Get smart fast: Anti-Greenlight Pinellas activist Tom Rask hopes to unseat 14-year County Commission incumbent John Morroni

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John Morroni has held the District 6 County Commission seat since 2000. His opponent says that’s too much.

Tom Rask has a couple of beefs with the commissioner he once supported with a $200 campaign contribution.

One: get the heck out of office.

In 1996, nearly two-thirds of voters voted for a measure that imposed an eight-year term limit on county commissioners. A court threw that out in 2002. But Rask thinks even if commissioners aren’t legally bound to term limits, they have an obligation to constituents who overwhelmingly declared that county commissioners should have a shelf life.

“It’s a moral issue in the sense that it’s an honor issue,” Rask said.

Beef number two: Greenlight Pinellas.

Morroni, a Republican Rask thinks shouldn’t be so keen on a tax hike, supports a transit referendum on the November 4ballot that would increase sales tax in the county from 7% to 8%. That would wipe out the portion of property taxes homeowners currently pay for public transportation and bring in an extra $100 million a year for the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority.

Supporters, including Morroni, say the plan to increase bus service and build passenger rail from downtown St. Pete to Clearwater will drive economic development. Opponents, Rask being one of the biggest, say it’s unnecessary.

“In my view, they’re just trying to jam Greenlight Pinellas through now because they know that everything is going towards autonomous vehicles,” Rask said.

That’s right. Driverless cars. Rask envisions PSTA shifting away from stagnant bus routes he says are inefficient and underused in favor of picking riders up in cars that drive themselves to cover what the PSTA claims is its biggest problem – getting users through “the first and last mile.”

It sounds like something out of the Jetsons, but its not completely unfathomable. Florida state Sen. Jeff Brandes spearheaded legislation paving the way for autonomous cars to be tested in Florida. Only two other states, California and Nevada, have done that.

If Rask’s driverless car argument seems a little nutty, or at least lofty, he has more. The PSTA needs to just work with what they have by running bus routes more effectively.

“I’ve talked to current and former PSTA employees; there are dead routes,” Rask said.

Rask’s contempt for his opponent may be moot, though. Morroni has brought in almost $125,000 in campaign contributions, dwarfing Rask’s less than $10,000. Worse for Rask, Morroni still has about half in the bank while he’s left with about $1,000 in the final week of campaigning. Because both candidates are Republicans, the winner will be decided next Tuesday in the primary election. All registered Pinellas County voters can vote in that race.

The funding gap doesn’t worry Rask, though. According to the Supervisor of Elections website, more than 75,000 people have voted so far.

“Morroni’s TV ads start tomorrow, long after mine ran,” Rask wrote in an email.

Rask accuses Morroni of running a bad campaign this time around and running a dishonest one in previous elections.

“The guy stands for nothing [except] for whatever will keep him from having to find another job,” Rask said.

Morroni didn’t respond to an interview request, but his website boasts an impressive list of public service, including serving on the PSTA board, the Pinellas Planning Council, Tampa Bay Estuary and the Florida League of Cities. He’s endorsed by Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long, former County Commissioner Barbara Todd, Pinellas Park Commissioner Patricia Johnson, Treasure Island Commissioner Carol Coward, the League of Humane Voters Florida, the Suncoast Police Benevolent Association, the Pinellas Realtors Association, the Sierra Club and Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri.

Rask’s website doesn’t list any endorsements.

The primary is August 26.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email [email protected]