I'll have more about his comments about domestic partners in an upcoming post, but it was his response to being asked by La Gaceta columnist Joe O'Neill why he remains a Republican that proved the most provocative.
It's Sharpe's moderate brand of Republicanism in this age of extremism that even prompts such a question. Certainly nobody would have accused the former Navy veteran of being a Democrat during his three bids for Congress in the Tampa area in the 1990s, especially in the wave election of 1994 that saw the Newt Gingrich Contract with America GOP win back the House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years. Sharpe narrowly lost his own race that year to longtime Tampa Democrat Sam Gibbons, who shortly afterward announced he would be retiring from office.
After swearing off politics following his third straight loss (to Jim Davis in 1996), Sharpe was talked back into running for local office in 2004. For the most part, his voting record was never that dissimilar to fellow Republicans like Jim Norman and Ken Hagan, both part of the GOP establishment that has ruled the county for the past decade and a half.
No, it was his out-front advocacy for public transit, particularly the proposed 2010 transit tax, that got him primaried and landed him on the outs with some local GOP heavyweights.
"I've always been a contrarian," Sharpe said when asked about his ideology. "I've always been the guy when I walk into a room, even though everybody is walking one way — and even though it looks like I will follow in line — [I might not]. ... I came from a military family, I believe in following orders, but I was also the guy in the back of the room not throwing rocks and stones, but asking, why are we doing that?"
Sharpe said that as a kid he grew up with a fear of Communism, particularly after he read Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn Gulag Archipelago, and that ultimately led to his fear of "big government," which continues to be a staple of American conservatism.
"When you read that, and you read about what government can do to a human being and how government can try to crush the spirit of an individual and to control. And the tyranny — whether it was Communism or fascism. And I thought — and still do — the willingness to stand up to that. I wanted to be part of fighting (that)" he told the audience at Maestro's inside the Straz Center, before insisting that he still believes in less government and less regulations.
As recently as two years ago Sharpe was resistant to any moves that would be perceived as friendly to the gay community, putting him at odds with his friend Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who has championed the GaYBOR business district and said the gay and lesbian community is an asset to the city.
That's why it surprised many when he came out and took the lead in trying to get a domestic partners registry passed in January.
But as somebody who talks constantly about improving transit in the area, and takes his lumps from Republicans and Tea Party activists for that advocacy, Sharpe sounded weary of having to battle against what he sees as sometimes inane arguments.
"I'm worried about my own party because we're rushing along with this no regulations (theme)," he continued. "I think the Democrats have shifted more toward the middle (on regulations). I'm hopeful that my own party will do that."
He added "at least you like transportation," appearing to mean Democrats. "We're crazy on transit. We think rail and bike paths and sidewalks are part of U.N. 21, and you’ll hear this," referring to Agenda 21, a favorite meme of Tea Party activists to refers to a U.N.-based plot to control Americans. "I don’t want to be disrespectful to anyone, but my goodness, this is not part of a U.N plot. Sidewalks and rail, it’s about being smart and sensible with our resources where young people want to live."
Restarting a serious discussion is on Sharpe's agenda starting this Wednesday at the next regularly scheduled Hillsborough Board of County Commissions meeting. It starts at 9 a.m.