There were definite moments of disagreements between Jim Norman and Tim Schock in their candidate forum at a South Tampa eatery on Monday night. On the issue of Go Hillsborough, though, the two Republicans vying to run for the District 6 County Commission seat this November are singing from the same page.
“It’s D.O.A.” Norman said of the possible half-cent transportation tax. The current BOCC will decide this month whether it goes on the November ballot.
“You’re not going to be able to do a Band-Aid, if that is a regional problem, you’ve got to get very serious about it,” Norman said, adding that the issue about transportation in the Tampa Bay area needs a regional-like approach, a la Tampa Bay Water. “You’ve got state roads all thru this community. You’ve got federal roads all thru this county, you’ve got maintenance by Hillsborough County, you’ve got maintenance by the city of Tampa. You’ve got all of these problems, and everybody is pulling in a different direction.”
Schock, a South Tampa small businessman who lost to Al Higginbotham in a 2014 run for county commission, charged that the result from the last transportation tax that went before the voters in Hillsborough County in 2010 should still hold true.
“What’s been happening with Go Hillsborough is, give us light rail or we’ll hold up the rest of these projects,” he said, slamming the critique by those in Tampa that the current package doesn’t have enough light rail. “It is quid pro quo. Lots of discussion about whether we should really just have a vote. We had a vote, less than five years ago, we had a vote. We just didn’t like the way it turned out.” And Schock said the current proposal in Go Hillsborough doesn’t meet the needs of those in Valrico, Riverview or Sun City Center.
One of the big unknowns about the 2016 elections in Hillsborough County is if Norman can pull off a major comeback, or be retired for good from serving in the public sector.
He was on the Board of County Commissioners 18 years before moving on to run for the Florida Senate in 2010. During that campaign, a report surfaced that ultimately brought down his career, two years later.
The scandal involved the purchase of a vacation home for his wife that was bankrolled by the late Ralph Hughes, a GOP powerbroker during the years that Norman was on the BOCC. The FBI determined there was no wrongdoing. Norman did admit his guilt in failing to disclose the information about the house with the Florida Commission on Ethics.
The forum was held in a very small backroom at Square One Burgers, and was sponsored by the Tampa Republican Women Federated and Tampa Republican Club. The candidates had at times to speak over waitresses who walked in between them calling out, “I have two orders of mushroom egg rolls?”
Normanwas on the BOCC from 1992-2010, and he uses that experience as a badge of honor, citing all types of legislation that he was responsible for passing, though it wasn’t clear that those achievements were impressing his the audience (consisting mostly of older white women).
Both men played to the demographics of their audience. Norman boasted about responsible for ensuring that no one under the age of 55 can live in Sun City Center, while Schock said there’s been too much focus on millennials, and not enough planning for the fact that the county’s population will only be getting older in the coming decades.
“Most of them coming here are retirees, and they’re not going to be living in the urban core,” Schock said. “They’re going to be living in Riverview and Brandon and Sun City Center. How are we planning for that?”
Norman has been talking up a proposal where county governments who have gaming facilities (like the Tampa Hard Rock Cafe) should receive $50 million from the Seminoles if and when they sign a new compact with the state of Florida to put into transportation funding. “They’re a country among themselves,” Norman said of the Seminole Tribe. “They don’t pay towards our fire, our police, and those sorts of things, all their people use our roads.”
“I’m hearing Tampa Bay Water, I’m hearing gaming compact and that’s typical of lifelong government officials and using analogies other government sources and other government organizations to solve problems,” Schock said, using his outsider status to his advantage. “What I’m going to be doing is bringing in new solutions,and I’m going to be bringing solutions that I’ve worked really hard on delivering and have delivered in the private sector.” He then went on to extoll the virtues of new transportation technology, such as driverless cars and other advances that can alert pedestrians on their smartphones about oncoming traffic.
That didn’t seem to impress Norman.
“That’s great about an iPhone, but somebody’s going to have to pay the bill,” he said. “The bill’s going to have to be paid by you, if somebody in government doesn’t come up with solutions.”
Both men touched on the controversy between the Hillsborough Public Transportation Commission and ride-sharing services Uber and Lyft. Schock was more nuanced in talking about a compromise solution, whereas Norman was more succinct.
“Let them operate in Hillsborough County,” he said.
The event was one of just a couple that the two men have engaged in date, but that will surely change in the coming months. The primary election is on Aug. 30, with the winner going on to face one of the four Democrats whose fate will also be decided on that date.