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Pasco adopts civility rule for county elections

The unanimous vote comes over objections from a Pasco GOP official.
The fields are set for the April municipal elections in Pasco County. Times (2012)
The fields are set for the April municipal elections in Pasco County. Times (2012) [ Times (2012) ]
Published Jan. 27, 2020
Updated Jan. 27, 2020

NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley called it a "plea for civility.''

Last week, Corley officially requested the county amend a local ordinance encouraging candidates for public office to engage in policy discussions, not personal attacks or falsehoods.

Pasco County commissioners indicated they had no problem with it.

But somebody did.

Randy Evans, the newly elected Republican State Committeeman from Pasco County, objected.

"I disagree with Mr. Corley’s remedy. It’s a waste of time and not worth the paper it is written on,'' Evans told commissioners.

Related: Pasco considers new campaign rules

Corley’s "remedy'' was an amendment to the local ethical campaign practices act to stress civility. The ordinance, adopted in 2006, now will ask candidates to “publicly discuss the issues and avoid criticizing my opponent in a personal nature,’’ as well as to “listen to opposing viewpoints and avoid language that is insulting or inappropriate.’’

It also asks candidates not to distribute campaign material, including through social media, that falsifies, distorts or misrepresents facts.

"Remember, there was no Facebook in 2006,'' said Corley.

Evans, who addressed commissioners the morning of Jan. 21, about three hours before a scheduled public hearing on Corley’s proposal, said he didn’t disagree with a need for civility. But the proposal ran contrary to the Republican Party’s ideals, he said, stepped on candidates’ First Amendment rights and served to insulate incumbent office-holders.

Newly elected Pasco Republican State Committeeman Randy Evans objected to a proposal from Elections Supervisor Brian Corley to try to encourage civility in county elections. Evans is shown during his 2016 campaign for county commission when he lost to Republican incumbent Kathryn Starkey.
Newly elected Pasco Republican State Committeeman Randy Evans objected to a proposal from Elections Supervisor Brian Corley to try to encourage civility in county elections. Evans is shown during his 2016 campaign for county commission when he lost to Republican incumbent Kathryn Starkey. [ Tampa Bay Times ]

"It is the liberal left ideology to create a new law every time you don’t want something,'' Evans said.

Corley, a Republican, answered during the afternoon public hearing before the five Republican commissioners.

"You’re either for civility or not for civility in this ordinance,'' he said. "This is above partisanship. ... It’s asking to have some decorum from all candidates. I don’t know how you can be against this.''

The amendment also includes a prohibition against using amplified devices to address voters as they enter the polls on Election Day. That provision stems from a 2016 incident in which a candidate used a bullhorn to campaign outside polling sites, effectively circumventing the state-required buffer between the polls and active campaigning.

Pasco County Supervisor of Elections Brian E. Corley asked the county commission to adopt new rules to govern campaigning in Pasco elections. Times (2008)
Pasco County Supervisor of Elections Brian E. Corley asked the county commission to adopt new rules to govern campaigning in Pasco elections. Times (2008) [ WIGINTON, KERI | St. Petersburg Times ]

"I appreciate your addressing a problem that we couldn’t address,'' said Commissioner Kathryn Starkey, who also volunteered that she had no problem signing a pledge to campaign with civility.

Starkey is running in 2020 for a third, four-year term to the District 3 commission seat.

Her Republican opponent in the previous two primary election cycles?

Randy Evans.

The commission voted 5-0 to amend the ordinance as Corley requested.