Nearly 170,000 registered voters won't have a voice this year in choosing a Pasco commissioner, one of five people charged with overseeing county government and its $1.1-billion budget.
That is the upshot of the 11th-hour political manipulation that saw a Lutz man with ties to Republican John Nicolette file as a write-in candidate to exclude Democrats and independents from voting in the District 1 commission race.
It is a sham. Disenfranchising more than 60 percent of the voters is a pitiful way to try to begin a career in elected public service. Nicolette should renounce the write-in candidacy and ask his acquaintance to withdraw from the race. Failing to do so shows a candidate who puts his own self interests above the public's best interests.
As it stands now, the Aug. 26 primary between Nicolette and two-term Republican incumbent Ted Schrader will determine the next commissioner. The winner's name will appear on the November ballot, but write-in candidate John M. Taylor's name, will not.
The tactic cutting Democratic and independent voters out of the selection process is a consequence of the 1998 voter-approved revision to the Florida Constitution, which said party primaries will be open to all registered voters if there is no general election opponent. Taylor's write-in candidacy creates that general election contest in November and closes the GOP primary to just Republicans.
Nicolette is a darling of the Republican Executive Committee for his fundraising prowess, though the committee plans no formal endorsement in the primary. Schrader found himself on the opposite side of the committee's political favor for his leadership role in the Penny for Pasco sales tax increase four years ago.
Republican Party Chairman Bill Bunting used the write-in maneuver four years ago in an attempt to exclude non-Republican voters from the 2004 school superintendent's race. Friday, Bunting said he did not know Taylor.
Public records indicate that Nicolette does, even though he protested that he had no role in Taylor's write-in candidacy. Nicolette sold nearly 8 acres of vacant residential land in Darby to Taylor and his wife in 2003. In April, Taylor signed a petition card to get Nicolette on the ballot. It might be the first sign of political activism for Taylor. He has owned a house in the Carpenter's Run subdivision for 20 years, but has never voted in Pasco County, according to the Supervisor of Elections Office.
Commissioners are elected countywide and represent all of Pasco, but must reside in one of five districts. The District 1 seat held by Schrader is based in east Pasco. Taylor's homesteaded property is in Lutz in District 2, which raises questions of whether he meets the residency requirement. Unlike major party candidates who have until the end of the election to move into a district, write-in candidates must conform to the residency rules by the close of the qualifying period, which was noon Friday
Taylor's candidacy papers listed a Wesley Chapel mobile home — owned by another party — as his legal residence. That home on Tyndall Road had a Nicolette campaign sign in front of it Friday afternoon. It is the same address Taylor included five days ago on his revised voter registration record. Other public records including Taylor's property appraisal, tax bills and occupational licenses for a home-based business all list his Lutz home as his address.
That evidence could bring a legal challenge from the Schrader camp or the Democratic Party and should motivate Elections Supervisor Brian Corley to investigate any improprieties.
Taylor can deflate the scrutiny by withdrawing from the race and allowing all of Pasco's registered voters to decide the contest between Schrader and Nicolette. It would be an appropriate solution for someone who hasn't been part of the Pasco political process for 20 years.