborough as well as other parts of the county.

A second commission race will appear on the general election ballot when Joy Green, running with no party affiliation, and Mark Nash, a Democrat, challenge Al Higginbotham, the sitting District 4 commissioner. Higginbotham, a Republican from Plant City, serves the largest commission district geographically, extending from Plant City southwest to include the communities of Riverview, Balm, Wimauma, Fort Lonesome and Sun City Center as well as the area south of S.R. 674 encompassing Sundance and the long-established Sun City, sometimes referred to colloquially as “Old Sun City.”

Commissioner Sandy Murman, a Republican representing District 1 which also involves the South County communities of Gibsonton, Apollo Beach and Ruskin, has no opposition and will not be listed on either the primary or general election ballots. She is automatically re-elected.

South County’s two other commissioners, the at-large representatives Ken Hagan and Mark Sharpe, currently are serving terms which do not expire until 2014.

Among the constitutional officers on the county level, two positions are being hotly contested, starting in the primaries.

Two Republicans, two candidates with no party affiliation and a Democrat want to be county property appraiser when the dust has cleared in November. One of them is the current office holder, Republican Rob Turner, perceived to be politically damaged by an admitted personal matter made public and involving a former staff member. Turner is being challenged in the primary by fellow Republican, Sen. Ronda Storms. Storms, a former Hillsborough County commissioner for District 4, has been representing essentially the same constituency as a state senator and is relinquishing that seat.

 The survivor of their contest in November will face James DeMio and RobTownsend, both no party candidates, as well as Robert “Bob” Henriquez, a Democrat.

On the other hand, for Hillsborough’s office of elections supervisor, the primary contest will be on the Democrat side. Craig Latimer, current chief of staff in the elections office, and Tom Scott, another former county commissioner and city councilman from an urban Tampa district, will fight it out for the opportunity to take on Rep. Rich Glorioso, a Republican, in the November general election. Glorioso, a member of Florida’s House of Representatives also from Plant City, along with the other two candidates, wants to replace retiring Supervisor of Elections Dr. Earl Lennard. Formerly Hillsborough’s top school administrator who retired from that position, Lennard subsequently was appointed to fill the vacancy created unexpectedly when Phyllis Busansky died not long after her election.

Yet another top county official will be challenged, but not until the general election. Sheriff David Gee, a Republican, did not draw opposition from either of the major parties. However, Robert “Grumpy Bob” Wirengard qualified as a write-in candidate for Hillsborough’s highest law enforcement job. Write-in candidates do not appear by name on ballots but their names can be written in blank spaces provided on ballots by those voters supporting their candidacies, according to Travis Abercrombie, elections office spokesman.

Two other high profile county constitutional officers will not appear on either primary or general election ballots because they had attracted no opponents when the qualifying period ended. Clerk of the Circuit Court Pat Frank and Tax Collector Doug Belden both have been automatically re-elected for successive terms.

Similarly, Hillsborough’s State’s Attorney, Mark Ober, has no opposition, will not be listed on the ballot and effectively has been re-elected.

Over at the county school board, the current term of the district board member who represents South County, Stacy White, is not expiring and White, therefore, is not a listed candidate.

However, a number of CDD (Community Development District) supervisor positions will appear on local ballots. There are multiple candidates seeking those seats in numerous community-oriented subdivisions, including in the South County such developments as Covington Park, Fishhawk, Lake St. Charles, Panther Trace I and II, South Fork, Rivercrest and Riverbend. These positions may, by law, be compensated up to $4,800 annually, Abercrombie noted.

In addition, soil and water conservation slots , numerous county and state level judicial offices may be on local ballots, along with state legislative and national congressional offices. In a future article, The Observer News will overview those candidacies.

And, between the primary and general elections this year, the South County Unit of the Hillsborough League of Women Voters (LWV) will present a candidates’ forum, according to Marilyn Balkany, unit founder. All local and regional office seekers and holders representing any part of the South County will be invited to participate in the forum, Balkany said, adding “as part of its non-partisan public information mission the LWV unit will try to make it convenient and pleasant for voters from throughout the South County to meet their potential officials before they mark their ballots.”

Primary election early voting at two South County sites — the Riverview Branch Library and the SouthShore Regional Library — will open July 30 and end on August 11, Abercrombie said. Voters also can obtain ballots by mail through the election supervisor’s website, www.votehillsborough.org. by requesting them on the form provided under “Vote by Mail” in the top menu on the home page. Mail-in ballots also can be obtained at the election supervisor’s South County satellite office in the shopping center on the southwest corner of the Gibsonton Drive / U.S. 301 intersection.

Primary voting in precincts is set for Tuesday, August 14.

Copyright 2012 Melody Jameson

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