Democrats aren't fond of running against Pat Mulieri but Republicans sure aren't shy about it.
Mulieri, in the middle of her fourth four-year term as county commissioner representing District 2 in central Pasco, stated her intentions this week to seek re-election. She had to, considering she already has an opponent from within her own party. It's a familiar scenario. Two years ago, she had two Republican opponents, but no Democrat. Her Democratic adversary from 2002 later switched to the Republican Party.
This time it is former state Rep. Ken Littlefield. Three days ago, he filed his candidacy papers and sent e-mail to journalists to let people know he is challenging Mulieri.
"Each year Ken has asked me if I was going to retire,'' Mulieri said. "Perhaps he got tired of waiting.''
Indeed. Mulieri is 70. Littlefield is 64.
There is one obvious reason for his candidacy. Littlefield, executive director of the Florida Statewide Advocacy Council, could be out of a job July 1 when a new, significantly smaller state budget is in place. A Senate committee attempted to kill Littlefield's position in 2008, but it was saved by the full Legislature with the understanding it would be vulnerable again this year.
Littlefield's announcement didn't mention continued employment. He said he wants to return to Pasco County full time to help craft local policy "that will help promote and protect a better quality of life.''
Nothing too cutting edge there. Asked to delineate, Littlefield's long-winded answer touched on: Safer streets, smarter schools, cleaner environment, sustainable water supply, better emergency management, a longer life, a more comfortable and exciting future, a society rich enough to be prepared for contingencies and finally, the heart of the matter — economic growth.
It might be more succinct to say it in five words: More jobs. Broader tax base. But even that could be a hard issue to run on by the 2010 GOP primary if T. Rowe Price is busy setting up shop in Central Pasco and the Obama dollars are turning dirt on U.S. 41 in Land O'Lakes.
Either way, Littlefield has plenty of time to refine the message. Mulieri said she won't starting campaigning until next year. Littlefield may be wise to start early. I suspect he has less name recognition among voters. His former House district included much of central and east Pasco but Littlefield has never run for countywide office. Voters in heavily populated west Pasco have never seen his name on a ballot.
By the time the 2010 primary comes around Littlefield will not have faced a serious election challenge in a decade. It is what makes his other stated reason for running so curious.
Littlefield, who served in the Legislature from 1999 to 2006, said he wanted to give the voting public a legitimate choice of commission candidates and wanted the race to be competitive, not just contested.
''I don't know which is worse: an uncontested race or a contested race that is not competitive. It brings (to an incumbent) a false sense of pride or presumption,'' Littlefield said.
Pot, meet the black kettle.
Littlefield had no election opponent in 2004 and two years earlier he faced minimal opposition from an invisible Libertarian and from the underfunded Democrat Pat Burke of Crystal Springs.
He initially won the seat in a special election in 1999 after his brother, Carl, resigned the position to take a job in the Gov. Jeb Bush administration. Ken Littlefield won re-election to a full two-year term the following year. In both 1999 and 2000, he faced Zephyrhills Democrat Larry McLaughlin.
"Larry was the most capable of the my opponents,'' Littlefield said, "during that time, it caused me to be a better candidate, perhaps even to be a better legislator.
"When you have a competitive race, you find yourself doing things that are right rather than doing things because you can.''
It is a candid acknowledgement of the dangers of entrenched incumbency, but an astonishing reason to run for public office.
Ken Littlefield wants Pat Mulieri to perform better as a county commissioner in Pasco than he did as a legislator in Tallahassee.