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Independents throw a singular wrench into race

Welcome to West Pasco, land of quirky candidates.

I'm speaking primarily of House District 46, which has been represented by the retiring Phil Mishkin.

This year two Democratic primary candidates for Mishkin's seat, Karen Stockwell and Debra Prewitt, had to contend with Frank Janczlik, a perennial office seeker and critic of the New Port Richey City Council.

Janczlik's political style is most charitably described as peculiar.

He once introduced himself as "Rumpelstiltskin from Nova Scotia."

What Janczlik stands for politically is difficult to discern. His public appearances are often bizarre and unintelligible.

Why anyone would vote for Janczlik is a great mystery of our time. But vote for him they do. In the September primary he collected 1,024 votes (14 percent), enough to force a runoff between Stockwell and Prewitt.

Janczlik, in effect, turned the Democratic primary election. It's a little unnerving, but the same thing might happen Nov. 8 with another unusual candidate.

On Nov. 8, a percentage of voters in House District 46 will vote for independent candidate Joe Mastrocolo over Prewitt and Republican candidate Bill Phillips.

Why?

Why do lemmings migrate to the sea?

Who knows? You just know they do, just as you know some people will vote for Mastrocolo.

This reality is of greatest concern to two people: Prewitt and Phillips. You can be sure both candidates have considered the threat Mastrocolo poses to their own campaigns relative to the number of votes he might siphon from the others.

Mastrocolo is a registered Democrat, though local party leaders would happily disown him. In 1993 they blocked his efforts to charter a new Democratic club in Pasco County. Mastrocolo eventually established his own independent political action committee, which is known, cleverly enough, as I-PAC.

Yet Mastrocolo remains a registered Democrat, though he says his purpose is to "show them they're wrong."

A casual observer might conclude that, because of his Democratic affiliation, Mastrocolo presents more of threat to Prewitt than Phillips. But the casual observer would be missing Mastrocolo's extreme conservatism.

Personally, I think this is what makes him a greater threat to Phillips than to Prewitt.

Consider, for example, that Mastrocolo belongs to a group of local residents who regularly pray and stand vigil outside the Pasco Pussycat adult bookstore. This is the same group whose members have gone as far as to videotape patrons of the bookstore and copy their license plates.

Conservative? You could say that. Something tells me Prewitt long ago lost the votes of people who think she could have done something as mayor to keep the Pasco Pussycat out of New Port Richey. (A judge said otherwise.)

Consider, as well, Mastrocolo's position on abortion rights.

Prewitt is an advocate of a woman's right to govern her own reproductive organs, though she says abortion should not be used as a form of birth control.

Phillips says he is opposed to abortion, except to protect the life of the mother. In cases of rape and incest, he says, the crime must be reported within 48 hours and the victim must prosecute the perpetrator to qualify for an abortion.

When Mastrocolo showed up for an interview at the Times office this week, he brought with him a copy of the Hippocratic oath. He insists that it forbids doctors from providing abortions or committing murder, which he considers one and the same.

Abortion should be outlawed, he said, even in cases of rape or incest.

What about in cases where the life of the mother is threatened by her fetus?

"I'm against (abortion) always," he said.

How did he reach the conclusion that a mother should die for her fetus, wanted or otherwise?

"The baby doesn't have a say. How did the mother get (pregnant) in the first place?" he said. "It takes two people to play this game."

Mastrocolo states his position honestly, I'm sure. He is the father of four daughters. But suppose one of their lives were threatened by pregnancy?

"If it was my daughter, I'm going to have a grandchild," he said. "You have to think of it one way or the other. That's the way I feel."

Somehow, this doesn't sound to me like an independent candidate whose Democratic sympathies might siphon votes from the Democratic nominee.

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