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Pinellas Commission candidate offers transportation solution to enhance tourism

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

First-time candidate Martin Hughes says he’s running against incumbent Janet Long because he believes the time for change has come. His campaign theme, he said, can be summarized as “a change we need, a voice we deserve.”

Hughes said that, if elected, he would focus more on government accountability and transparency. He also wants an environment that’s more conducive to providing jobs and more outreach to residents.

“My vision for the county is I want to represent everyone,” Hughes said.

Hughes said he’d like to take a new look at transportation. While not outright advocating that Pinellas adopt the SkyTran system, Hughes said it’s one way to combine the solution to many Pinellas issues in one solution. SkyTran is a network of computer-controlled, two-person jetlike vehicles that are run by a magnetized system. The technology is advertised as cutting edge, safe green and economical.

Not only would it solve the transportation issues Pinellas faces, a SkyTran type system could also become a tourist attraction of its own, Hughes said.

“The transportation system isn’t just transportation. The transportation becomes the attraction,” he said. “I think that would be perfect.”

One reason he’s running, Hughes said, is because he senses voter discontent.

“I don’t think the hardworking taxpayers think the government is listening to them,” he said. “Voters feel they don’t have a voice. They feel they work for the government rather than the government works for them.”

The three-minute limitation on comments at County Commission meetings is one reason people feel that way, he said. Not only is the comment time limited, it’s one way. Commissioners seldom respond or interact with those who come before them. The commission, he said, needs to provide more opportunities for those conversations to happen in a “meaningful way.” Hughes suggested a coffee house type setting would help improve communication.

Hughes criticized closed-door meetings between individual commissioners and county staff. Residents don’t know what happens during those meetings, he said, or even when they happen. Commissioners need to be more forthcoming about what’s discussed behind closed doors.

“If I’m going to pay taxes,” Hughes said, “I want to know what the government is doing in my name.”

Hughes said he has few preconceived notions about the problems facing Pinellas. Instead, he said he would give “a fair hearing to issues.” One such example, he said, is addiction. The real problem, he said, “is the demand.” He advocates having a program in the schools so that, when someone gets in trouble during high school, the right questions would be asked: Why are you addicted? Why are you having problems in school?

Hughes said he’s a proponent of educational choice. Although he said he understands that education is the purview of the Pinellas County School Board, Hughes said he believes the county commission could do more to help by providing more outreach to students to help them understand more about county government.

Hughes, 43, is a self-styled political consultant who says got involved in politics in part to help a friend, Bob Cundiff, in his successful run for the Clearwater City Council. Other than that, Hughes has little governmental experience although he served as chair of the public employee relations board when he lived in Nassau County, Long Island.

Hughes was born in Seoul, Korea. He was adopted as a toddler and moved to New York where he graduated from high school. He has a degree in political science from Eastern College (now Eastern University), a Christian school in St. Davids, Penn., near Philadelphia. He has a graduate degree in computer science from C.W. Port Long Island University in Brookville, New York.

Hughes, a Republican, is facing Democrat Long who is running for her second term on the Pinellas County Commission. Long holds the at-large District 1 seat, which is elected countywide. District 1 includes communities and unincorporated areas from north Pinellas to south Pinellas and the beaches. Among the cities in District 1 — Seminole, Oldsmar, Safety Harbor, Kenneth City, Indian Shores and the Redingtons. It also includes portions of Pinellas Park, Largo and St. Petersburg. The election is Nov. 6.

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