BROOKSVILLE — Gov. Charlie Crist will have at least two candidates to consider as he decides who will replace Hernando County Sheriff and Rep.-elect Richard Nugent.
Assistant State Attorney Don Barbee said Friday that he sent an application to the governor's office for the post that Nugent will leave Dec. 31.
"I'll put my qualifications up against anybody's in Hernando County," Barbee said.
Nugent, a Republican, was elected Tuesday to the 5th District congressional seat in a landslide. He sent a letter of resignation to Crist this week effective Dec. 31 and recommended that the governor appoint 47-year-old Operations Chief Mike Maurer to serve the rest of Nugent's term, which ends in 2012.
Maurer, who has been with the Sheriff's Office since 1988, is certainly qualified, Barbee said. But Barbee said he felt confident he could do a better job as sheriff.
He acknowledged, though, that he's a long shot against the pick of a current sheriff resigning in good standing.
"If it is an open process and they'll sit and interview me and listen to my ideas, I'd love that," Barbee said. "But if it's going to be more of a political appointment than a qualifications-based appointment, I can't overcome that."
Barbee said he also plans to run for sheriff in 2012.
As of Friday afternoon, Crist's office had not received Barbee's application or any others, said deputy press secretary Chris Cate. The appointment process varies, but Crist has interviewed candidates for similar positions in the past, Cate said.
Barbee's decision doesn't come as a major surprise. He told the St. Petersburg Times in May that he would run if Nugent resigned in time for a special election to be held to fill his seat. Barbee said he'd been asked by employees within the agency to consider it. He said he and Maurer are on friendly terms and that he told Maurer at that time he would run in a special election.
The month prior, facing health issues, Brooksville Republican Ginny Brown-Waite asked Nugent to run for the District 5 seat she has held since 2002. For a special election for sheriff to take place, Nugent needed to resign by September. Instead, he decided to stay on the job.
Barbee, 42, served seven-plus years as a police officer patrolling the streets in Fairfield, Conn. He worked as a school resource officer and DARE instructor.
At the same time, he earned a bachelor's degree in political science and criminal justice at Sacred Heart University in 1994, and a master's degree in sociology and criminal behavior from Southern Connecticut State University in 1996.
From there, Barbee enrolled in law school at Quinnipiac University. He retired as a police officer in 1997 before he came south to study his last year at the University of Florida's College of Law.
After graduation in 1998, he joined a private firm in Tampa delving into complex labor-law cases. A police officer at heart, he went back to carrying a badge and gun within two years, joining the FBI in March 2000 as a special agent in the Boston bureau. He investigated insurance fraud, organized crime and money laundering. He put his law degree to work as the division's legal adviser.
After the birth of their second child, Barbee and his wife, Loretta, moved to Florida, where he joined the 5th Circuit's State Attorney's Office in 2002, beginning in the Lake County branch before transferring to Brooksville in 2004. He took his current post in 2008.
Barbee, who lives in Spring Hill, also works as an instructor at the Criminal Justice Academy at the Withlacoochee Technical Institute in Inverness and is an adjunct professor at Saint Leo University.
Maurer, in an interview Thursday with the Times, said he was excited by the prospect of serving the next two years as sheriff and said he would likely run for a full term in 2012.
On Friday, Maurer called Barbee "a good guy" who does his job well.
"I certainly give him credit for that, but it's a whole different ball game, a whole different set of skills and different levels (at the Sheriff's Office)," Maurer said. "I've worked in almost all of those."
Nugent said he's confident in his recommendation.
"My choice is Mike Maurer because of his 22 years of experience at the Hernando County Sheriff's Office," Nugent said. "He knows this agency inside and out, and I think it would be best for the agency and the community in general."
Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.