Some days I wish I wasn’t the media.

When you are “The Media” and you are supposed to remain objective, it can be tough. Even writing for a paper like The Gabber, I remain aware that people read what I write and believe it, irregardless of my attempts at veracity (or not, although I attempt both objectivity and facts).

That’s why I have a blog, though, so that when something really pisses me off, I have another vehicle. It keeps the paid reporting honest. Now, a lot of what I get paid to write has more to do with Little League and fish fries than it does anything of consequence, and those of you who know me well and recently know that I feel that almost nothing has consequence, especially things political. That’s what five years as a public servant taught me: what you think matters rarely does.

So it surprised me when I profiled our Pinellas County Commission candidates this week and actually got angry at our incumbent, Calvin Harris, and the media. As per usual with me, there’s a bit of back story involved but I’ll try to keep it short.

Not too terribly long ago in a land far away, I worked for Pinellas County Utilities in what they then called “Communicatins Solutions” (bureaucrat for PR), and what I now refer to most often as “The FreakShow”. I spent about five years there; for four of them I shared a hallway with one Norman Roche. Norm made me laugh, but I can’t say I always liked him so much, and I don’t think he trusted me very much or cared for me. That only matters because I want to stress that I have no bias because this guy WAS or IS my friend; I’m disclosing only that I knew him before he publicly threw his hat into the local political arena. The freakshow was a pretty fucked up place -unless you’ve worked in government, I promise you that you really have no idea. Think of the chick lit book/movie The Devil Wears Prada, multiply it by a factor of about 357, and then throw a few rabid tigers in there while the keepers all go for beers with their colleague from Lowry Park Zoo, and you’ve got about HALF the idea. I am not kidding (book to follow when the “C. Witch” quits and what I write can’t hurt her). The fact that someone like me lasted five years is a true testament to how hard it is to fire a government employee. Anyway, all through this, Norm often talked about running for County Commission. I have to say I thought it was big talk- he had been there for years and had a pretty good salary, office, benefits package, and three kids, so why would he leave? *He would have to quit to run, County rules say… sort of.*

Any-hoo, Norm ran for Commission last election. He lost fantastically, although I looked at what he spent as compared to his opponent and I’m amazed he did as well as he did. I also read a lot of the press on him and got the distinct impression the Times didn’t much like him. When elections opened up again this year, Norm “try, try again” Roche once again threw his hat in the political arena. This time I paid a little more attention, and I noticed that not only did our “award-winning” paper of record not seem to like Mr. Roche so much, they seemed to go out of their way not to print anything at all about him. Now, because I knew Norm and because I work as a reporter, I am well aware of his quotability. That is to say, he gives ANY reporter a lot of good quotes- I use this with one particular Gulfport council member who isn’t the brightest crayon in the box but almost always says something that I want to quote him on, often because I can’t believe that a politician could a) actually be dumb enough to admit this, or b) it isn’t the typical doublespeak and it breaks up what could become a rather boring article.

So why didn’t they use any of those quote, even if they only used them to try and discredit him? It’s ALMOST like they didn’t want to get his name out there at all lest someone remember it when they got to the polls.

The race Norm has entered is an at-large district, which means that everyone who reads The Gabber and can vote will have the opportunity to vote for or against him. It is the only such County Commission seat that will come up this year, and the race between Harris (incumbent) and Roche (Norman) will get decided in this Tuesday’s primary. So I pitched the story to Ken, my editor, which I think shocked the hell out of him because I’m the chick in the office going “Hey, have we got something going on in Lebanon, or was that just a weird dream?” Once Ken found his bearings, he listened to what I had to say and gave me the go ahead.

I asked both Calvin Harris and Norm four questions (I also asked the write-in candidate, Brian Roche, the same four questions, and we printed them all together, but since no one gets to write Brian in until November {as opposed to this Tuesday} I’m not including him in this entry). If you want the full text, pick up the August 31 paper. I’m just using a few direct quotes to drive a point home.

One question read: “Why should Gulfport residents vote for you?” Harris gave a list of highly polished, politicized answers that made me cringe (this was one of the few commisioners I LIKED while I worked at the County. I liked him right up until I did this interview). One point he made helped me realize how out of tune this guy was with people in Gulfport:

“I grew up in Clearwater, so I know what it is to live in a small town.”

Gulfport has about 13,000 residents spread out over less than three square miles. Clearwater has over 100,000 residents and encompasses almost 40 miles.


