With November’s quadrennial Election Day looming ever larger on our calendars, the importance of what Americans tell pollsters about the condition of the country swells almost by the moment.
Indeed, it scarcely matters just now, in the middle of July 2016, whether you’re with Hillary or you’re aboard the Trump train, or even if you’re checking out the shrewd looniness of Libertarian Gary Johnson. What genuinely matters, because it will guide your inspection of our sorry gaggle of presidential contenders, is what you think about the direction the country is headed.
It’s called the “right track/wrong track” poll, and it’s supposed to reveal the electorate’s general mood — which, at the moment, isn’t pretty. Lately, the Real Clear Politics average favors “wrong track” by a whopping 65.1 percent. And, the trend is in the direction of a widening, worsening gap.
Obviously, a poll that provides only a this-or-that option cannot effectively identify what might prompt someone to choose one track over the other. Most likely — given the stubborn, roughly 50-50 split within American politics — it’s even-money your reasons for thinking we’re on the wrong track are different from your neighbor’s, or mine.
But, the mere fact that two-thirds of us find our direction disturbing reinforces the notion that whatever November brings, the outcome will reflect the nation’s desire for some sort of change.
You know, unless, by delivering another round of division and stalemate, it doesn’t.
Anyway, it is against that stormy backdrop that an utterly counterintuitive, if not downright weird, thing happened recently in Pasco County. The date for candidate qualifying came and went a few weeks ago, leaving in its wake a robust — if intensely localized — argument against the dug-in disgruntlement that plagues America.
An even dozen Pasco-linked candidates, officeholders and first-time office-seekers alike, won election without opposition: a congressman, four constitutional officers, two school board members and five of six members of Pasco’s state legislative delegation. Only Pinellas-based Jack Latvala, a Republican state senator, will see his name on a ballot, and that’s only because a couple of write-in candidates signed up.
Even so, there will be local tussles, and they could be lively.
All three county commission seats will be contested. The property appraiser’s job, opened by Mike Wells’ retirement, lured two Republicans (including District 1 County Commissioner Ted Schrader) and a Democrat. County Clerk and Comptroller Paula O’Neil has drawn a lightly financed return challenger.
And, as they always are, both Mosquito Control Board races will be contested — which, given the pest-borne Zika virus threat, will require our particular attention this year.
Still, not counting the County Court judge’s election and assorted hyper-local CDD races, that’s seven contests out of a possible 19 in a year portrayed as the most contentious in living memory.
Our comparatively peaceful election landscape figures, at least in part, from Pasco’s increasingly rightward tilt. As of late last week, Republicans, who’ve held a registration plurality in the county for 17 years, owned a record 21,000-voter edge over Democrats.
Not unexpectedly, then, the GOP has a virtual lockdown in Pasco; New Port Richey-based Democratic state Rep. Amanda Murphy, also re-elected without opposition, is the lone exception. Pasco hasn’t elected a Democrat running countywide since Michael Cox bumped former pal Steve Simon off the county commission in a memorable revenge match in 2006.
Still, as occasional Democratic successes suggest, what recently prevailed here isn’t entirely about party advantages. Instead, it seems easily as likely what is afoot is a conviction among Pasco voters that their county, and to the extent they can influence it, their state, are on the right track.
That sense of well-being would naturally flow to their representatives. And why not?
In Tallahassee, a rising Speaker of the House (Richard Corcoran) and a probable Senate president (Wilton Simpson) give Pasco influence disproportionate to its size. And Rep. Danny Burgess, of Zephyrhills, carries an air of earnest concern for his constituents.
Back home, a unifying theme of openness, accessibility, accountability and citizen-service runs through all Pasco’s constitutional offices, and their elected chiefs deserve a mention: Sheriff Chris Nocco, Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley, Superintendent of Schools Kurt Browning, Tax Collector Mike Fasano, as well as the aforementioned O’Neil and Wells.
No, these acknowledgements aren’t intended to represent the views of all Pasco voters, just as right-track/wrong-track polls don’t attempt to ascertain what bugs those who are unhappy. But, if anywhere close to even 40 percent of us were genuinely upset with those who were re-elected by acclamation last month, you can bet they would have drawn some sort of organized resistance.
After all, if the presidential primaries taught us anything, it is the year for electoral arson. Come the general, the national friction may yet spark a local fire, but it will pass, and those who look after our day-to-day concerns will remain, unsinged.
Because that, evidently, is just how we like it.
Published July 13, 2016