Monday, February 19, 2018
Politics

State House candidate may withdraw because of party feud

BRANDON — Jose Vazquez, the Democratic candidate for state House District 58 in East Hillsborough County, said he's quitting the race because of a dispute with the party's county chairman, Chris Mitchell.

Vazquez threatened to end his candidacy unless Mitchell resigned by 5 p.m. Monday after a weekend dispute in which he accused the party chair of sabotaging his campaign. Mitchell didn't quit.

At issue was the party's withdrawal of support for Vazquez, 38, a security consultant from Brandon who was running against Republican Dan Raulerson to represent Plant City, Temple Terrace, Thonotosassa and parts of Brandon.

Mitchell wouldn't specify why the party cooled on Vazquez. Party leaders never recruited him to run and weren't aware of his background when he filed to run May 15, he said. No one else filed as a Democrat and the party didn't put forth a candidate.

Vazquez, a felon, made headlines four years ago when he filed to run as a write-in candidate for House while serving two years for a felony driving with a revoked or suspended license.

Vazquez's name never appeared on the ballot because felons can't run for office until their rights are been restored. He also had arrests on charges of criminal mischief and carrying a concealed weapon.

Mitchell wouldn't comment on whether Vazquez's criminal history swayed party officials.

"We became aware of behavior that is not beyond reproach and we were obligated to take it very seriously," he said. "We got to the point where we felt that a vote for Mr. Vazquez was not in the best interests of all involved."

The dispute arose last week when the party pulled a link from its website to Vazquez's website.

To withdraw, Vazquez must send a letter to the Florida Division of Elections. He planned to do that today. His name still will be on the ballot because the slate of candidates is already set.

In that case, state elections officials would send notices to polling places declaring Vazquez is no longer a candidate and that votes cast for him will not count. Those notices would be posted inside the voting booths.

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