As Pasco Sheriff's office flexes muscle in House race, Weatherford mulls residency requirement
Bill Gunter touted his ties to the Pasco County Sheriff’s office on Monday in his bid to replace Mike Fasano in the State House District 36, which covers western New Port Richey.
He was endorsed by Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco. Gunter, a presbyterian minister, happens to work at the sheriff’s office as a chaplain. Gunter’s main sponsor for office, Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Trinity, also works there. Slated to become House Speaker in 2016, Corcoran is the outside counsel for the sheriff’s office, representing the office in employment and union matters.
Also in Gunter’s corner is Jeremiah Hawkes, the son of Taj Mahal judge Paul Hawkes (and, like Jeremiah, a Corcoran confidante) who also works for Nocco as the in-house counsel for the sheriff’s office. As if to leave no doubts where the Pasco Sheriff’s office stands on the issue of Gunter’s candidacy, Hawkes retweeted Nocco’s endorsement on Monday.
But don’t start icing the champagne for Gunter just yet. The primary election isn’t until Sept. 17 and at least one other Republican, Jim Mathieu, the county GOP chairman and former New Port Richey city attorney, says he’s running. The general election is Oct. 15 if the Democrats bother to field a candidate.
Then there’s the matter of where Gunter actually lives. Florida law requires representatives to live in the districts they represent, but Gunter lives about five miles away in District 37, Corcoran’s district. Gunter, 43, says he intends to move to a rental by Election Day, but he told the Times/Herald last week that he would move back to the house he’s lived in since 2003 if he were to lose in 2014. (Unlike Gunter, Mathieu actually lives in District 36).
Ordinarily, that may not be that big of a deal. But this year, Republicans have raised a big stink about where lawmakers live, which just happened to embarrass several Democrats who have addresses in other districts that seem more like their actual homes.
Before Gunter’s candidacy, Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford, along with Senate President Don Gaetz, asked the Secretary of State to conduct a review of all voter registrations by Sept. 1 for lawmakers. Weatherford and Gaetz also asked legal counsel in both chambers to clarify residency requirements.
On Monday, Weatherford called Gunter a “great candidate” who faced a residency problem not unlike what faces many other candidates.
“It’s not uncommon when they first run,” said Weatherford. (Actually, Gunter faced a similar residency issue last year when he ran for a Pasco County commission seat).
When asked about Gunter’s plan to move back if he loses, Weatherford demurred.
“I can’t speak to that,” he said.
But Gunter’s situation does highlight the need for better clarification on residency requirements, Weatherford said. He hopes to have a clarification by the end of the year.
“What we have to do in the House and Senate is establish what that residency status is and abide by it,” Weatherford said.