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Joe Henderson: Look for Pat Kemp to turn Hillsborough Commission on its ear

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Pat Kemp officially joined the Hillsborough County Commission when she was sworn into office Wednesday. If she stays true to her nature – and there is no to believe she won’t – Kemp might just turn the Commission on its ear.

I hope she does.

Most politicians like to play it safe and tell voters what they want to hear. Pat Kemp’s style is to tell what she believes they need to hear.

Get used to it.

Running for a public office isn’t easy, but I think Kemp has had to work harder for her seat than most. It seems like she has been campaigning nonstop since she was defeated narrowly by Al Higginbotham in 2014. That’s when she set her sights on the District 6 countywide seat this year. She handily defeated a tough Democratic primary field in August, then beat Republican Tim Schock in the general election.

Why so determined?

Spend a few minutes with her, and you’ll understand. This former aide to U.S. Congresswoman Kathy Castor is perpetual motion and passionate about accomplishing as much as she can. When she gets going, she tends to talk in breathless run-on sentences while waving one hand and using the other to check her phone.

It stands to reason, then, that Kemp believed winning a seat on this government body was a must-do because that’s where decisions are made that affect everyone.

It won’t be the same-ol’ approach to solving transportation problems, that’s for sure. Kemp made transportation the cornerstone of her campaign and voters have clearly shown they believe finding a solution is a top priority.

Commissioner Sandra Murman said Wednesday at Kemp’s swearing-in that she was glad to have another woman on the board. That is no doubt true, but we also safely guess that if Murman still proposes Band-Aids for transportation she will find Kemp an exasperated and sharp voice of opposition.

Kemp won’t play it safe, either. She blasted the ill-fated “Go Hillsborough” transportation plan, but not because it was a sales tax increase. She hated it because it was all about roads and cars and didn’t go far enough to address the area’s real transit needs.

As she says on her Facebook page, “Simply stated, a good transit system is the gas that makes cities go.”

True, Kemp is just one vote on a body where most of the members have been around for a while. Ken Hagan was first elected in 2002. Higginbotham has been on the board since 2006. Murman, Victor Crist and Les Miller have been commissioners since 2010.

To accomplish what she wants, Kemp will need to convince them to take chances and do what’s right for the county, even if it isn’t right for their political careers. That won’t be easy.

Regardless, though, I think we can make one assumption with no fear of being wrong. There is a new voice on the board, and by golly, it is going to be heard.

Joe Henderson has had a 45-year career in newspapers, including the last nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. He covered a large variety of things, primarily in sports but also including hard news. The two intertwined in the decade-long search to bring Major League Baseball to the area. Henderson was also City Hall reporter for two years and covered all sides of the sales tax issue that ultimately led to the construction of Raymond James Stadium. He served as a full-time sports columnist for about 10 years before moving to the metro news columnist for the last 4 ½ years. Henderson has numerous local, state and national writing awards. He has been married to his wife, Elaine, for nearly 35 years and has two grown sons – Ben and Patrick.

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