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More enigmatic to some observers were the No votes from Murman and Crist, both considered to be more moderate.
Murman told CL it was a difficult vote for her, acknowledging that the gay rights movement has progressed tremendously over the past decade, but that she herself is a “deep Christian.” She says she’s now working with county staff to come up with a form and a process that would allow for health care surrogacy. “I believe no matter what somebody’s situation is, if they have health care needs and want their loved ones near them, that’s where I’m at,” while saying she was concerned that the creation of a registry would increase the size of government.
District 2 Commissioner Crist had been considered the swing vote.
In on- and off-the-record discussions with reporters in his primary campaign last summer against Tea Party GOP challenger Sharon Calvert, Crist described his record as more moderate than the typical Hillsborough Republican’s.
La Gaceta editor and publisher Patrick Manteiga said, “He would point out the work he did up in the Suitcase City area near USF … He comes across as selling himself as very Democratic.” Manteiga suggested in his newspaper columns that Crist was a viable choice for Democrats (who didn’t run a candidate against him). “I actually said that Democrats should consider him because this woman is a Tea Partier.” He now calls Crist’s No vote “tragic.”
Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Committee Chair Chris Mitchell is uncharitable in his assessment of Crist’s vote, saying it was done solely out of political considerations, and not in the best interests of the public. Saying that Crist is worried about being “primaried” by Ronda Storms, Mitchell said, “If he wants to put his political aspirations before the public or residents of this county, then he doesn’t deserve to hold that office.”
Crist dismisses that allegation, and tells CL that either way he voted on the issue he realized he was going to “piss off my friends and family,” but said he had problems with the process as much as the policy.
Those problems included the fact that the proposal by Sharpe was filed on the Friday before the MLK Day holiday weekend, “blindsiding” him and not allowing him to check with constituent groups before such an emotional vote.
During the Board’s debate on the issue, testimony was presented by Nick Kouris, business development director with Florida Blue, also known as Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Florida. Kouris told the board that policies like a domestic partner registry would attract well-educated, well-skilled employees that Hillsborough needs to attract, adding that it would enhance the county’s quality of life.
Crist, asked about that testimony later, acknowledged the existence of a negative attitude toward Hillsborough among the LGBT community, noting that Florida film commissioners have told him that the movie industry has reservations about working in the county.
But he is not convinced that the No vote on the domestic partner registry would contribute to that negative perception. “It all depends on how it’s stirred by the media.”
Crist says if certain parts of the proposal are amended, he’s open to supporting it, but the changes need to include “language that further provides comfort to some of the board members that are concerned with the marriage issue.”
In endorsing a domestic partner registry for Hillsborough County, the conservative Tampa Tribune editorial page wrote that “more and more local officials now see domestic partner registries as a way to not only help citizens but to ensure their communities appeal to businesses that value diversity.”
But other than a letter from the Westshore Alliance’s Ron Rotella endorsing the plan, the Tampa Bay area business community was absent during this debate. Some analysts say that exposes a lack of strategic planning among organizers.
A spokesperson for the Tampa Bay Partnership told CL that they have not weighed in on the issue, nor have they been asked. Similarly, Bob Rohrlack, Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, said he has not been contacted by any groups about supporting a domestic partner registry.
Hillsborough activists might follow the example of their colleagues in Orange County, which has an even bigger Republican majority on its county commission (6 Republicans to 1 Democrat).
Orange County offers domestic partner health benefits for its employees, and over a year ago passed a domestic partner registry.
Randy Stephens is the executive director of Orlando’s Gay Community Center. He says getting letters in support of a DPR from the president of Rollins College and the CEO of Darden Restaurants (the only Fortune 500 company in the area) was significant in turning around a GOP-led board.
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