Hines defeats tea party challenger McLendon

Charles Hines and his family celebrate his Republican primary victory on Aug. 14/via Facebook

Attorney Charles Hines defeated tea party challenger Randy McLendon in Tuesday’s Republican County Commission primary, besting him with 59 percent of the vote.

The campaign was largely respectful, with few fireworks or low blows — a reflection of the many policy agreements between the two candidates. When the moderator at an Aug. 2 debate asked Hines and McLendon a series of 10 quick yes-or-no questions, the two candidates gave the same answer to eight of them.

One of the answers they disagreed on? Whether they would accept political action committee money. Hines said yes, he had received money from a handful of local PACs, befitting his stance as the leading fundraiser in the race. As of last week, he had more than $40,000 to spend; McLendon had slightly more than $9,000.

McLendon, who founded the Englewood tea party group Taking Our Country Back in 2009, was trying to ride right-wing grassroots support to a spot on the commission. He refused to back down from his group’s at-times-controversial rhetoric (saying Obama officials are “intimately associated with communists and socialists,” for example) and compared his challenge to Hines as akin to Marco Rubio’s challenge to Charlie Crist.

Hines faces write-in candidate Brian Slider in the general election. Unlike the write-in candidate in the supervisor of elections race, Slider did not qualify for the campaign just to close the primary to non-Republicans. He has been actively campaigning. Still, he faces great odds as a write-in alternative.

That means a big shakeup on the County Commission. Hines will be replacing outgoing Commissioner Jon Thaxton, who has earned a reputation as an independent environmental champion during his 12-year tenure on the board.

At a June Sarasota County Council of Neighborhood Associations-hosted debate, Hines discussed the county’s Environmentally Sensitive Lands Protection Program, which sets aside property for conservation purposes. Hines said he would support buying new land only “if it’s truly environmentally sensitive and the entire public will benefit from protecting this property.”

In a subsequent News Leader interview, Hines argued that the county should research ways to make ESLPP properties “more income-producing,” “rather than just letting them stay vacant.”