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Hillsborough County Commissioners honor Kevin Beckner as he departs the board

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Kevin Beckner was feted with plaudits and awards by his colleagues on Wednesday, his last day on the Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners.

“My service was never about me, it was always about we,” the 45-year-old Indiana native said at a ceremony celebrating his eight years of service on the board. Term-limited out of his seat this fall, he had hoped to continue his political career by running for the Hillsborough Clerk of the Circuit Court seat, but lost in a bitterly contested Democratic primary to incumbent Pat Frank. 

Beckner was extremely productive during his tenure on the board. He helped lead a push to regulate and shut down abusive pill mills, create a juvenile task force, pass legislation to stop insurance fraud via staged auto accidents, and pushed for a wage theft ordinance passed in the county to protect low-income workers.

But it was his work on bringing the county back in the 21st century on gay rights that he will forever be remembered for.

The first openly elected gay lawmaker in Hillsborough County, Beckner worked to repeal discriminatory gay-rights ordinances that previous boards have passed, including restoring gays, lesbians, transgendered and bi-sexual people back into the county’s human rights ordinance, as well as reversing the notorious 2005 ban on “gay pride” events introduced by Ronda Storms and passed on a 5-1 vote.

As one of only two Democrats on the board throughout his time in office, he frequently battled with his majority GOP colleagues. And all of them showered him with warm words upon his departure, none more effusive than from Sandy Murman.

“There aren’t enough words to say how much I admire you,” Murman said. “You brought diversity to our county that was sorely needed.” She went on to say that he was also “the most determined, the most resolute, most willing person to go the extra mile.”

Murman added that his efforts in ensuring that everyone in the community is treated with dignity will be his everlasting legacy.

“We were at times on the opposite sides of issues, but I can tell you that you made me a better commissioner because of that,” said Ken Hagan, who along with Al Higginbotham were members of the board throughout Beckner’s reign on the BOCC. “I knew that if you were on the opposing side, you had to do your homework and come prepared in order to debate with you.”

Higginbotham said that Beckner was a true fiscal conservative when it came to “minding and tending to the public trust, the way we spend their money.”

“You have been an incredibly effective commissioner, and you are to be commended for that,” said Stacy White, who like every other member of the  board, prefaced his praise by admitting that often they weren’t always on the same issue.

Commissioner Victor Crist gave Beckner a pin of “absolute statesmanship” that he said he was originally given by former Governor Lawton Chiles two decades ago. “I believe you are a statesman,” offered Crist. The two had some serious knock-down, drag-out confrontations on the board over the years, but Crist insisted on Wednesday that “we are good friends, and I’m proud of our friendship.

It was a decade ago when Beckner met up political consultant Mitch Kates and said he was seriously considering running for the District 6 countywide seat that would be open in 2008. In running to be the first openly elected gay official in a county that just a year before had passed a ban on “gay pride, Kates told this reporter in 2013 that many other reporters and Democrats told him in off the record conversations that while Beckner was impressive, “There is no f-ing way that he can win.”

But Beckner did win, handily, over former pro wrestler Brian Blair, 55-45 percent. He won another four year term in 2012 by defeating Republican Margaret Iuculano by more than 15 percentage points.

“You have that bulldog approach, and once you grab ahold you don’t turn loose,” said Commission Chairman Les Miller, who said he used the same phrase more than a decade ago when bidding adieu to Debbie Wasserman Schultz when she departed the state legislature for a (successful) run for congress.

In addition to the tribute from his colleagues and County Administrator Mike Merrill and Attorney Chip Fletcher, a five-minute video clip was aired showing some highlights during his two terms in office.

“It’s amazing the things that we accomplished because we were able to set aside our differences and focus on really what’s important to our community, and how is it that we can come from different backgrounds, have different opinions, and come to the table to provide solutions to make this place a better place,” Beckner said.

He gave praise to his parents (who he said always previously loathed politicians), and the man who he called “the love of his life,” his husband Gil Sainz, who he called his most trusted adviser.

Becker will be succeeded by fellow Democrat Pat Kemp. His future political plans are unknown at the moment, but there’s another state and local election coming around in 2018, of course.

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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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