Two incumbent Sumter County commissioners who last year voted for an unpopular tax increase now find themselves desperate for petition signatures for their re-election.
They are so desperate for signatures they are willing to accept the signatures of Democrats.
They are also asking local Republican groups to bend their rules of neutrality when it comes to party primaries.
The plea is being circulated by Commissions Al Butler and Steve Printz. Both Villagers are facing determined opposition from within the party. Those candidates are fueled by anger over last year’s 25 percent property tax increase seen as a sweetheart deal for the Developer of The Villages.
“We need your help. As you may remember, we are Republicans, running in Sumter County. In order to get our names on the ballot for the August Primary election, we need petitions signed by anyone who is a Sumter County Registered Voter (of any Party affiliation.) Due to the impact of Coronavirus and the governor’s order to stay at home and maintain social distance, it has become increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to get petitions signed by physically approaching voters,” Butler and Printz said in a email to the Republican Federated Women of The Villages.
The two were joined in the plea by GOP Sumter County Property Appraiser Joey Hooten, who is running unopposed for another term.
Butler’s Republican primary opponent collected the required signatures months ago.
“I had no trouble collecting the signatures,” said Gary Search of the Village of Amelia.
Search, a former Pennsylvania township commissioner, collected more than 1,000 signatures supporting his District 1 bid, exceeding the 965 signatures needed to place his name on the ballot.
Villager Oren Miller, who is running as a Republican against Printz, has also completed the petition process. Miller received notification on March 23 from the Supervisor of Election’s Office indicating he had successfully completed the petition process. Another GOP candidate running against Printz, Villager Daniel Myslakowski, also completed the signature-gathering process last month.
“I wanted to meet everyone in person so I personally met and got the signatures by myself,” said Myslakowski, who wrapped up the process in early March.
Due to the Coronavirus crisis, the state has relaxed the rules, allowing signatures to be gathered via email.
Butler, Printz and Hooten have turned to the Republican Federated Women, known through the years for their diligence in manning phone banks and churning out the vote.
“We have received a request from two Sumter County Commissioner Candidates and Sumter County Property Appraiser Candidate for help getting their petitions signed. If you have not yet signed their petitions, please email them and have them send you the form. We cannot let this virus keep our Republican candidates off the ballot,” Paula Bedner of the Republican Federated Women said in a message to the troops.
Meanwhile, Jerry Prince of The Villages Republican Club sent out a similar plea for signatures for the trio of incumbents seeking re-election.
“It does not matter how you are registered (Republican, Democrat or No Party Affiliation),” Prince wrote in the email which also included directions on how to download and complete the petition.
Sumter County Commissioner Don Burgess is also seeking re-election but was not part of the plea. The Village of Bonnybrook resident is facing a challenge from Villager Craig Estep, who was the first commission candidate to complete the signature-gathering process, long before the life-altering threat of the Coronavirus.
The work on behalf of candidates would appear to violate the local GOP bylaws which state:
ARTICLE VIII -ENDORSEMENTS AND INTRA-PARTY DIFFERENCES Section 1:Pursuant to the Republican Party of Florida’s “Rules of Procedure,” no chartered club or organization using the name “Republican” shall participate in intra-party differences, nor shall it, as an organization, seek to influence the nomination or election of any Republican over another Republican unless the Sumter County Republican Executive Committee has endorsed one Republican over another. Then the Club may seek to influence the election of the candidate endorsed by the Sumter County Republican Executive Committee. The Club shall not entertain motions to adopt platform positions on issues or endorse candidates except that they may entertain such motions to take the same position or endorse the same candidate as the Sumter County Republican Executive Committee has taken. Under no circumstances shall the Club invite a known non-Republican to be a guest speaker at a Club meeting or function without prior approval of the Sumter County Republican Executive Committee Executive Board.
There does not appear to be any indication that the Sumter County Republican Executive Committee has taken the unprecedented step of endorsing candidates ahead of the August GOP primary.