LAND O'LAKES — In her bid to keep her seat in Tuesday's GOP primary, Pasco school superintendent Heather Fiorentino has played up the fact that she's the only "lifelong Republican" in the race.
Her latest campaign flier, in which she attacks opponent Kurt Browning for being a Democrat for 26 years before switching in 2002, highlights that Fiorentino is a "Lifelong Republican (since 1976)."
It's not true.
Pasco County voter records show that Fiorentino registered as an Independent in July 1976, when she was 18 years old, and did not change her party to Republican until August 1982.
A supporter of hers pointed out the inconsistency.
"I support Fiorentino, but her claim to be a lifelong Republican may be inaccurate," Tallahassee political consultant Doug McAlarney wrote Friday in an email to the Times. "She and I ran in the GOP primary (for state House) in 1998, which she won. Unless my memory fails me, she was an Independent when she first registered to vote. I could be wrong, but don't think so."
Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley pulled Fiorentino's registration records from his department's archives to check. The faded documents, stored on microfilm, showed that Heather J. Rose registered "IND" on July 30, 1976, and filed a party change to "REP" on Aug. 6, 1982.
Asked to explain, Fiorentino said she might have originally registered as an Independent but "I thought it was for two months" at most. She recalled how, as a teen, she went to the Pasco County elections office and asked to register as a Republican, only to be told at the time that heavily Democratic Pasco didn't have any Republicans.
"I said I wanted to be the first," Fiorentino said, with a laugh.
She noted that all her family members are Republicans, and that she has consistently voted Republican. When running for partisan office, she always has stood as a Republican.
"I'm not going to argue with Brian Corley," Fiorentino said. "But I have a hard time believing that's accurate."
Browning expressed surprise at the revelation.
"She does make that claim that she's a lifelong Republican," he said. "If (McAlarney) hadn't come forth, I don't think anybody would have even questioned it."
In the end, Browning continued, it doesn't really matter.
"You know what? I don't care," he said, explaining that party affiliations have nothing to do with running a school district.
Browning, Fiorentino and Moon Lake handyman Ken Benson square off on Tuesday at the ballot box. Since the victor would face only token write-in opposition in November, Tuesday's winner is expected to be the next superintendent.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.