Voters should put gloves on before opening their mailboxes this weekend and mute their televisions when the political ads come on. With the primary election only four days away, it's anything goes and several Tampa Bay candidates are throwing dirt at their opponents rather than playing up their own credentials.
Rachel Burgin's campaign in the Senate District 24 Republican primary in east Hillsborough may be the worst. Voters received a flier produced by the American People Committee that linked Burgin's primary opponent, Tom Lee, with the Hillsborough property appraiser who is embroiled in a porn scandal and who also — how convenient — is on the Republican primary ballot.
Burgin denies accusations that she directed donations to a group responsible for the flier. But she has not publicly disavowed the hit job, which even the chairman of the Florida Republican Party denounced. And she continues to tar Lee, a former Senate president who has been recommended by the Times, as part of the "Tallahassee elite." That is rich for a state representative whose predecessor and former boss effectively handed her the seat. Burgin is desperate because she cannot match Lee's credentials and accomplishments, which led this editorial page and others to recommend him.
In the race for Hillsborough County Court Judge Group 3, incumbent Judge Ann Ober has crossed the line. In a mailing to voters, she noted that her opponent, John Grant, was investigated for making obscene phone calls, had three DUI arrests and finished near the bottom of his law school class. Those charges are all 10 to 24 years old, and it appears that Grant has — as he insists — matured since then. The issue here is not whether Grant has an arrest history, but the context and relevance of charges that are far in the past. The Times recommended Ober because she has done a good job since first winning election in 1996 and has a better sense of the responsibility that judges face. Her decision to take the low road shows a self-serving indifference that is out of step with her record and character.
In Pinellas County, the Republican primary for sheriff has produced the most reckless charges. Former Sheriff Everett Rice has aired a television ad proclaiming incumbent Sheriff Bob Gualtieri's "mismanagement of the Sheriff's Office has put us all in danger.'' In fact, Gualtieri — who has been recommended by the Times — has surgically cut millions in spending because of declining tax revenue; arrests are up and the crime rate is down.
In Pasco County, the Republican primary for the elected school superintendent devolved from a referendum on leadership and education into snit over browbeating school employees and the challenger's retirement benefits. Incumbent superintendent Heather Fiorentino, dogged by allegations her senior staff coerced school administrators to support her re-election campaign, this week mailed a flier saying opponent Kurt Browning, the former Florida secretary of state, quit "to become a double dipper.'' Worse, it claims that Browning "allowed 1,800 illegal voters to register in Florida.'' Browning, who has been recommended by the Times, did not send out that list before he left because of its inaccuracies, and the charge is ridiculous. It is indicative of Fiorentino's diminishing credibility as superintendent.
Elections matter, and voters should make every effort to cast their primary ballots. Remember that races for school board and judge are nonpartisan and open to all voters. But ignore the last-minute attack ads that say more about the integrity of the attacker than the target.