tbo: Tampa Bay Online.
Thursday, Jul 27, 2017

Re-elect Higginbotham, Beckner

Two Hillsborough County commissioners are on the November ballot. Both face spirited opponents. While the commission, along with almost everyone else, was blindsided by the sharp economic downturn and related foreclosure crisis, the board has responded with targeted budget cuts and a more streamlined operation. Both Republican Al Higginbotham, representing eastern Hillsborough, and Democrat Kevin Beckner, elected countywide, were part of that sensible downsizing. Both maintain close contact with the electorate, and both merit re-election. In District 4, Higginbotham faces Democrat Mark Nash and, running without party affiliation, Joy Green.
Green owns Rise to the Top Tutoring Company. She describes herself as an advocate for women, education, children and the homeless. Nash is mounting the more serious challenge. A former account manager for Gillette, he is passionate and informed. He comes from a pioneering family in the region and complains that Higginbotham has no coherent plan to improve the Brandon area. Nash promises to fix traffic problems, build another bridge over the Alafia River and create a better climate for attracting good jobs. Higginbotham's tenure has not been error-free, but he can hardly be blamed for 25 years of suburban growth. His instincts are consistently sound, especially on spending issues. We were not surprised that he helped put the brakes on the folly of a $40 million youth sports center proposed by former Republican colleague Jim Norman. Higginbotham had spoken to people in public parks and found widespread dislike for the plan. Higginbotham responds quickly to inquiries from the public. He led efforts to promote international trade, including working to help land a chapter of the German American Chamber of Commerce of the Southern United States. We wish he were a little more farsighted on transportation and growth management issues, but he is open-minded and a good listener. Last year he gave 152 public speeches. In his mild-mannered way, he has helped keep the board focused on cutting costs and maintaining a top bond rating. In District Four, the Tribune endorses Al Higginbotham. The race in countywide District 6 has, unfortunately, strayed from relevant issues. Republican Margaret Iuculano's campaign is trying to link Kevin Beckner to the quirks of the most radical Democrats. Those accusations stand in stark contrast to Beckner's moderate tone and common-sense proposals. Beckner, a financial planner and former police officer, led efforts to reverse the county's shameful reputation as a haven for illicit pill mills and for auto insurance fraud. (Republican Gov. Rick Scott has singled out Beckner's anti-auto insurance fraud work.) Largely because of his leadership, the county is a leader in both areas. Beckner understands the importance to the county of a successful central city. He has helped improve relations between the city and the county. Challenger Iuculano brings business experience and a conservative attitude to a campaign that has lost focus on her strength — ideas for economic development. She is the founder of Angels for Foster Kids. After winning the Republican primary, she started slinging mud at Beckner. One of her letters blames him for the liberal policies of San Francisco, where "they've banned plastic shopping bags." Beckner strongly advocated getting residents a better deal by putting trash-hauling contracts out to competitive bid. We haven't heard him mention shopping bags. Such hyperpartisan attacks only cast doubt on Iuculano's judgment. Beckner's heart is here, not in San Francisco. He has concentrated limited resources on the county's 10 most dangerous intersections to try to reduce traffic deaths. He found an imaginative compromise to help Sun City Center get an affordable golf-cart crossing. As a commissioner governing in hard times, he has voted to cut his own pay. In District 6, the Tribune endorses Kevin Beckner.
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