NEW PORT RICHEY — Bill Gunter, the Presbyterian minister running to fill the House seat vacated by Mike Fasano last week, is looking for a new home.
The Republican pastor has no choice if he wants to continue his candidacy. Gunter lives outside House District 36, the seat vacated when Fasano became Pasco's tax collector Wednesday, and election rules mandate that candidates live in the district they represent.
Gunter lives at 7866 Roundelay Drive in New Port Richey. That's in House District 37, just east of District 36. The pastor of Redeemer Community Church, formerly known as River Ridge Presbyterian Church, said he's aware of the rule and plans to house hunt between now and the primary election, Sept. 17. The general election is Oct. 15.
"I'm committed to doing that and was committed to doing that when I got into this," he said.
Gunter, 43, said he's running to fight for constituents and even cited Fasano's reputation for doing the same.
"I believe that we need someone from our area that looks out for the 'little guy' like Rep. Fasano has for years," he said. "I definitely fit that mold. I experience the challenges and frustrations that people face every day, whether it is rising utility rates or property insurance premiums. I want to be someone you can count on to do what is right in Tallahassee."
Gunter will face at least one other Republican in the primary. Jim Mathieu, the county GOP chairman and former Port Richey city attorney, says he's running. He lost to Fasano in the 2012 primary.
Mathieu says he can bring a thorough understanding of bills to the Legislature and cast more informed votes than many other legislators.
"I've been involved in politics for over 30 years," he said. "I've worked with state legislatures for many years. My bigger problem is that I really feel that many state legislators don't really understand what they're passing.
"I don't think they understand the 340 or so bills they're passing, and the vast majority of those bills are passed in the last week of the session. That's an unbelievable amount," he said.
On the Democratic side, party chairman Lynn Lindeman said party leaders have spoken with several candidates but aren't ready to say who they'll back, though they have a front-runner.
He also took a jab at Gunter's plans to move.
"We've been talking to a potential candidate and we've identified a potential candidate who has name recognition and actually lives in the district and is a very viable candidate, we feel," Lindeman said.
Moving to a district to seek office isn't unusual. Fasano was forced to move to run in 2012. His home in Heritage Lake was about a mile from the newly redistricted House 36 seat. He ended up renting a townhouse in the Little Creek neighborhood near Little and Plathe roads, signing a lease in June of that year. He sold the Heritage Lake house in December and is building a home in Land O'Lakes.
Rich Shopes can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6236.