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Hernando Sheriff Nugent should add "retired" to title

Want to learn more about Sheriff Richard Nugent's run for Congress?

Okay, then, on his campaign website, you can "Meet Sheriff Nugent'' and read about his 26 years at the Hernando County Sheriff's Office. You can find out that he was "elected Sheriff in 2002 and again in 2004 and 2008.''

And if you want to "Support Sheriff Nugent,'' you can click on the sheriff's badge of none other than Sheriff Nugent.

All in all, there's a feeling he slipped up by occasionally referring to himself by his real first name, "Rich,'' rather than his adopted one, "Sheriff,'' and that he couldn't manage to somehow work the S-word into the web address: nugent forcongress.com.

His Democratic opponent, Jim Piccillo, thinks that this display of his title and especially of his donation icon/ badge is a violation of the federal Hatch Act, which prohibits public employees whose departments receive federal funds from using their "official authority or influence to interfere with or affect the results of an election or nomination.''

After talking to a representative from the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, I don't think so. And if it is a violation, it probably won't be for long. Nugent said he decided Thursday to take the icon off the site to "avoid any gnashing of teeth.''

Okay, but it does make you want to look again at why Nugent is so determined to hang on to his job as sheriff.

In case you haven't kept track, Piccillo previously said Nugent is shortchanging taxpayers by dividing his time between running the department and campaigning.

Nugent says he owes it to the public to remain in his post during this difficult budget season and the takeover of the Hernando County Jail, which has long been operated by the private Corrections Corporation of America.

From Nugent's website, though, this is also clear: "Sheriff'' is his political brand.

Remember, as respected as Nugent is inside Hernando's borders, he's little known in most of 5th Congressional District, which stretches from Interstate 4 to Levy County.

But every voter is aware that sheriffs are among the most powerful officials in their home counties. And this is a conservative district and a conservative time for Republicans. In the general election, and even more so in the primary, a crime fighter is a good thing to be.

"Retired Sheriff'' doesn't quite have the same ring, advertising that he's no longer the guy in charge. When you go to the supermarket, you buy Tide, not formerly Tide.

Nugent disagrees, saying that having the "Ret. in front of my title'' wouldn't make any difference.

Okay, then go for it, by all means. Retire.

Because, whether or not he acknowledges it, Nugent carries a stigma for the undemocratic way U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite virtually handed him the nomination — telling him she wouldn't seek re-election, and keeping it secret from his potential opponents until after the qualifying deadline had passed.

The way things stand now, his own succession will do even more to sideline voters and deepen that stigma. Instead of an election to choose the next sheriff, he or she will be appointed by a governor relying heavily, no doubt, on Nugent's advice.

You would think this would offend Nugent's sense of fairness and justice. Because, just in case it isn't clear by now, the man is a sheriff.

Hernando Sheriff Nugent should add "retired" to title 06/03/10 [Last modified: Thursday, June 3, 2010 6:14pm]
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