Sunday, February 25, 2018
Politics

Emergency hearing set in dispute over House District 64 race

TALLAHASSEE — An emergency hearing has been scheduled for Monday in a case that could determine whether or not Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa, has an August primary.

The write-in candidate challenging Grant, Daniel Matthews, was kicked out of the race by a Leon County judge. Circuit Court Judge Angela Dempsey ruled Thursday that Matthews did not live in the district at the time of qualifying and therefore was ineligible to run for that office. As a result, she also ruled that the primary between Grant and fellow Republican Miriam Steinberg must be moved to November and opened to all voters in the district.

Matthews' attorney immediately filed an emergency motion to stay the judge's order, meaning the primary between Grant and Steinberg would remain as scheduled in August and closed to all but registered Republican voters. That hearing is set for Monday, and whatever is decided will affect how the Pinellas and Hillsborough supervisors of elections treat thousands of ballots that have already been printed.

Meanwhile, the First District Court of Appeal will decide whether it wants to take up the Matthews case, kick it back to the circuit court or pass it on to the state Supreme Court.

Steinberg's husband, Michael, filed the initial lawsuit against Matthews, saying he was not qualified to run as a write-in candidate. Michael Steinberg said the core question before the courts is whether a state law that requires a write-in candidate to live in the district at the time of qualifying is constitutional. Dempsey believed it is, and so did a Broward County judge who made a similar ruling in the case of a person running as a write-in candidate for the Broward County Commission.

But a different Leon County Circuit judge took the opposite stance. Judge George Reynolds ruled last week that write-in candidates are required to live in the district only upon election because that is the standard for all political candidates outlined in the state Constitution. He allowed a candidate for House District 96 in Broward County to remain in contention, effectively ensuring that the race between two Democrats is decided by registered Democrats only.

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