Voters have every right to expect a candidate they support at the ballot box to stick around and serve a full term. But Pinellas County Sheriff Jim Coats, in an apparent attempt to manipulate the electoral system, suggested that if he is re-elected in 2012 he might cut his term short to pave the way for his preferred successor. Coats has since backed off his plan, and rightly so.
In an interview last week with St. Petersburg Times reporter David DeCamp, Coats floated the dubious idea of running for re-election in 2012 then resigning in 2014 and urging Gov. Rick Scott to appoint Chief Deputy Robert Gualtieri, 49, to finish out the term. That would have given his trusted aide two years of incumbency and a political leg up on any other candidates seeking the post.
Such a scheme would be a cynical abuse of the electoral process. Elections should not be 2-for-1 affairs. And it would seem that Coats has realized the disservice he was attempting to foist upon the public as well as on Gualtieri, an able public servant capable of winning the public's trust in his own right whenever Coats decides to step aside.
In an interview with the Times editorial board this week, Coats, 67, pledged that if he runs for re-election in 2012, barring illness or unforeseen nonpolitical issues unrelated to the performance of his duties, "It is my intent to finish out the term." The sheriff acknowledged voters would have every right to feel they were being mislead by the "buy one now, get one later" idea Coats proposed.
Coats has been a solid steward of the Sheriff's Office, maintaining professionalism and competence in a time of increasing budget cuts. It would have been an unfortunate down note to end his career by engaging in a momentary episode of political gamesmanship.