“Because it’s change. If they’re happy and satisfied with the way things are going, put the same folks back in. But we cannot put the same folks back in over and over again and expect things to change.”

Which is not to say he understands Gulfport, but at least he understands it enough and is smart enough to know it ain’t Clearwater. I also admire his refusal to try and build a false rapport, and respect that more than Harris’ comment.

The other question that really got me dealt with the dual referendum (stay awake, I’ll make it short). To summarize (this is not the journalistic definition, so don’t crucify me here), the County wants to remove the cities’ right to set their own standards and opt out of county wide laws if their residents disagree. This has become such a major sticking point that 21 of the 24 cities in Pinellas County have filed a lawsuit against the County. That tells me that most of the people in Pinellas County don’t want the dual referendum eliminated, or at least that the people they have chosen to represent their town think it’s bad for the City. The County Commissioners answer only to the citizens and it is their responsibility to represent the wants of the citizens once the citizens make those wants known.

So I asked our candidates how they felt about it. Here’s what they said:

Harris: “I think a lot of this is being dramatized by politics. I don’t think it’s worth the lawsuits. I don’t think one way or another it would make a difference. We’ve got bigger issues we’ve got to discuss. I would rather see the focus on Penny for Pinellas than on the dual referendum.”

Keep in mind that the citizens have told the County that they DO feel it makes a difference and they DON’T want it. But I guess he knows better than roughly 850,000 people, right?

Norm Roche: “Absolutely insane. I’m against every bit of the charter review… If your leadership cannot sit down and compromise on what’s best for the county, the answer isn’t changing the charter- it’s changing the leadership.”

And I hate to say this, I really do… but I agree with Norm.

The Weekly Planet has endorsed Harris over Roche, saying that Harris is black and has basically played well with white people. Tell me, if a black person doesn’t want discrimination because they’re black, why is THIS ok? Vote for me because I’m black? How about “vote for me because I have ethics”, “vote for me because I respond to what citizens want”, or even “vote for me because I want the job”? But, really, voting for someone because of the color of their skin is as STUPID as voting for them as NOT voting for them because of the color of their skin.

Also… and I’m getting off on a tangent here… I seriously doubt that a man whose first job was as a teacher, not a clerk at the Walgreens with the bars around it in the ghetto (right around the corner from me, thank you very much), seriously doubt that a man who has as much education as he does (Ed. D., which, not a pH. D., I’ll admit, but still…), seriously doubt that a man raised even in the slummiest slums of Clearwater (which I don’t know that he was), can do a damn thing for MY neighborhood (Bartlett Park, Google it if you have a second). And I resent like hell the implication that because his skin is darker than mine he understands what my neighborhood needs. Leave that to my local officials, thank you very much. At least they get out here. When’s the last time you drove through Bartlett Park, Calvin? Like HELL I want to give your Commission the power to regulate my street.

Which is not to say Roche knows any better. But at least he’s not PRETENDING he does.

The Planet (our alleged “alternative paper”, which makes my opinion, what, treason?) further worsens their endorsement by saying that Roche “chose this fight, and for what reason?”

Huh? WTF, mates? Doesn’t ANY challenger choose their fight? Is that a bad thing? Isn’t that what we based this sham of a democrarcy ON?

See, this is what pisses me off. And it only scratches the surface of why I encourage you to do what I am about to do, about to encourage you to do what I NEVER dreamed I would do when I worked with Norm Roche.

Vote for Norm Roche this Tuesday. Please. He’s arrogant, he talks more than I care to listen, and yes, most certainly he, like every OTHER politcian in the WORLD, has an agenda. He hasn’t told me this, and if he reads this he will disagree. But after listening to Harris’ opinions and reading the biased reporting from our “paper of record” AND our alleged “alternative” paper, I feel like the media has an agenda of their own: one that involves keeping Harris in office.

You guys KNOW me. I’m not political. I generally don’t think it matters. It’s all bullshit, really. I believe this as strongly as what I say next.

But I really feel like Norm Roche is our best and only choice. Harris is part of the machine now. I can’t believe that’s the conclusion I’ve come to, but here I am.

Vote Norm. Please.

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I write. I take pictures. I love my dog. I love Florida. My 2016 book, 'Backroads of Paradise' did really well for the publisher and now I feel a ridiculous amount of pressure to finish the second book.