Of kings, queens and pawns in one of the state’s most interesting House races

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In the chess game that we sometimes see in state House primaries, did we witness a clever move by former Broward Mayor, Kristin Jacobs, in her open seat race against Steve Perman?

As of this writing, the race is officially closed – only Democrats can vote – as one Ron Bray has qualified as a write in.

Pawn moves.  Perenyi attack.

Mr. Bray, or “Ronnie” as Jacobs calls him, was a volunteer for her 2012 Congressional race even calling himself, “Campaign Aide Extraordinaire.”  But Perman is countering and last night made a big issue of the move at the Margate Democratic Club. 

Counter attack. Queen’s gambit stalled.

But no mystery uncovered here as Jacobs is openly supporting the move.

She emailed me saying, “Ronnie is a nice young man who volunteered in my race in 2012 and asked how he could help in my current race.  I explained the dynamics of this election.  He felt if Republicans wanted to vote in this Democratic primary, they should put up a candidate.  He said he wanted to file as a write-in to ensure only Democrats could vote in this Democratic Primary.”

Sicilian defense. Dragon Variation. 

In fact, Broward has a well-known history of Democrats not just actively closing primaries, but adding a “darn right we did” spirit about it.  (Think Eleanor Sobel in 2008 versus Tim Ryan and Ken Gottlieb – and we know how that one turned out.)

But there is a twist…

Bray doesn’t live in the district and Florida statutes clearly state he must reside in the district at qualifying.  Read the statute for yourself:

99.0615 Write-in candidate residency requirements. —At the time of qualification, all write-in candidates must reside within the district represented by the office sought.

Uh-oh.

So does Perman make the next move and file a court action to remove Bray from the ballot?

He could, but then he owns a message he may not want to. Does he expose a weakness on his left flank? Can he, in taking this counter-measure come out saying, “all voters should vote” while trying to open the race?

Or does that give Jacobs the opportunity to seize a populist theme, “I do not believe Republicans should be tinkering in Democratic Primaries.”

There is no doubt that Perman’s history of personally donating to Republicans and running a PAC that gave thousands to RPOF will hurt him among a loyal Democratic electorate. Based on her significant financial advantage over Perman it seems that Jacobs may – may – have struck a serious tactical advantage.

So perhaps taking the case to court is indeed a good move for him.

Let’s say he makes that move.

I am not a lawyer so I called around and it seems the Florida Constitution has a thing or two to say about this matter.

Article II Section 21-2 says, “Each house shall be the sole judge of the qualifications…” and Article III Section 15(c), “Each legislator shall be…an elector and resident of the district from which elected…”

Taken together, this has apparently been interpreted by the courts to mean that write-in candidates have to meet the same requirements as other House members in that they must reside (whatever that means) in the district on the day they are elected.

As with so much about the law, it’s not crystal clear although the consensus appears to be that not residing in the district is not a fatal qualifying flaw – even for a write-in like Ronnie “Campaign Aide Extraordinaire” Bray.

And, let’s face it, it’s hard to counter the Constitution when it comes to these things.

But – as we know – different judges render different rulings.

It’s Perman’s move now and it’s a tough one.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.