Monday, January 28, 2013

After GOP commissioners reject domestic partner registry in Hillsborough, LGBT community considers next move

Posted By on Mon, Jan 28, 2013 at 2:36 PM

Al Higginbotham
  • Al Higginbotham
More than seven years ago, gays, lesbians and their straight allies rallied and marched in downtown Tamp after the Hillsborough County Commission voted to ban gay pride events. In an attempt to make the commissioners pay for their votes, LGBT advocates tried to pressure business leaders to boycott Tampa's hosting of the Super Bowl in January of 2009 — but that went nowhere.

Activists will tell you that Hillsborough County, demographically speaking, is very different than it was less than eight years ago. This is why some are saying that the vote by four GOP Commissioners to reject a domestic partner registry is a totally different ball game.

The leading gay rights group in the area, Equality Florida, announced on Monday that it will host a town hall meeting to discuss what happens next. The meeting takes place Tuesday, Feb. 5, at the Children's Board in Ybor City from 6-7:30 p.m.

A short message sent out today by the group's executive director, Nadine Smith, reads as follows:


Last week a majority on the Hillsborough County Commission put prejudice and ignorance ahead of protecting our families, but we are not going away. Please join us for a community town hall as fair-minded Hillsborough residents respond to the county commission's failure to advance Domestic Partnership benefits. Please spread the word.

The release names the four commissioners who voted against the proposal: Victor Crist, Sandy Murman, Al Higginbotham and Ken Hagan, as well as the three commissioners who supported the measure: Mark Sharpe, Les Miller and Kevin Beckner.

Smith then promises that "This fight isn't over."

Whether that means those GOP lawmakers will pay the price at the polls is extremely dubious. Two of those Republicans just won re-election in part because the Hillsborough County Democratic establishment couldn't field candidates against them.

Looking immediately at the 2014 election, that could mean Hagan and Higginbotham might have their no vote come back to haunt them. Hagan is eligible to run for re-election in his district wide seat, though some speculate that he won't.

Higginbotham is running for the District 7 seat, where it appears that nearly half of Hillsborough County's politicians have declared — or will soon declare — their bid to replace Mark Sharpe on the board. The race will no doubt be different than running in Eastern Hillsborough where Higginbotham defeated Mark Nash last fall.

Commissioner Murman was in a contested race against Democrat John Dingfelder in 2010, but Hillsborough Democrats were unable to recruit a candidate to challenge her in 2012. This means she doesn't go before the voters until 2016 — a veritable lifetime away in politics. Commissioner Crist was re-elected last year. He won as soon as he defeated Tea Party favorite Sharon Calvert because the Democrats did not field a candidate against him.

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