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Florida Votes 2016: Hernando County Commission District 1

On Nov. 8, Hernando County voters will choose who they want to be their next county commissioner for District 1.

The Democratic candidate is Jimmy Lodato and the Republican candidate is Nick Nicholson. County commissioners serve four-year terms.

Jimmy Lodato

Jimmy Lodato is a 74-year-old Florida native who has lived in Hernando County for 17 years. He attended the University of Tampa briefly before entering the business community and, at the age of 33, he started his own brokerage corporation. He retired five years later in 1981 after a career of representing companies such as Polaroid, Duracell and Westinghouse.

Lodato decided to dedicate his time to public service after his wife got breast cancer. Once her treatment was finished, she urged Lodato to use his business knowledge and contacts with corporations to help provide jobs and economic growth within the community.

“People ask me all the time, ‘Jimmy, why are you doing this?’ I [say] because our parents and grandparents made our lives better for us, and it’s our responsibility to do the same for the next generation.”

Lodato has never been in politics before and said he’s not running for personal reasons because at his age, he has nothing to gain.

“I feel that I’m inspired by God to do what I have to do,” he said. “I’m a spiritual person, not a religious person – but we all have inspirations of what needs to be done, and if we sit back and not do it, then we’re leaving a task undone that we should’ve completed.”

Nick Nicholson

Nick Nicholson, 69, is District 1’s current county commissioner and has served one term after being elected in 2012. Before moving to Hernando County, where he has lived for the last 30 years, Nicholson received two master’s degrees – one from the University of Kentucky in civil engineering and another from the University of South Carolina in business administration.

He started his own business in 1991, Nicholson Engineering, and is also a disabled United States Air Force veteran.

Nicholson said he’s the best candidate because of his experience, educational background and conservative voting record.

“We’ve done so many great things – when I got elected, they weren’t tearing down any unsafe buildings. They tore down 20 unsafe buildings last year.”

Nicholson said that while he doesn’t think people should be one-issue voters, if residents don’t want their taxes raised, then they should vote for him. He said he has voted against tax increases for the last four years.

Where they stand on…

Medicinal marijuana

Both candidates are in favor of legalizing medicinal marijuana and decriminalizing possession in small amounts.

Nicholson said he’s in favor of medicinal marijuana because of its benefits to the people.

“I mean, now people have to go to another state to get something for their health,” he said. “It almost passed the last time, and I think that’s a mistake that our republican legislature hasn’t done.”

As for small amounts of marijuana, Nicholson said he doesn’t think people should be put in jail but should rather be given community service. Lodato said that there are too many people in jail right now for ridiculous marijuana charges.

“It happened years ago with liquor – it’s the same thing with marijuana,” he said.

Lodato said that while he does not use marijuana, his wife did have breast cancer.

“Medicinal marijuana could have saved her from a tremendous amount of side affects that she suffered through for the last five years of it.”

Minimum wage

Nicholson said he doesn’t think that either the state or federal minimum wages should be raised because competition dictates what you can pay someone.

“It’s like a dog chasing its tail – what good does it do?” he said. “That’s what the job dictates.”

Lodato, on the other hand, thinks the minimum wage level is too low.

“People talk about a living wage, and you’ll never be able to get a living wage off a minimum wage,” he said. “But what we should do, is we should be training and making available education to those who want to educate themselves so that they don’t stay in a minimum wage category for the rest of their lives.”

Open government

Both candidates agree that Florida’s open government law makes the government more efficient.

Nicholson said that we all benefit from having open records, and said he has a good relationship with a reporter at the Tampa Bay Times and always gives them a heads-up on things happening within the county.

Lodato said he thinks everything in government should be out in the open, and the problem is bureaucrats who try to circumvent the system.

“What we have is a population of youth who are disgusted with what’s going on in our economy and in our government,” he said. “The young people have more of a voice than they think, but they’re not mobilizing. I’d love to see our youth mobilize and understand that they are the future of this country and no one else.”

This story is part of our guide, Florida Votes 2016, leading up to the Nov. 8 election. Check your voter registration status here.

Courtney is a reporter for WUFT News and can be contacted by calling 904-662-5964 or emailing court1115@ymail.com.