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Al Higginbotham focuses on his priorities in his last two years in office

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Al Higginbotham says that while he feels he’s still in relatively good health, the time is right to step down next year from public office.

The 62-year-old District 7 County Commissioner spoke with FloridaPolitics.com Friday afternoon, a day after announcing that he won’t run for re-election in 2018.

Saying that his “body time is on a different time clock,” Higginbotham acknowledges that his decision stems in part because of the attendant health issues related to his 1995 hunting accident that left him partially paralyzed. He’s eager to travel and spend more time with his children, and agreed he would make his announcement regarding his future after meeting with family members during the holidays, a moment he says was clearly “an emotional and sad time.”

“There’s no smoking gun,” he insists regarding any other speculation about why he’s announcing now that he won’t run again for office, including a comment by conservative activist Sam Rashid that Higginbotham was “told he could not run for re-election,” after his advocacy of a $600 million over 10 year spending plan on transportation improvements last year.

That proposal came after opposed an $800 million plan offered by fellow Commissioner Sandy Murman.

“My concern with the proposal that was being considered was that it put us in jeopardy with the bond market,” he says, adding that ” there’s a lot of work to do, preserving our assets and roads, and getting those up to an acceptable standard.”

Higginbotham represented the more conservative County Commission District 2 regions of Riverview, Brandon and other parts of eastern and southern Hillsborough for eight years. Term-limited out in that seat, he then opted to run countywide in District 7 in 2014, where he narrowly defeated Democrat Pat Kemp (who was elected to the District 6 seat in November).

During that campaign, Higginbotham showed some ideological flexibility as he was now before the entire county. Regarding a proposed sales tax on transportation, he said that he would support the recommendation of the Policy Leadership Group, which consisted of the BOCC and the mayors of Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City. However, though they did back Go Hillsborough, Higginbotham voted twice not to put the measure on the ballot last year.

Higginbotham also joined his colleagues in early 2014 in supporting the creation of a domestic partner registry, after he opposed a similar proposal in 2013 on a 4-3 vote.

Three main tenets of his candidacy when running for office was to bring civility to the board, focus on the budget and fiscal matters, and work on the environment and development issues, he said. Higginbotham’s objective over the next year will be to bring the controversial Public Transportation Commission “in for a landing,” a move that he says is taking up a lot of his time.

The local Hillsborough County legislative delegation has voted to dismantle the board by the end of 2017, and now that he is serving as chairman of that agency, Higginbotham is intimately involved in working with all the players involved to ultimately have the board oversee the same obligations that the PTC currently does. “It’s not pretty,” he says. “It requires getting in the weeds and dealing with a top that will bring unfavorable press. I don’t mind that.”

The Commissioner also says that he’s looking forward to helping MOSI move downtown. “It just needs to be there,” he says.

As we reported Thursday, former District 6 County Commissioner Kevin Beckner has already indicated a possible interest in running for the seat.

There will now be two countywide seats open next year. Along with District 7, Ken Hagan is term-limited in District 5 in 2018.

 

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Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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