State Rep. Brett Hage won’t be on the ballot in next month’s Republican primary election, but his presence loomed large at this week’s candidate forum hosted by the Property Owners’ Association of The Villages.
The embattled Republican announced April 1 that he would not seek re-election after intense backlash from constituents over his $350,000 annual paycheck from The Villages. The revelation of his connection to the developer came at a time he was working to pass legislation to protect The Villages from impact fees to be levied by the Sumter County Commission.
On Tuesday night at the Everglades Recreation Center, Hage was a primary target of the three Republicans and one Democrat vying to fill his District 52 seat. Even event organizers tailored questions to ensure his successor won’t have a similar conflict.
Village of Mallory resident Andrew Curtis, an attorney and POA board member, used part of his opening statement to tie fellow Republican John Temple to the Developer like Hage.
“I am totally independent,” Curtis said. “My opponent John Temple has raised an astounding sum of $100,000 from people who do business with the developer – the landscaping company and the cement company. Now, he’s going to say he’s not going to do any favors for them. I ask you, who is he more likely to represent – you or the Developer’s political machine?”
One of the questions asked by the moderator was, “Who are your top five campaign contributors, and do they have any direct or indirect relationship with the developer?”
Temple, an establishment Republican who is chairman of the Sumter County GOP, pointed out that contributions in the race are limited to $1,000 and admitted that among his max donors are people or businesses who work for or otherwise benefit from The Villages.
“But these are people I that I went to school with, people I have been in their home, and they’ve been in mine. These are people I go to church with and even taught their kids,” Temple said. “Yes, they’re on my donor list. But they’re sorely mistaken if they think (they’ll benefit). I have to have my integrity. This position is not worth my name. I’m not going to do anything that is outside my character or is not best for our community.”
Rock Daze, a retired American Airlines pilot and former F-14 pilot in the Navy, said he is his own biggest donor. He said he’s lived around the state and country and he has friends from outside this area who have given. Without mentioning his name, Daze alluded that Temple is being groomed by the same political operatives who groomed Hage.
“We need somebody who’s not being groomed but is used to fighting at a higher level all over the state, and not just going up to represent this area because he’s lived here a long time,” Daze said.
Curtis used the question to attack Temple again. “I know we’ve hit John hard here, but if he didn’t take the money, we wouldn’t need to question anything,” he said. “Where’s my money come from? I’ve got one $1,000 donation from my college roommate. Every other contribution I’ve received are from clients of mine. Nobody expects anything. They donate because I’m an honorable guy and I’ll do the right thing.”
The lone Democrat in the house candidate forum, Ash Marwah, said his brother is his only $1,000 donor and that most of his supporters are giving $25 or a little more. “I am basicall self-financing this election,” said Marwah, who ran a small road and bridge construction and design business in Pennsylvania for 25 years. “I have no connection with the developer. I am not for sale. I will not take money from the Developer and will definitely not go on the developer’s payroll like Brett Hage did.”
The final question was, “Do you have any connection – direct or indirect – with the Developer?”
In saying he does not (besides living in a home he built), Daze said the developer has generally done a good job with this community. “But he shouldn’t have the only voice,” he said. “Each citizen should have a say.”
Curtis agreed. “I’m not saying (the Developer) should have no power,” he said. “But why don’t we come down from 100 percent to 80 percent?”
Marwah said he has no relationship with the Developer and was perfectly happy playing golf and bridge in The Villages. “Until I saw the $350,000 paycheck for Brett Hage,” Marwah said. “That really upset me because that’s our tax money going round and round and ending up in his pocket. That’s what got me started on this election.”
Temple responded to the attacks by saying he’s not Brett Hage.
“Brett Hage’s not my father, and the sins of the father should not be passed down on me like that,” he said. “I’m my own man. Anyone who knows me can tell you that.”
The primary election is Aug. 23 and general election is Nov. 8. Registration deadline for the primary is July 25.