Former state Rep. Ken Littlefield began running for Pasco County Commissioner Pat Mulieri's job Thursday, starting earlier-than-expected posturing by two big names in the Republican Party for the 2010 race.
Littlefield, who was in the Florida House from 1999 to 2006, is the executive director of the Florida Statewide Advocacy Council. It helps protect the rights of residents when they have problems using the state's health and social services.
Littlefield, 64, of Wesley Chapel said he wants to rejoin the ranks of policymakers on his home turf. He lives in a Tallahassee condominium during the week, but he bought a house in Wesley Chapel in August. He said he has applied for a homestead tax exemption on the Wesley Chapel property.
"The main reason that I want to get into the race is that I've noticed over the last few years … the lack of competitive elections leads to excessive pride and presumption in leadership," he said.
When pressed, Littlefield said he wasn't referring to Mulieri, who easily won a 2006 primary against utility owner Larry DeLucenay and real estate broker Christie Zimmer.
Littlefield didn't take any shots at Mulieri. By running early, he gets more time to receive donations and build support.
"I think the very fact is that I have probably bit off the most difficult job in politics, and that is to run against an incumbent in your party," he said.
His other jobs have had their complications, too.
Littlefield ended his bid for a likely re-election in 2006 when Gov. Jeb Bush tapped him to serve on the Florida Public Service Commission, a powerful board overseeing utilities. But new Gov. Charlie Crist pulled the appointment a day after Littlefield was sworn in. Crist said Littlefield's 2003 vote for a bill allowing higher phone rates influenced his decision.
However, Crist did give Littlefield his current job, which pays $95,000, a few months later. Littlefield, who toyed with running for county clerk last year, fended off an attempt by lawmakers last year to kill his job through budget cuts.
Mulieri to run again
Former county GOP Chairman Bill Bunting downplayed any effects the PSC tangle will have on Littlefield.
"I don't think that plays at all. I think that's politics at the state level," Bunting said. "If Republicans look at Littlefield's voting record, I think he's got a good voting record."
Mulieri has been a commissioner, for which she is paid $80,000 a year, since 1994. She represents a central Pasco district, but the election will be countywide.
Mulieri, 70, said she intends to run again but that it's too early to announce her plans. Mulieri recounted telling Littlefield as much when he visited her in her office the morning of Jan. 23 and told her that he intended to run. She said the same thing after DeLucenay filed almost three years before the 2006 election.
"I do not run campaigns for two or three years," Mulieri told the Times, adding, "I could walk off a curb and get hit by a car."
But Littlefield, whose brother Carl preceded him in the Legislature, could turn out to be a difficult foe. He has experience fund-raising and has friends in the Republican Party ranks, although few Pasco leaders Thursday said they knew of his plan to run for the commission. Bunting also said Littlefield's experience as a former minister will help him with socially conservative voters.
"The Littlefield name is still a well-known name in east Pasco. I'm not sure how well it's known in Wesley Chapel and the rest of Pasco," said county Commissioner Ted Schrader, a Republican. "I think Commissioner Mulieri is still a very well-known name in Pasco County. I think she'll be a tough candidate to knock off."
David DeCamp can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6232.