Joe Henderson: Excitement abounds in coveted Soil and Water Conservation Board race! - Florida Politics

Joe Henderson: Excitement abounds in coveted Soil and Water Conservation Board race!

If you want to break into politics, here’s a job to consider:

You will have to work dirt cheap, so to speak, because the position pays nothing. You get to sit through a lot of meetings debating complicated issues. Chances are pretty good if you are elected, even the people who voted for you will have no idea who you are or what you do.

Yes, folks, I’m talking about a seat on the coveted Soil and Water Conservation Board.

This might sound like a joke, but what I just wrote is the absolute truth. While many important jobs in the upcoming election are already filled because there was no opposition to the incumbent — 29 in the Florida House, 11 in the Senate — that isn’t the case with your trusty soil and water board.

In Hillsborough County, for instance, five candidates are competing for the seat in District 2. Three more want your vote in District 4.

Don’t expect a lot of heavy campaigning, though.

In District 2, only candidate David Phillips has raised any money — a whole $500. Nicholas Tobasco Bissett has raised the same amount in District 4. He is staying within his budget, too, having spent just $25.

“I think some people run because they envision this as a steppingstone, but I do think that some people go for this because they really care about the environment,” said Republican political consultant Mark Proctor, who is chairman of the District 5 group.

His seat is not up for election this year. But just how did he win more than 167,000 votes in the 2014 election originally for this job?

Basically, he put his name on the ballot.

“I never spent any money. I never campaigned,” Proctor said.

Members generally are a diverse lot.

Deborah Tamargo, the chair of Hillsborough’s Republican executive committee, is running for re-election in District 2. David Maynard, elected in 2014 to a seat in District 1, is a Democrat and huge Bernie Sanders supporter.

Libertarian Joshua Knezinek hopes voters will choose him for a seat in District 4 so he can advance a platform of abolishing what he calls the “waste, fraud and abuse” on the board.

“I think it is painstakingly clear that this antiquated board needs to be closed down,” he said in a Facebook post.

Florida established the boards in 1937, joining other states in a conservation initiative following the Dust Bowl disaster in 1930. Hillsborough’s board was formed in 1946.

There are 58 such boards now throughout the state, whose purpose, according to its website, is “promoting and encouraging the wise use, management and general conservation of soil, water and related natural resources.”

Boards serve as a liaison between local owners and state and federal agencies. They focus on issues like floodwater control, soil erosion and natural resource management. They provide environmental outreach programs to schools. Board members are volunteers — hence, no salary — although boards do have paid staff members.

The Hillsborough board’s operating revenue in 2015 was $468,696. More than $240,000 of that came from the state, while the rest was raised through charges for public services.

So, yeah, it might be worth a voter’s time to study the candidates a little before playing “eeny-meeny-miny-moe” at the ballot box.

“Nobody knows what the soil and water conservation board does,” Proctor said. “But it is important. I hope voters choose smartly.”

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Joe Henderson has had a 45-year career in newspapers, including the last nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. He has covered a large variety of things, primarily in sports but also 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.

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.
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