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Pasco democrats drop effort to open up primary

NEW PORT RICHEY — Local Democrats abandoned their lawsuit Wednesday to oust a pivotal write-in candidate for the east Pasco County Commission seat.

The lawsuit, filed nine days ago on behalf of two voters, alleged John M. Taylor was not living in District 1 when he qualified for the ballot June 19.

Democrats had targeted Taylor because his candidacy turned the commission race between incumbent Ted Schrader and challenger John Nicolette into a closed GOP primary. About 170,000 Democrats, third-party voters and independents will have essentially no say in picking the next commissioner.

But Taylor's records — including a power bill, a pet vaccination receipt and a new driver's license — all showed a new address in the district, making it difficult to prove he lived elsewhere.

In the meantime, pursuing the case would hold up the mailing of absentee ballots and run up costs for taxpayers — and Democratic party leaders wanted to avoid any blame for trouble.

"They have a good bit of circumstantial evidence that puts the whole burden on us to prove he was not residing there," said attorney Bob Altman, a Democrat running for clerk of court. "That's a pretty tough burden to overcome."

The absentee ballots are now set to hit the mail starting Saturday.

Only Republicans will get to pick between Schrader and Nicolette in the Aug. 26 primary. The winner will appear on the Nov. 4 ballot against a blank spot for the write-in candidate.

A primary race is open to all voters only when there's no other opposition. Taylor, a Republican running as a write-in candidate, amounts to an opponent — even though his name will not be on the ballot.

Nicolette has wooed Republican activists more than Schrader, but he denied any role in getting Taylor in the race. However, Taylor signed a petition to put Nicolette on the ballot, bought land from him in 2003 and even displayed a Nicolette yard sign.

Complaining voters were "disenfranchised," Altman worked for free with party leaders to represent voters Steve Byle, a Democrat from Hudson, and Deborah Lopez, an unaffiliated voter married to Zephyrhills City Council member Luis Lopez.

The lawsuit questioned whether Taylor met the residency requirement: His homestead exemption is for a Lutz house outside District 1. So is his occupational license.

But Taylor's attorney Dominic Fariello said Taylor has lived since February in a Wesley Chapel mobile home owned by his family. In addition to new records with the address, Fariello produced an affidavit by Taylor.

"They would basically have to say we were lying — and we weren't," Fariello said.

Altman and Pasco Democratic Party Chairwoman Alison Morano said they remain unconvinced Taylor is a resident — particularly since the license is a duplicate issued four days after Taylor qualified.

But the July 22 deadline to mail 2,000 ballots overseas for military personnel in Afghanistan and Iraq was looming. Then there was an estimated $6,000 to rewrite Pasco's ballot if the lawsuit was successful.

"I think we did what we set out to do," Morano said Wednesday. "We stood up for voters."

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

Pasco democrats drop effort to open up primary 07/09/08 [Last modified: Sunday, July 13, 2008 7:59pm]
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