Curtain rises on intriguing contest

By Sue Carlton, Times Columnist

Published Thursday, April 8, 2010

Given the goofiness of county government lately, it appears you can currently run for the Hillsborough commission on any of the following platforms:

1. Rail would be great! Let's get rail!

2. Rail would be a blight upon the land! Death to rail!

3. Rail is for voters to decide, not me, a lowly public official, even if, well, yes, making tough decisions is why you elected me.

4. Forget rail a minute — The current commission is an "embarrassment" and must be stopped. Oh, and "idiocy,'' too.

So how about a little handicapping of the most intriguing local race so far?

Chairman Ken Hagan, Republican, is leaving his seat to run countywide. Now, you might think he has the advantage, already sitting on the board for which he is running, but given recent doings, I say: Ha.

The commission has lately been so tangled in allegations of sneaky raises, e-mail snooping, that slobbery lawsuit against Commissioner Kevin White and assorted suspensions/near-firings that citizens have taken to bringing popcorn to meetings to better enjoy the show.

Still, Hagan is the guy to beat, so here's a key question on a critical issue: Where does he stand on the controversial proposal to put light rail on the November ballot, along with improved bus service and road projects, to be paid for with a penny sales tax if voters agree?

Hagan says he's for voters being allowed to decide. But when fellow Commissioner Jim "No Rail No Way" Norman opined that a commissioner voting to put the question on the ballot is also endorsing the penny for rail, Hagan bristled.

Soooo … you're not endorsing it, you're against it? Even though you support it? I'm so confused. So I asked Hagan, via phone messages and e-mail: Do you as an elected official think rail is right for us?

No answer. So your guess is as good as mine.

Hey! Maybe by putting rail on the ballot, you appease city voters who support it — and you score points in corners of the county where they might be against it, because hey, you didn't "endorse" it or anything.

Or, maybe you just look wishy-washy.

Next up: genteel Tampa City Councilwoman Linda Saul-Sena, Democrat, making a foray into the wilds of the county (think Eva Gabor in Green Acres.) Saul-Sena can give the impression of a sheltered South Tampa type, but she's done some good work and is strong on green issues. She is pro-rail, good news for those of us who think it's a smart move for our region, and she can also work the what-have-those-bozos-been-doing-over-at-the-commission angle, not that she would be so crass as to put it that way.

Then there's ex-county planning official Jim Hosler, the most steadfast (and arguably, crankiest) anti-rail voice. A demographer and economic development consultant, he contends rail is not viable and brings his own numbers to boot. Besides talking of being "pro job-growth," he's the no-party affiliation candidate pushing hardest to "end the embarrassment" in county government, not to mention "idiocy." Hey, hard to argue against that one.

So there you have it: Hagan wishing and washing, Goodbye City Life Saul-Sena, Hosler the Naysayer and, oh yeah, a car sales guy named Don Kruse making another run.

In closing, pass the popcorn.

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