NEW PORT RICHEY — A pair of election law loopholes caused a last-minute scramble in Pasco County's District 4 commission race as the weeklong qualifying period for candidates ended Friday.
The upshot, however, an hour after the qualifying period ended was that both Democratic and Republican voters can vote in the District 4 Republican primary Aug. 26.
Grady Peeler, president of the Pasco Chapter of the Republican Liberty Caucus, caused a brief stir when he filed as a write-in candidate in the race minutes before the noon filing deadline.
Under Florida election law, Democrats and Republicans alike can vote in the same partisan primary when one political party runs unopposed. In District 4, only Republicans Mike Wells Jr. and Henry Wilson had filed. No Democrat had stepped forward.
Peeler's entry as a write-in, however, triggered a loophole turning that rule on its head: It required that the primary be closed to all but Republicans, ensuring a mostly conservative turnout.
His maneuver was short-lived. A half-hour after the qualifying period ended, Peeler learned that he can't run in the race, after all.
"I learned that write-in candidates have to live in district the day that they file, not on the day they take the position," said Peeler, who lives in Trinity in District 3.
Because Peeler is out, Democrats and Republicans will both be allowed to vote in the District 4 Republican primary.
Pasco elections Supervisor Brian Corley said it's not unusual to see a flurry of write-ins during qualifying week.
"It certainly leads to an exciting finish," he said. "Now it's time to finalize the ballot and get to the campaigns."
One other surprise occurred Friday.
Minnie Diaz, a Republican in the District 38 race to replace outgoing state Rep. Will Weatherford, did not qualify.
It turned out that Diaz did not file her loyalty oath and financial disclosure report to the Division of Elections on time.
"There was some confusion when I went to the (division's) website," Diaz said. "I thought I had until July to turn those in."
Diaz said she's awaiting a determination from elections officials, but "it doesn't look good."
Diaz's departure means Republican Danny Burgess, Zephyrhills' mayor, will not face a primary election in District 38. Both Burgess and his Democratic opponent, Beverly Ledbetter, qualified.
Also qualifying were: Republicans Ken Littlefield, Mike Moore and Bob Robertson in the District 3 race to replace retiring County Commissioner Pat Mulieri, also a Republican. One Democrat qualified for that race: Erika Remsberg.
Pasco Tax Collector Mike Fasano, who is running unopposed, qualified, as did Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, and Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Trinity. None of those candidates faced a challenger, so in effect all were re-elected.
In the District 36 race, Rep. Amanda Murphy, D-New Port Richey, qualified. Her GOP opponents, Chris Gregg and James Mathieu, chairman of Pasco's Republican Party, also qualified, ensuring a Republican primary.
On the School Board side, all of the candidates — Allen Altman (District 1), Cynthia Armstrong (District 3), and Steve Luikart and Dr. Marc Yacht (both District 5) qualified.
Because Altman and Armstrong ran unopposed, both were re-elected. Luikart and Yacht will face each other on Aug. 26.
Rich Shopes can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6236.