Pasco's election oddities
Pasco County voters will need to be on top of their game Nov. 6. If they aren't, they could miss a major local tax referendum and give up a chance to cast a vote in a state Senate race that already has been decided. Confused? The tax issue is easiest to explain. On the general election ballot, voters will be asked whether they want to continue the "Penny for Pasco," the county's one-cent sales tax. Although the answer is simple — for or against — the placement on the ballot is far from ideal: It is last — after all the candidates, including mosquito control board, and the often-wordy and confusing proposed amendments to the state constitution. Some voters, predicts Pasco elections chief Brian Corley, "will need smelling salts."The concern, of course, is about voters making it through the ballot. Indeed, if voters decide to pack it in before reaching the last page, they'll miss voting on a major tax initiative that has funded environmental lands preservation, school construction, transportation improvements and other projects that have greatly benefitted Pasco. Ideally, local governments would have flexibility in the placement of local tax issues on the ballot. But state law dictates what goes where — hence the local referendum dragging up the rear. Given the importance of such a tax issue, the Legislature should discuss giving local governments the ability to better place local tax initiatives on the ballot. It may not be doable because, for one thing, who would decide whether an issue is important enough to "move up" its placement on the ballot? But the possibility is worthy of debate because the old saying, "Saving the best for last," isn't always the case. Pasco voters next month also will have at their fingertips one of those election oddities that doesn't happen every year — a race that isn't. In state Senate District 18, a new seat, Trilby egg farmer and businessman Wilton Simpson, a Republican, was to have faced 22-year-old Joshua Smith, a Democrat from Hudson. But Smith dropped out, so voters in the district, which covers the Dade City area, west Pasco and some areas in between, will be greeted by the following notice: "A candidate in the race for the office of State Senator, District 18 has withdrawn resulting in an unopposed candidate race. Notification was received too late to change the format and content of the ballot. The Supervisor of Elections is mandated by Florida Statute to notify voters of any changes to the ballot. A vote cast in this race will not change the outcome as the remaining candidate is deemed by law to be elected for the race." It was the second major turn of events in Simpson's favor this election. He originally was going to face state Rep. John Legg, also a Republican, for the new seat, but Legg switched Senate districts. And when the Democratic Party didn't field a candidate in place of Smith, Simpson, 46, stepped into the state Senate as a first-time candidate without even having to face voters. Simpson, whose district also includes all of Hernando County and most of Sumter, should be a good senator. He calls himself a conservative "Reagan Republican." He is well-respected and active in the community, having served on the Pasco Economic Development Council, the board of trustees of Pasco-Hernando Community College, and the boards of the Pasco County Fair and Pasco Farm Bureau, to name a few organizations. He and his wife, Kathy Simpson, donated $250,000 to the Florida Hospital Zephyrhills Foundation, among other local donations. It's possible that some Pasco voters will be relieved that at least one race on a long general election ballot already has been decided for them. But the same can't be said about the Penny for Pasco — if they can find it.