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Pasco GOP leader attacked in anonymous mailing

The tough talking chairman of the Republican Party in Pasco County has ended up on the receiving end of an attack mailing.

An anonymous sender, identified only by Postage Paid Permit No. 2483 of Tampa, sent a glossy placard to voters, criticizing Chairman Bill Bunting for his criminal record and being "banned" from the party.

"Bill Bunting, this is no laughing matter. Pasco can no longer take your divisiveness," warns the mailing, which targets Bunting in his race for Republican committeeman.

Far from chuckling, Bunting is steamed. He doesn't dispute having the misdemeanor convictions, which were reported in a 2004 story in the Times.

But he said the mailing fails to note the crimes happened 49 years ago.

Bunting served five months at Rikers Island Penitentiary in New York after being arrested for criminal mischief, indecent exposure (he skinny-dipped) and burglary, which he said was downgraded to a petty larceny conviction for pilfering liquor.

And he said he wasn't technically banned from the GOP. He "resigned" from 2000 to 2002 after a leadership spat.

It's uncertain how many voters received the mailing. Postal Service officials were unable to identify the permit holder by Monday evening.

Bunting, 67, faces unusually pitched campaigns in the Aug. 26 primary for barely watched, unpaid posts within the party.

"I've been around the Republican Party for 36 years. … I have never seen something so dirty used in a Republican committeeman race," said political consultant Jack Latvala, a former lawmaker supporting Bunting. Latvala called the mailing "cowardly."

Bunting is challenging longtime state committeeman John Renke II, a former lawmaker. Bunting sent his own mailing touting support from Gov. Charlie Crist and other notables — without hurling any zingers at Renke.

"I've never done a negative piece on any candidate," he said.

Bunting wouldn't accuse anyone but said the mailing was done by someone with experience, not a newcomer. Bunting said the mailing could violate a state law against publishing defamatory claims anonymously, but Latvala said there's little that can be done. For his part, Bunting plans a couple of more mailings touting his virtues.

Renke and a top supporter, state Sen. Mike Fasano, denied any role in the mailing, though Latvala pegged it on Renke.

Latvala recalled that Renke's son, ex-judge John Renke III, sent misrepresentative mailings in a 2002 judicial race.

"Any piece I do will have my name on it," Renke II said Monday.

Bunting's other fight is against eight disaffected Republicans in his Beacon Woods neighborhood. They are running against Bunting and his wife, Ann, to be precinct-level members of the party's Pasco executive committee in order to oust the Buntings from power.

But a leader of the challengers, Dan Meahl, said he and others had no role in sending the mailer. As for the sender?

"I'm not at liberty to say," said Meahl, not divulging his "suspicions."

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

Pasco GOP leader attacked in anonymous mailing 08/11/08 [Last modified: Monday, August 18, 2008 12:47pm]
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