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Pasco Republican party targets Sheriff Bob White, Commissioner Ann Hildebrand

Back in May, Pasco GOP chairman Randy Maggard pledged to clean house: "RINOs" — Republicans in Name Only — were not welcome in the party.

"We will not put up with it in Pasco County," he said then. "We're going to weed them out."

The first target was state Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, whose offense was supporting Gov. Charlie Crist despite the U.S. Senate hopeful's switch from Republican to independent. By August, a frustrated Fasano resigned from the Pasco Republican Executive Committee.

Now, Pasco GOP leaders have targeted two other elected Republican officials: Sheriff Bob White and Commissioner Ann Hildebrand.

Their offense: They were headliners at a recent Crist fundraiser in Pinellas.

"How in the world can our elected local Republican Officials try to defeat a Republican in a general election? The nation is sick and tired of RINOS (Republicans in name only)," said an e-mail message to Pasco GOP members from Maggard, who learned of the event by a blog item on the St. Petersburg Times' website. "Read this article twice, remember it, and rest assured the Republican Party of Pasco will not forget."

Pasco state committeeman Bill Bunting explained that statement this way:

"It means that the Republican Party of Pasco is going to run candidates against people who raise money for Crist," said Bunting.

He said Hildebrand and White should not use their names and party affiliation to raise money for a non-Republican.

"It is what it is," Bunting said. "Either you're a Republican or you're not."

Whether the Pasco GOP's support has much significance for White and Hildebrand, both possible candidates for higher office when their terms run out, is unclear.

Neither of them has been dependent on the local group for fundraising, for instance, and Hildebrand has easily held off past Republican challengers who play more active roles in the Pasco GOP.

And though Hildebrand attends Pasco GOP functions, the party isn't exactly friendly to her: Bunting calls her "one-ticket Ann" because she only buys one ticket to various events, and Maggard's letter didn't even get her name and title correct, calling the longtime commissioner "Councilwoman Ann Hilde­brandt."

The Crist fundraiser was held at the Pinellas home of Rich and Laura Bekesh, who own an engineering and architectural firm in Holiday.

The event, which featured Fasano, raised $39,000 for Crist's campaign. It was also hosted by a number of well-known local residents, including real estate partners Dewey Mitchell and Allen Crumbley, former Pasco schools administrator Ray Gadd and lawyer — and one-time Democratic powerbroker — Clyde Hobby.

Also attending was Pasco's lone Democratic commissioner, Michael Cox — a guest whose presence was duly noted in Maggard's letter.

White is a longtime friend of Crist and Fasano and has been critical of Pasco GOP decisions in the past. At the fundraiser, Crist lavished praise on White as one of the best sheriffs in the state.

But on Tuesday, White said he's been on board for U.S. Senate Republican candidate Marco Rubio and that he attended the Crist fundraiser only to help out host Bekesh, another old friend. He attended a Rubio appearance in Land O'Lakes last week.

What changed? "I didn't change," said White. "Charlie changed."

White said he dropped his support when Crist left the Republican Party. White said he called Maggard to explain, and the party chairman "admitted he should have reached out to me first."

"In his defense, he's new to this," said White. "And he's Bunting trained. And Bunting is against Fasano."

Maggard said he didn't admit he did anything wrong to White.

"I didn't say that I should have reached out to him," he said. He said he assumed someone who attended a Crist fundraiser supports Crist. "What would you assume?" he said.

Hildebrand said she was upset when she began receiving e-mails and phone calls from some Pasco Republicans last week after Maggard's letter circulated.

She wouldn't name names. But she said she was accused by one person of being unpatriotic.

"I know they're really upset. And some of the people I have heard from have not been kind. It really was just hurtful," she said. "I was surprised. But you never know, do you?"

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6247.

Pasco Republican party targets Sheriff Bob White, Commissioner Ann Hildebrand 10/05/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 6, 2010 1:44pm]
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