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Pasco County Democrat pays price for partisan ad

The Pasco County Democratic Party sent out a flier with the image of County Commissioner Michael Cox, a member of Pasco’s election canvassing board.

The Pasco County Democratic Party sent out a flier with the image of County Commissioner Michael Cox, a member of Pasco’s election canvassing board.

A campaign mailing by Pasco County's Democratic Party has gotten more than the vote out. It has forced County Commissioner Michael Cox off the election canvassing board.

By Florida law, members of the county election board cannot participate in campaigns — and that includes endorsing candidates.

But the mailing to voters last week featured Cox, perhaps Pasco's most prominent local Democrat, with a smiling face and message:

"When you vote in the election this fall, please remember that real change begins at home," he told voters. "It is important that we send Barack Obama and Joe Biden to the White House."

The ad also reminds people to vote in races "from the State House to the School House." The back features a list of local Democrats on the ballot.

But local and state elections officials said Cox's participation violated the law, forcing him to send a letter Tuesday agreeing to leave the canvassing board. Cox will be replaced by County Commissioner Ted Schrader.

Cox's actions "would preclude the commissioner from serving on the county canvassing board," assistant state elections director Sarah Bradshaw wrote in an e-mail last Thursday to Pasco Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley.

The three-member board is required to appear impartial. It decides disputes over absentee ballots and voters' eligibility — matters deeply scrutinized since the 2000 presidential election.

The other members this year are County Judge William Sestak, a registered independent, and County Commissioner Pat Mulieri, a Republican serving in place of Corley, also a Republican. Corley is ineligible by law because he faces Democrat Pat Carroll in the November election.

With Schrader, a Republican who is running unopposed, serving in place of Cox, Republicans now have a majority on the board.

Cox said Wednesday he agreed to be on a flier to generally encourage voting, at the request of Pasco Democratic Party Chairwoman Alison Morano. He acknowledged he should have reviewed it before thousands were printed.

"I'm not too happy with Alison, but I guess she made an honest mistake," Cox said. "I thought she understood what my role there was."

Morano said the error was handled quickly, the mailing is effective, and Cox did the right thing.

"He was very gracious about stepping off (the canvassing board) immediately," Morano said. "He put the party first."

That's also what Republicans saw — in a different light. Pasco GOP Chairman Bill Bunting and state party officials prepared to file a complaint against Cox, but a state spokeswoman said Wednesday it's moot with Cox off the board.

"Nobody did it to them," Bunting said. "In this case, he did it to himself."

David DeCamp can be reached at ddecamp@sptimes.com or (800) 333-7505, ext. 6232.

Pasco County Democrat pays price for partisan ad 10/01/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 2, 2008 5:29pm]
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