NEW PORT RICHEY — A top Libertarian Party official accuses a Pasco GOP power broker of intimidating a young city council candidate. The Republican says the other guy's lying and that he was only enforcing party guidelines.
And you thought we were taking a break from local politics for a while.
The story begins with a phone call.
GOP state committeeman Bill Bunting spoke Tuesday afternoon with Michael Malterer, who's running on an anti-red-light camera platform for New Port Richey City Council. (Each man says the other person initiated the call.)
Here's how Bunting described the call:
Malterer asked if he could speak at one or more Republican clubs. Bunting asked Malterer's party affiliation. Malterer told Bunting he is not a registered Republican. But he said the City Council race is nonpartisan and asked what difference his affiliation makes.
"It makes a difference to us because we have party rules," Bunting recalled saying. "Unfortunately I cannot allow you to speak. Good luck on your campaign."
Malterer, 24, declined to discuss specifics of the call, saying the dispute is not relevant to his campaign. He did say Bunting's "version of events are untrue." He borrowed a phrase from retired major league baseball player Roger Clemens and said Bunting "may be misremembering."
Malterer is the chairman of the Libertarian Party of Pasco. The party's vice chairman is Alex Snitker, who ran under the party's banner for U.S. Senate in 2010.
After the initial phone call, Snitker called Bunting. He accused Bunting of trying to intimidate Malterer by saying the "full force of the Pasco County Republican Party" would be involved in the race. No other candidates have yet filed for the election. The seats held by Deputy Mayor Rob Marlowe and councilman Bob Langford expire in April.
"There was no need for Bill to call him," Snitker said. "But he did that because he wanted to intimidate a young kid."
Bunting cut the phone call short.
"I hung up on him," Bunting said. "There was no sense in me trying to explain to him that, 'I never called your guy.' It just made no sense."
Snitker called back and left a message. Bunting re-played the message for a reporter.
"We will not be intimidated," Snitker said, before adding that the "Pasco County Republican Party now supports and endorses the use of red-light cameras."
(Bunting said he doesn't support the cameras at intersections on U.S. 19 in Pasco but that the cameras are justified at some intersections in Hillsborough County.)
"If they've got a political party, they should be telling the truth," he said. "When someone's in leadership and they behave like that … they wonder why they don't get anywhere."
Lee Logan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6236.