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Supervisor of elections race heats up in Hernando

BROOKSVILLE — In an election year that promises plenty of fireworks in the crowded high-profile races for County Commission, one contest that is typically cool is already starting to simmer.

Who could have predicted that the battle for supervisor of elections would generate such heat so early in the summer?

So far, Republican challenger Shirley Anderson has been targeting incumbent Annie Williams, a Democrat, with regular electronic assaults. She has criticized her handling of the January state primary and even slapped at her for spending too much on postage.

Then there is Gus Guadagnino, who is being grumbled about simply for being in the race at all. A former Republican, this prominent business owner is running as a no-party-affiliation candidate.

Aside from announcing his candidacy last month, Guadagnino, 54, has kept quiet in a race that so far entails Anderson, 50, firing off numerous news releases and taking digs at Williams, 52.

Once she qualified in April by petition, Anderson, who lives in Spring Hill, has made sure to keep tabs on what she deems an incompetent incumbent.

A native Floridian like Williams, Anderson ran a construction business with her former husband in Polk County before going to work for U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite in 2003 as a district director.

Anderson says she hopes to increase voter education and outreach in the county.

She added that residents should not worry about her connections to Brown-Waite, who toyed with the idea of running for supervisor in 2000 but opted to stay in the Florida Senate. If elected, Anderson said she will resign her job in Brown-Waite's office.

"If I was satisfied with the job being done, I wouldn't be doing this," Anderson said. "I love my job, and the people of the 5th congressional district.

"But I just found things lacking, based on my experience with election supervisors in other counties, and I felt that Hernando deserved better and needed a change."

During the January primary, Anderson called out Williams on what she termed a failure of the basic duties of the office. She said that when a voting machine broke at the busy precinct at Timber Pines, Williams didn't send anyone to fix it for more than four hours.

Last month, Anderson claimed that Williams mailed out thousands of sample ballots at first-class postage rates rather than at discounted nonprofit ones. This "blunder" and "another error in what is a long string of errors by the current supervisor" cost taxpayers about $8,400 in wasted postage, she said.

"I think we need to look for ways to save in all branches of government," Anderson said. "Big or little, these things mean a lot to taxpayers. They do to me."

Williams, who has worked in the elections office for about 30 years, responded with what she called "the whole story."

She explained that 416 of the 67,000 sample ballots mailed out to Hernando County voters were sent at the first-class rate, 41 cents at the time.

With an earlier primary in January, and the possibility that the ballots might not be delivered until after the election, she made the decision to mail them at the full rate. The total to send all the ballots was $21,063.58.

"Those were mostly pieces mailed overseas and were the only ones we paid full price on," Williams said. "Everything else was discounted at a lower rate."

She added that under the Help America Vote Act of 2002, federal grant dollars are used to print and mail sample ballots and do not come from county funds. Williams added that her office is applying for a nonprofit permit; previously, she had been told the office was not eligible.

"In 2004, my staff was informed that our office did not qualify to apply for a nonprofit postal permit," she said. "Recently, I was informed that the nonprofit status qualifications changed."

As she did during her 2000 campaign when she took office, Williams emphasizes her familiarity with election laws and experience in the office. At the age of 17, she started working after school in the elections office and worked her way up. By 2000, she had been assistant supervisor of elections for seven years.

In that election, she defeated Guadagnino and replaced her longtime boss, Ann Mau.

Guadagnino's campaign account at the time was three times what Williams raised. This time around, Williams finds herself in familiar territory. She has raised $450; Anderson has stockpiled $20,000. Guadagnino has not raised any money yet. Both he and Williams said they plan to hold fundraising events soon.

While he missed the election four years ago to devote time to his business, Joni Industries, Guadagnino said now the time is right to bring change.

Acknowledging that his candidacy has angered some Republicans who fear he could draw away support that otherwise would go to Anderson, he said that he's running without a party affiliation to avoid bias in a job that should be approached in the same way.

He hopes to reform the office and encourage voters to be more involved.

"This puts me out there by myself, without a strong party behind me," he said. "After running the first time, more people questioned what party I belonged to instead of my qualifications."

With experience in business and leadership, the longtime community member, who moved to Spring Hill from New York in 1985, said that running for supervisor of elections is just an extension of his service to Hernando.

"I'm not just out for the political season," he said. "I want to do what I can to help Hernando County prosper and flourish."

Supervisor of elections race heats up in Hernando 07/05/08 [Last modified: Friday, July 11, 2008 8:53pm]
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