A trio of Sumter County Commission challengers on Tuesday knocked out three Villages Developer-backed incumbents, fueled by rage after last year’s 25 percent tax hike.
Villagers Craig Estep, Oren Miller and Gary Search, waged a longshot race against incumbents Don Burgess, Steve Printz and Al Butler, who were heavily funded by contractors beholden to the Morse family.
In the end, voters showed they still held the power, even though they did not control the campaign purse strings.
Search collected 28,560 votes to Butler’s 14,052 votes in the District 1 GOP contest.
Estep had 28,328 votes putting him far ahead of Burgess who collected 14,378 votes in the District 3 Republican contest.
Miller, a Village of Sanibel resident, was victorious in a three-way GOP contest in District 5. He picked up 24,254 votes. Printz had 13,325 votes and Daniel Myslakowski had 5,006 votes.
Estep, Miller and Search handily won every precinct in The Villages.
Burgess, Butler and Printz prevailed in precincts in Oxford and Wildwood. Those communities likely drew votes from non-Villagers who are employed by The Villages or businesses that contributed more than $180,000 to the incumbents’ campaigns.
Search, a Village of Amelia resident, said the voters sent a strong message.
“The people of Sumter County have made a statement by electing three public servants who will work hard to represent all residents. I am proud to be their representative,” Search said.
Search will face Villager Larry Green in the November balloting. Green is a No Party Affiliation candidate.
Estep had a similar reaction.
“The winner of this election was the people of Sumter County. I look forward to serving all of Sumter County as their public servant,” Estep said after the results were announced by the Sumter County Supervisor of Elections.
Miller said the vote returned the power to the people of Sumter County.
“I am honored that you have placed your confidence and support in me when voting for me in the Sumter County commissioner’s race,” Miller said.
The three incumbents, all heavily backed by the Developer of The Villages, found themselves in political hot water after last year’s 25 percent tax increase. They hired a Tallahassee consultant and poured more than $25,000 each into direct mail campaigns. They tried to brand the 25 percent tax increase as “fake news.” The three incumbents also had a heavy ad buy on Fox News.
The electorate was trimmed substantially in the Burgess-Estep contest due to the write-in candidacy of Villager Pete Wahl. Villager Jerry Prince also filed to run as a write-in in the Miller-Myslakowski-Printz contest. The write-in candidates prevented Democrats and NPA voters from participating in Tuesday’s GOP primary.