Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Opinion

Ruth: Hillsborough elections supervisor fits right in

It is probably not a good idea to put your best foot forward in a new job by inserting it into your mouth.

By any reasonable measure Craig Latimer was the obvious pick to succeed Earl Lennard as Hillsborough County's supervisor of elections. After all, Latimer had served as Lennard's deputy. And his work as a top administrator in the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, as well as his military experience bolstered his managerial bona fides.

Good man. Good choice.

But you also learn pretty quickly, especially in Hillsborough politics, to never get too smitten with a pol, regardless of how good they look on paper. See: Turner, Rob — wonderful (now former) property appraiser, kinky serial emailer.

So while we certainly have a right to be disappointed, no one should be all that shocked to discover that Latimer might have played fast and loose with the truth when he insisted last year during his run for the top elections job that he never, ever pressured anyone working in his office to contribute to his campaign.

Pay no mind to all those emails over there putting pressure on employees to make donations. Emails?!?! What emails?!?!

Latimer would hardly be the first public official to encourage underlings in his or her employ that it might be a really good idea for the sake of freedom, democracy and job security to make a campaign donation.

But in Latimer's case, he had specifically denied last year that he had pressured election office workers to donate to the campaign. You know, this chap is going to fit right in among Hillsborough's political life.

Even more strange was that while Latimer was issuing his denials, the candidate/elections office deputy was leaving an email trail of arm-twisting. Do you suppose the minute you enter public life in Florida politics there's a law that says you have to have an anvil dropped on your head?

In one employee email, Latimer complains he hasn't received enough names and addresses of potential contributors. In the missive, the candidate exhorts his workers to schmooze their friends to support his campaign.

Another email, written by Latimer's campaign coordinator, who worked in the elections supervisor's office, encourages employees to donate up to the $500 limit and to hit up friends for money.

Perhaps you can make the argument that because these employees are public workers, they pretty well know that contributing to the boss' campaign is sort of an expected form of subtle extortion if they want to hold onto their jobs.

But that doesn't make the not too thinly veiled strong-arm tactics any more palatable, or right.

Much like the more egregious shenanigans associated with Watergate when Richard Nixon was virtually assured of re-election, Latimer's pressuring employees to donate to him seems all the more over the top because he, too, was a prohibitive favorite to win his election.

Latimer may have won his race. He will likely be a very able and competent supervisor of elections. But that success at the ballot box comes with a price.

Holding public office is more than winning enough votes to get a job. Craig Latimer was asking for the public to trust him with the job, promising his word was good. And before even being sworn in, he violated that trust.

Now he has four years to regain his reputation for probity. That may prove harder than counting votes.

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