We knew The Villages Developer was worried about the upcoming Sumter County Commission election, but even we’re shocked to see an effort under way to manipulate the outcome of the August primary.
This week we learned that two Villagers with strong ties to the Developer – Pete Wahl and Jerry Prince – quietly entered two of the races as write-in candidates. Neither stands a chance of winning – they both know that – but that wasn’t goal in the first place.
No, the real reason Wahl, a former top Villages government official, and Prince, head of The Villages Republican Club, tossed their names into the hat is to limit those who can vote in the District 3 and District 5 commission races. Because by entering as write-in candidates, they essentially took away the ability for 45,000 voters to cast their ballots.
In Florida, only voters who are registered members of political parties may vote for respective party candidates or nominees for an office in a primary election. But if all of the candidates for an office have the same party affiliation and the winner of the primary election will not face any opposition in the general election (i.e. no write-in candidates have qualified), then all registered voters can vote for any of the candidates in the primary election. This is a peculiarity in Florida election law that may differ from the state you may have once lived.
Seems like a bit of a jumbled mess to us, but we’re guessing that a high-priced lackey at the Developer’s Brownwood Taj Mahal who is an expert in dirty tactics came up with this ethics-challenged plan. And sadly, Wahl and Prince checked their dignity at the door when the Developer’s people instructed them to participate in trying to rig the election.
If you’re wondering why the Developer and his minions are so worried about this election, it’s because last year the five Sumter County commissioners unanimously approved a highly controversial 25 percent tax hike. It was seen as a sweetheart deal for the Morse family as they pursue expansion of their sprawling retirement community south of State Road 44. And it brought out long lines of Villagers and other county residents who spoke out at two meetings in September and vowed to make the rubber-stamping commissioners pay the price when election time rolled around.
That tax hike also led to other Villagers putting their hats in the ring. District 3 incumbent Don Burgess found himself facing Republican Craig Estep, a supervisor in Community Development District 1 who gathered petitions to put his name on the ballot in “record time” (more on that later). District 5 incumbent Steve Printz found himself facing fellow Villagers Daniel Myslakowski and Oren Miller. And District 1 incumbent Al Butler found himself facing Republican Gary Search and No Party Affiliation candidate Larry Green.
Because of Green’s entry into that race, the winner of the Butler-Search race will still have to run against him in November. And that primary election will be restricted to Republican voters.
Clearly, the Developer is worried about the possibility of losing any or all of his three stooges on the commission, so the manipulative plan was launched to keep 24,848 registered Democratic voters and 20,472 No Party Affiliation and “other” voters from casting ballots. It appears as if the Developer and his cronies either think the incumbents have an in with Republican voters or they’re just so arrogant and out of touch they that don’t think anybody will catch onto their underhanded tactics to rig an election.
Note to the Developer: We think it’s really sad and disgusting that you are taking so many Republican voters for granted. We’re pretty sure you weren’t at the two commission meetings at the Savannah Center in September when hundreds of people showed up to protest the ridiculous tax increase that was being rammed down their throats. And whether you know it or not, many of those who spoke out against the plan and vowed to seek changes at election time are Republicans. So in reality, your efforts to rig two elections stand a real good chance of backfiring because you are underestimating the intelligence and long memories of your residents.
Another thing we find disgusting about this election hokum is that Wahl and Prince were willing to sell out so quickly and throw their fellow Republicans under the bus because the almighty Developer told them to jump.
Wahl spent more than 20 years as Villages District manager and is perhaps best known for starting the Rotary Club’s annual Chili Cook-Off in The Villages. He was around in the lean years and oversaw the development of Spanish Springs one building at a time. And he is the chairman of the Lake-Sumter State College Board of Trustees.
But Wahl apparently has either forgotten the not-so-subtle shove out the door he received in 2008 when the Developer was ready for a change in the District office or his ego is just so big that he couldn’t turn down the chance to see his name in print again.
When asked why he entered the race, he said, “Everybody deserves a choice.” We believe that, but we also believe that’s about as far from the truth as one can get for Wahl to come out of retirement to smear his own good name.
There’s also Prince, who heads up the local Republican Club. He long ago saw Villagers for Trump zoom past his good-old-boy club in membership numbers, so like Wahl, he’s clearly desperate to get in good with the Developer – even if it means selling his political soul.
There are many ironies about Prince entering the race that are just downright comical. For instance, at one of the contentious tax hike meetings last year, he stood before the commission and told them they were doing a great job.
In fact, it was captured on video:
In April, he sent out a desperate plea for area residents – even Democrats – to sign petitions for the three incumbents to get their names on the ballot because unlike their competitors, they apparently didn’t take the process seriously early on and then found themselves in a mess thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic (Butler and Burgess actually had to pay $3,534 apiece to buy their way into their elections).
But his biggest faux pas came earlier this month when he sent out an email announcing $15,000 in campaign contributions to the three incumbents – including the guy he’s “running” against. In the email, Prince arrogantly suggested the county commission challengers didn’t understand the nuance or the need for the 25 percent tax increase approved last year. He also took a swing at the media by writing: “This information of 25% was reported by many non-reputable Medias or as President Trump calls them ‘Fake News.’”
Let’s see if we’ve got this straight. The four challengers with a wide variety of backgrounds in government and business aren’t smart enough to do the math to determine a 25 percent increase? If that was the case, why didn’t the commission dispute that fact in September or every day since then?
Fake News? Sounds more like “Fake Candidate” to us.
By now we’re guessing that you are quite disgusted with the Developer and his two yes men and you’re wondering what you can do about it. Luckily, there is a way those who have been shut out of the election can still cast their votes. They can change their party affiliation – more than 75 people had done just that by Friday – by going to this link: https://registertovoteflorida.gov/home.) Voters can change that affiliation at any time they desire to do so.
As we said earlier, we knew the Developer was ruthless. But even we’re surprised that he and his henchmen would go so far as to try to manipulate an election. It certainly smacks of desperation and fear. But maybe he should have thought about that before he had his rubber-stampers ram a massive – yes, Jerry, 25 percent is massive – tax hike down residents’ throats with absolutely no recourse available to them.