Saturday, April 21, 2018
Politics

Bowen: With talk of commission run, have the Wells run dry?

Debbie Wells has a problem.

Her last name.

Wells, the former wife of retiring Property Appraiser Mike Wells Sr., is considering a run for the District 1 County Commission seat now held by four-term incumbent Ted Schrader. The commissioner plans to vacate his seat next year and has filed candidacy papers to run for property appraiser in 2016.

The maneuvering came to light last week, stunning most of Pasco County's political establishment and simultaneously provoking a backlash aimed primarily at people named Wells, though Schrader did not escape unscathed.

"It's the typical nepotism we see here in Pasco County,'' said Rachel O'Conner, 30, of Wesley Chapel, the only announced candidate for the District 1 commission seat.

Her reaction is to be expected. She ran against Schrader in 2012 and presumed she would be doing likewise next year. Instead, she has been hand-delivered a campaign strategy to portray Debbie Wells, if she decides to run, as a political neophyte seeking a coronation.

"We need a fresh perspective, and we need someone committed to this community and only to this community,'' O'Conner said.

The timing for Debbie Wells could be problematic. The property appraiser's son, Mike Wells Jr., is about to complete his first year on the commission after his successful election in 2014. If Debbie Wells runs, she would be seeking to serve alongside her former stepson in a county where her ex-husband has been a dean of elected public service.

Consider that scenario against the national political landscape and the talk of familial dynasties.

Clinton. Bush.

"People are against that,'' said Randy Maggard, chairman of the Republican Executive Committee.

Okay. So, what about Wells?

"Just right here in Pasco, I think it can become an issue. I don't know if it will, but I can see (it) happening,'' Maggard said.

Bill Bunting, Pasco's Republican state committeeman, was less ambiguous.

"People are talking about this already; they're not happy with what's transpired,'' Bunting said. "I think there will be a push-back.''

Remember, these sentiments are coming from Republicans. So, what's the loyal opposition think?

"I think it's gong to be very interesting to watch the other side,'' said Mike Ledbetter, chairman of the Pasco Democratic Executive Committee.

Debbie Wells said she has been thinking about running for public office for about four years, her political interests stimulated by her work on the 2012 re-election campaign of Mike Wells Sr.

"It got my awareness that, at the right point in time with my leadership and business background, I might want to run myself,'' she said, adding that she's still three to four weeks away from a definitive decision.

The Wells brand is well known in Pasco. Wells Sr. served on the Pasco County Commission from 1984 to 1992, during which time he helped lead the charge for a voter-approved tax to build a network of parks and libraries. He won the property appraiser's seat in 1996 and never faced a contested re-election until 2012. Wells Jr. capitalized on that name recognition and his long-standing ties to the west Pasco community to unseat incumbent Commissioner Henry Wilson in a winner-take-all Republican primary 15 months ago.

But whether that name recognition, and the political contributions that accompany it, will translate to votes for a Wells not named Mike remains to be seen.

Bunting, meanwhile, doesn't plan to let Schrader escape without political opposition.

He said he planned to ask politically active Realtor Greg Armstrong, who is heading up the ongoing effort to beautify U.S. 19, about a potential candidacy for property appraiser. Armstrong is married to School Board member Cynthia Armstrong. In 2007, he ran for Circuit Court clerk before withdrawing from the race more than a year before the election.

Told of Bunting's sentiments, Armstrong said he had no interest in a candidacy for property appraiser or any other office.

"The only thing I'm running for,'' Armstrong said, "is my life.''

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