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Joe Henderson: Game-changer? Les Miller’s endorsement of Sandy Murman could be

Endorsements can be overrated, but this one seems different.

Outgoing Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller has a deserved reputation for speaking his mind.

So when Miller, a Democrat, backed Republican Sandra Murmanin her District 6 countywide race against incumbent Pat Kemp Monday, well, if you’re Murman that’s one of those endorsements you really want. His wife, Gwen, also joined in supporting Murman.

Miller is a respected and experienced voice in Hillsborough, with experience in both the state House and Senate. Miller will leave the Commission after two terms this year because of term limits and health concerns.

Both Gwen and I have worked with Sandy Murman for more than twenty years.  During that time, she has proven herself to be a reasonable, common sense, and open-minded leader.  Together, we have worked to create jobs and improve transit, and she has supported our work to create diversity throughout our community,” the Millers’ statement read.

“We know that you, too, can count on Sandy to focus on positive and productive change for all of Hillsborough County, and we whole-heartedly endorse her to be your county-wide District 6 commissioner.”

It appears that Miller had a personal motivation that went beyond simply believing Murman is the better candidate.

Murman is a genuinely nice and civil person. She would win the congeniality award from any place she served. Her voting record, however, seems to go against what Miller stands for.

In 2017, Miller led a charge to move the Confederate statue Memoria in Aeterna off government property in downtown Tampa. Racial tensions ran high around the country at that time. Murman was in the 4-3 majority that voted to keep the statue where it stood.

Kemp voted in favor of the move.

The Commission later decided the statue could move to a private cemetery in Brandon.

Murman also voted to appoint David McCallister, a prominent pro-confederate monument activist, to the county’s diversity board. Kemp, meanwhile, opposed McCallister’s appointment.

To be fair, Murman, in 2018, pushed hard to increase minority representation on the County Commission. But it wasn’t the way Miller wanted.

Murman wanted to eliminate countywide districts on the board and add two additional districts. The move, which was unsuccessful, would have created nine single-member districts, a move Murman and Republicans on the board said would increase minority representation. Both Miller and Kemp voted against it, worrying it was an effort to create safe Republican districts.

Miller had previously suggested smaller single-member districts to promote racial representation, but Murman voted against that move.

Miller is Black and this stuff is personal. He knows about racism.

Earlier this year, Miller received racially charged emails after the Commission required facial coverings to combat COVID-19. It’s not the first time, either.

“I was racially profiled as late as a year and a half ago. I’m a County Commissioner, chair of the County Commission, on the back of my car there’s a license plate that says retired State Senate, and the Hillsborough County Sheriff one night pulled my wife and me over. We were coming from a function,” Miller said.

“Got out the car, shining his light into my car, all through the back seats, and wanted to know where I was coming from or where I was going that time of night.”

That remark came before a Commission vote last month on a motion offered by Kemp to declare racism a public health crisis. It passed 5-0, but not before Miller criticized Kemp’s motive.

“It appears it was a political move. I might as well say it, and that’s not right,” said Miller. “The bitter taste in my mouth is still there and that’s absolutely wrong. This should not be about politics.”

He also criticized Kemp for not supporting minority communities with some of her votes, including not supporting two Black candidates for promotion within the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority.

Murman, however, has some vulnerability. Hillsborough has too much growth and too few solutions. Her votes contributed to that. She remains the developers’ friend, and they help stock her campaign coffers.

Murman has outpaced Kemp in fund-raising, much of which came from developers and home builders. Kemp’s support largely comes from individual contributions.

Builders and developers don’t like Kemp. She has been a loud voice for increased impact fees, which the industry opposes. Democrats currently have a 4-3 edge on the Commission. If Murman wins, though, it could shift the balance back in Republicans’ favor.

The GOP held the majority during much of the past two decades and consistently rubber-stamped development and sprawl. Murman was a generally reliable vote in favor of that.

Endorsements can be overrated, but this one seems different. Murman has the money, name recognition, and now she has Miller’s support.

Game-changer?

Could be.

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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