TALLAHASSEE — The Florida House of Representatives will not pursue action against a state lawmaker accused of using his office to undermine a political opponent.
Rep. Paige Kreegel, R-Punta Gorda, did not engage in electioneering — asking people to vote for or against someone — when he raised questions about the education background of his opponent, a panel of his peers determined Tuesday after a probable cause hearing.
The three lawmakers on the House panel quickly dispensed of the case, but the sole Democrat said the incident left much concern.
"I hope, if nothing else, that this sends a message to our colleagues in the Legislature, future legislators, that this kind of action is troubling," said Rep. Curtis Richardson, D-Tallahassee.
Kreegel was notified in September that his opponent in the 2008 election, Keith Richter, had a job at a Hodges University campus in Fort Myers but claimed to be obtaining a doctorate from a school that is not accredited in the United States.
Records show that Kreegel's legislative aide, Barry Millman, contacted the school, and Richter was demoted from adjunct professor to teaching assistant. Kreegel said he asked Millman to make the call, according to a statement he provided.
But while Millman lost his job amid the controversy, the House panel said there was not sufficient evidence to suggest his boss violated a state law forbidding employees from using their state office during working hours to further a political campaign.
"For all the hassle it has caused, perhaps I shouldn't (have)," Kreegel said when a reporter asked if he would handled the matter differently. "But the truth is, I did the right thing. I did nothing improper."
Robert Anderson, the Lee County man who filed the complaint against Kreegel, said the lawmakers were too limited in their view and did not understand the allegations. "They are not known very well for scolding their own."
Aside from Richardson, two Republicans sat on the panel: Dennis Ross of Lakeland and J.C. Planas of Miami. Two other lawmakers did not show up.
Kreegel faces Richter in the August Republican primary for House District 72.