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Hernando Sheriff Nugent's campaign tarnishes his legacy

With apologies to Ben Franklin, I think of him as Poor Richard — Nugent, I mean.

A few months ago, it seemed, Hernando's sheriff was heading into his career's homestretch with everything a public servant could want: a hefty salary and the promise of a comfortable retirement; full control over his political life; so much support from voters that only a few of them timidly questioned his agency's budget, which has roughly doubled in the past decade.

Now look at the mess he's in: a primary race against a tougher-than-expected opponent, Jason Sager, for the 5th Congressional District seat; a campaign message that amounts to reciting the party line; several dings on his once-pristine reputation, starting in April when he accepted outgoing Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite's offer to cut in line for the Republican nomination.

If this was the first sign that Nugent the congressional candidate would be less honorable than Nugent the sheriff, there have been plenty more since. Basically, Nugent, who says that he's not like Brown-Waite, that he doesn't like the "hit-them-in-the-head kind of approach,'' has campaigned as though he's her clone.

Of the many thinly substantiated claims Nugent has leveled against Sager, my favorites have to do with his opponent's supposed lack of credentials as a "fiscal conservative.'' Tuesday, Nugent's campaign sent out an e-mail titled "Where is Sager's signature?'', which asked why Sager hadn't signed a no-new-taxes pledge. On Monday, the question was: Is Sager "against lower taxes"?

This is a guy who wants to all but dismantle the federal government (which is why I would never, ever, vote for him). Of course he's not against lower taxes.

Neither is Nugent, he says now. Monday's e-mail concluded with a rote-sounding call for an end to the "death tax,'' as though only crazy leftists would think of taxing the estate of, for example, the recently deceased billionaire George Steinbrenner. Due to a one-year policy fluke, his heirs won't pay a penny. With our federal deficit, what responsible person would want to make this kind of tax break permanent?

Not the old Nugent, at least that's not what his record suggests. Because as my dad might have said, if this guy's a fiscal conservative, I'm a diamond cutter.

Since Nugent was elected in 2000, the Sheriff's Office has raised deputies' starting salaries from $23,859 to $39,401 (for 2.5 more hours of work per week) and added about 100 new employees (15 of them for the added duties of dispatch and emergency management). When I asked about his budget, Nugent assigned four employees to meet with me, not exactly presenting the image of an agency cut to the bone.

Not that this is all bad. His squad of spokespeople showed me that response times and crime are down. Their overall message was that it takes money to run a good department.

Of course it does. That's always been Nugent's approach, which is why his predictable right turn — this is a Republican primary, after all — seems especially insincere. And seems to make him especially uncomfortable.

Campaigning, he has the look of someone who'd rather eat a bug.

And if he wins, his reward will be doing it all again in two years, when he'd otherwise be leaving office with the praise and gratitude of the community.

What a pity.

Hernando Sheriff Nugent's campaign tarnishes his legacy 08/17/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 17, 2010 8:40pm]

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