Miriam Steinberg fails to qualify in HD 64 special election

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The absurdity that has marred the HD 64 contest since last summer continues, with GOP candidate Miriam Steinberg dropping out of the special election GOP primary scheduled for February. That means that Jamie Grant, the former incumbent, will now face (and likely destroy) write-in candidate Daniel Matthews in the special general election contest scheduled for April 21.

The contest will cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars, with the outcome not in doubt, as no write-in candidate has ever won an election in Florida.

Even if Steinberg had qualified by the noon deadline on Tuesday, she would remain a heavy underdog to Grant, who was first elected to the half-Pinellas/half-Hillsborough district back in 2010 and re-elected in 2012. He defeated Steinberg last month by a 59.5 percent to 40.5 percent margin.

However, that wasn’t the general election, but actually a “universal primary,” that didn’t include Matthews. But the results were thrown out by the House of Representatives and a new election was called for, based on ongoing litigation.

Steinberg says she didn’t qualify by Tuesday’s deadline because of a dispute with the state Division of Elections regarding her filing fee. Because the special election scheduled for 2015 is considered a new election, all of the candidates had to submit new filing fees of $1,781. Steinberg says she asked the state to reapply the fee she already paid, but they rejected that claim.

The reason that House District 64 remains without a representative in Tallahassee has to do with state law that allows a write-in candidate to close what should be a universal primary open to all voters.

Grant was a prohibitive favorite to win re-election to the seat earlier this year, as the Hillsborough/Pinellas Democrats failed to field a candidate to challenge him.

Enter Miriam Steinberg, an engineer based in Tampa who had never previously run for office.  She filed in time to challenge Grant in the GOP primary. Her husband Michael has been the political animal in the family. The lifelong Democrat has run several times unsuccessfully for political office, as well as serving a short stint as chair of the Hillsborough County Democratic Party.

With no Democrat in the race, the Republican primary in August would have been an open primary, allowing Democrats and independents to vote in the contest, instead of strictly Republicans.

But then along came Daniel Matthews, a mysterious figure who nobody seems to know anything about. His entrance into the race automatically changed the open primary back to a closed one, meaning that Democrats and independents were shut out of the primary. It’s not the first time that this has happened, and it generally benefits the incumbent. But Grant has maintained that he doesn’t know Matthews, and had nothing to do with his candidacy.

Nevertheless, that’s when Michael Steinberg sensed something very wrong was going on here, and filed a lawsuit,  challenging Matthews’ eligibility for not living in the district during the qualifying period, as well as the fact that Matthews’ entry prevented Democrats and others from participating in the vote.

A lower court sided with Steinberg, but an appeals court reversed that decision, holding that write-ins are required to live in the district only at the time they’re elected. The case is now being appealed to the Florida Supreme Court.

That led to the universal primary (without Matthews) on November 4, where Grant defeated Sternberg easily in the race among the Republicans.

But with appeals still underway, the House rejected the results, and ordered up the new elections.

 Still with me?
The Steinbergs may go to court again to challenge the requirement to file a second filing fee. But unless something unexpected happens in this heavily GOP-flavored district, Grant is ultimately going to be in the Legislature once again. However, as it stands now, he won’t be in it for most of the 2015 legislative session, since that begins in early March and concludes the first week of May. Grant (or Matthews) won’t be elected to office until April 21.

 

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.