NEW PORT RICHEY — The fight over John Taylor's write-in candidacy may end before it can begin.
Taylor filed court documents Thursday swearing that he does, in fact, live in east Pasco's District 1.
Democrats who don't believe him sued this week to block his candidacy — and to reopen the County Commission GOP primary between incumbent Ted Schrader and challenger John Nicolette to all voters.
Preparations for fall elections are on hold until this whole thing gets sorted out.
Both sides agreed Thursday to meet early next week, before their July 17 court date.
If Taylor brings enough evidence showing his residence is in Wesley Chapel — and not outside District 1 — then Democrats will likely drop their suit and let election officials get back to work.
"My desire is not to drag anything on any longer than necessary," said Democratic lawyer Robert Altman, "if it appears they have a legitimate, qualified candidate — even if they're using a loophole in state law that I don't like."
As it stands now, only Pasco Republicans will get to choose between Schrader and Nicolette. If they were the only candidates running, the primary would be open to all voters. But write-in candidates are considered outside opponents, closing the primary to party voters only.
There's no Democratic commission candidate, which means the Republican primary winner's name will appear on the Nov. 4 ballot next to a blank space for the write-in candidate.
Thus, Taylor's write-in candidacy could effectively keep 170,065 Democratic and other voters from choosing their county commissioner.
Democratic leaders have challenged the legitimacy of Taylor's candidacy, accusing him of violating election law by not living in the district. The suit was filed by local party members Steve Byle and Deborah Lopez.
Shrinking the voting base to Republicans only could help Nicolette, a party activist who has strongly courted the rank and file. And Nicolette has business links to Taylor, who only recently switched to the GOP.
Taylor's homestead exemption, occupational licenses and even his answering machine indicated he lived in a Lutz home — outside District 1 — just last month.
Florida law says a write-in candidate must live in the district at the June qualifying deadline.
But Tampa lawyer Dominic Fariello on Thursday gave the court a sworn statement from Taylor saying since February 2008 he has resided, received mail and kept his personal belongings at a residence on Tyndall Road in Wesley Chapel. The lawyer also handed over electric bills in Taylor's name.
But when Democrats tried to have Taylor served with their lawsuit, Altman said, the process server couldn't find anyone at that home.
Fariello told the court that Taylor has been living on a family property while he awaits the construction of a permanent home within District 1. County records show there are at least two active building permits for a five-bedroom home on an 8-acre property Taylor bought from Nicolette near Dade City.
Taylor could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Altman said he'll want to see more of Taylor's bills at the Wesley Chapel address, and he'd like to see what address is on his driver's license. By law it's supposed to be changed within 10 days of moving.
But time is running out. Absentee ballots were to supposed to be mailed starting Wednesday. They weren't, and they won't be until Democrats give up or a judge weighs in.
"If there appears to be sufficient evidence to show that he truly is a resident at the Wesley Chapel address," Altman said, "the dismissal should be filed as soon as possible."
David DeCamp can be reached at [email protected] or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6232.