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Joe Henderson: Tea party’s influence likely lessened in Hillsborough

The tea party status as a political force in Hillsborough County may have just run off the rails, so to speak.

When the All For Transportation sales tax increase to fund roads and other projects passed despite the usual warnings from tea folk that it was a Trojan horse to enrich billionaires, it was the community’s way of saying, and I’m paraphrasing here, pffffttttttt!!

I guess voters had plenty of time to ponder that one while stuck in the county’s chronically bad traffic.

It was one of three big developments out of Tuesday’s elections that will reshape how Hillsborough operates for the next several years.

Another was the fact Amendment 1 didn’t receive the 60 percent approval it needed to increase the state’s homestead exemption by another $25,000. That had to be welcomed news at the County Center. County Administrator Mike Merrill now doesn’t have to figure which services to cut because of what would have been significantly reduced revenue to cities and counties.

But the election of Kimberly Overman and Mariella Smith to the County Commission was an even more direct sign that attitudes are about to change. With those two new seats, Democrats now control the most powerful government body in the county for the first time in 14 years.

An attitude change is on the way, and I suspect the tea party people will be among the first to notice the difference. Their guiding principle is that they are always right, and if you don’t agree completely – and I’m not talking about accepting 99 out of a hundred points – then you are wrong and must be crushed.

They used that tactic for the past several years to intimidate most of the Republicans on the Commission into seeing things their way on issues like Go Hillsborough, the ill-fated transportation tax plan that commissioners ultimately wouldn’t even allow on the ballot.

It was the proverbial stick in the bicycle spokes.

In a weird way, though, I admire their pluck.

Tea party believers are involved. They show up. They are prepared. They get into the weeds. They are relentless when something matters to them.

But if that doesn’t work, the more radical ones just make stuff up. In the closing days before the election, they were spreading dark conspiracies that money from the AFT tax was going to be used to build a Rays baseball stadium.

That was flat out wrong, but why facts get in the way of juicy conspiracy theories?

They see every attempt to deal with transportation here as a back door to bring a taxpayer-funded rail system, whether it’s true or not. And, um … they HATE rail.

Their followers have their own points of view, like every other citizen, and they certainly have the right to express it. The ones I blame are the commissioners who consistently were afraid of getting sideways with the naysayers and caved on important issues.

I would guess that is about to change, even more than it already has.

Written By

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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Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Renzo Downey, Rick Flagg, A.G. Gancarski, Joe Henderson, Janelle Irwin, Jacob Ogles, Scott Powers, Bob Sparks, Andrew Wilson.
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