Friday, January 19, 2018
Politics

Anonymous robocalls anger Hernando County Commissioner John Druzbick

BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County Commissioner John Druzbick got the phone call about dinner time on Wednesday.

"I'm sorry I missed you," said a recorded male voice with a Southern twang. "I'm a citizen of Hernando County. Please don't vote for John Druzbick for another four years. He has voted three times for a tax increase."

"Hernando County has the second-highest unemployment in the state," the man continued. "John Druzbick has done nothing to help our struggling community. Don't vote for John Druzbick. Thank you."

Druzbick, who is seeking a second four-year term on the commission, said he understands that robocalls, as the recorded, automated-dial calls are known, are part of political campaigns. The content of the message didn't anger him, he said.

It was what was missing.

Florida law requires that calls made supporting or opposing a candidate identify the persons or organizations sponsoring them by stating either "paid for by" or "paid for on behalf of."

The anti-Druzbick call has no such information.

Druzbick, who lives near Weeki Wachee, said he has been flooded with calls from supporters upset about the calls.

"Whoever's behind it has to pay the price for this one because it's illegal," he said.

Bob Kanner, a longtime Druzbick supporter who received the call at his Weeki Wachee home about 7 p.m. Thursday, agreed.

"I've got somebody ordering me not to vote for John Druzbick, and I don't know who's on the other end," Kanner said Friday.

Liz Townsend, director of operations for the Hernando County Supervisor of Elections Office, said a voter called supervisor Annie Williams on Thursday complaining about a call to her business from Jason Sager's campaign. Sager is Druzbick's sole Republican opponent in the Aug. 14 primary election. Townsend said Williams called Sager to warn him to add the required disclaimer if his campaign was responsible for the calls.

The call Druzbick and Kanner received does not mention Sager. On Friday, Sager told the Tampa Bay Times his campaign is not placing any robocalls.

"I can unequivocally tell you beyond the shadow of a doubt it's not coming from my campaign," Sager said. "I don't even have the financial capability of pulling off robocalls."

Sager said his volunteers are making live calls to remind voters about the primary and to offer to send them information about Sager's candidacy.

"And they're ladies," he said.

But many are making the assumption that Sager is behind the anti-Druzbick calls. Sager said people attending a Republican Executive Committee meeting Thursday told him they had received "his" call.

The winner of the Republican primary will face Democrat Diane Rowden, no-party candidate Greg Sheldon and write-in candidate Tanya Marsh in the general election. Both Rowden and Sheldon said they had not heard about the calls until a Times reporter called them Friday afternoon.

The call to Kanner's house came from a phone number with a 503 area code, in northwest Oregon. A Times reporter who called the number got a recorded message:

"Hello, and thank you for calling back," the message said. "You have a received a marketing call from a commercial entity or its representative. If you would prefer to not receive calls from this organization in the future, press 1 at any time to be added to this organization's 'do not call' list."

The message repeated several times, then the call disconnected.

Violating the Florida law on disclaimers is a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Kanner said he plans to file a complaint, though he wasn't sure Friday which agency to contact.

Townsend said complaints may be lodged with the Florida Commission on Ethics or the Florida Elections Commission.

Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or [email protected]

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