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Two write-in candidates dig in for November election

Volunteer Way needs a freezer truck. AMIKids, which lost a key state grant this year, is struggling to maintain its alternative school for troubled children.

State Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, wants to give these groups and other nonprofits more than $40,000 in campaign money remaining from his bid to win the GOP primary for Florida House District 36. But he can't do it now.

The reason?

He can't close his campaign account because he still faces a write-in opponent in the Nov. 6 election.

The name of write-in House candidate Joseph Verola won't appear on the ballot. Neither will the name of Kathy Lambert, a write-in candidate for Pasco schools superintendent. But both are continuing their bids as the lone challengers to big-name, well funded candidates.

"It is not American to have only one person running," said Lambert, a Dade City resident who filed as one of two write-in candidates for superintendent of schools. Former County Commissioner Ed Collins, who filed as a write-in to limit that primary to Republican voters only, dropped out after the Aug. 14 election.

Kurt Browning, Pasco's former supervisor of elections and Florida's secretary of state, won the superintendent's primary with about 67 percent of the vote. Browning estimates he'll have about $7,700 left when all expenses are paid.

Verola, who earlier said he filed in order to close the House primary, said he is remaining in the race because he's a Democrat, and voters should have a choice. (Voter registration records show him as registered non-partisan from 2003 until May of this year, when he switched to the Democratic Party. He filed as a write-in in April.)

So why didn't he just run as a Democrat from the start and have his name appear on the ballot?

"I got in late in the game," he said.

Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley estimates it will cost at least "several thousand dollars more" for the write-in candidates to remain in their races.

"If someone is a duly qualified write-in candidate, we have to hand-count the number of write-in votes," Corley said. "That takes up staff time."

With about 75 percent turnout expected, that's a lot of counting, although the House race doesn't affect all precincts. Corley said the ballot, which will be two pages because of the 11 amendments proposed by the Legislature, won't be affected by the two extra races.

Corley stressed that the write-ins have "every legal right to participate in the process" and he doesn't want to appear to be criticizing them for it.

Verola said his decision to remain in the race has nothing to do with Fasano's defeated primary opponent, James Mathieu, who also happens to be Verola's next-door neighbor. He said Fasano called him a couple of weeks ago and told him he could donate the money to charity if Verola quit the race.

"It was like he was trying to bribe me to get out," he said. "I resent it."

Fasano described the conversation as "cordial" and said he merely relayed the facts.

"I told him he had every legal right to stay in," Fasano said. He said he explained to Verola that only Fasano's name would appear on the ballot, and that it would cost taxpayers more money to count votes. Fasano said Verola is "not doing anything wrong" by remaining in the race.

Lambert said she has received a handful of calls urging her to drop out of the race and let Browning begin his transition into the superintendent's job.

One caller told Lambert that she was costing taxpayers time and money.

Lambert said she knows her odds are slim, but she's standing on principle. Plenty of independents and Democrats didn't get a chance to vote in the primary for superintendent, she told Browning when she let him know she was sticking with her candidacy.

Since most people have already deemed him superintendent-elect, and she has no money or private mode of transportation to mount an aggressive campaign, Lambert said it shouldn't be too tough for Browning to win.

"I'm cautiously optimistic," Browning said, adding that he's done campaigning and he's moving forward with his plans for taking office. "She still has the opportunity to get votes."

Lambert's attitude draws a sharp contrast to that of Collins, the write-in candidate who dropped out the day after the primary.

"These people who are staying in are wasting their time," Collins said. "Take a look at what happened in the primary. How a write-in candidate thinks they can go against someone who got 67 percent is insanity as far as I'm concerned."

He said those who remain as write-ins when opponents won overwhelmingly "are just obstructionists."

But Lambert disagrees.

She said her parents served in the military to protect the country and its freedoms, and one of the greatest freedoms is to vote in a contested election.

"I don't think the voters will mind the price of democracy," she said.

Times staff writer Jeffrey S. Solochek contributed to this report.

. Write-in Gets out

We have a winner

Timothy P. Harris, the write-in candidate who made the state House District 37 race a closed primary for Republican voters only, withdrew from the race last week. That means Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Trinity, who handily won the Aug. 14 primary, has officially secured his second term.

Two write-in candidates dig in for November election 08/25/12 [Last modified: Saturday, August 25, 2012 1:56pm]
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