Write-in candidate had no business speaking at yesterday’s Tiger Bay

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The most exciting local election in Pinellas County clearly is the race for Sheriff.

Former four-term Sheriff Everett Rice took an early lead in polling a year ago, but incumbent Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, appointed by Gov. Rick Scott over Rice, retains a commanding list of supporters who include: Sheriffs Coats, Gee, Judd & Knight; Sen. Latvala; Representatives Ahern & Hooper, the Clerk of Court, Property Appraiser, & Tax Collector; Commissioners Bostock & Latvala; Mayors Foster, Hibbard, Peters, & Mischler; and many more.

Charges of “birtherism, double-dipping, and even corruption are being bantered about by the leading candidates’s surrogates.

I still believe there are only two “leading” candidate, Gualtieri and Rice.  Everyone, and I mean everyone, knows this.  The polling proves it.  The media coverage reinforces it. Whoever the next Sheriff will be is going to be decided in the Republican primary.

Democrat Scott Swope, a well-meaning candidate, has little chance of winning, but he is carrying the standard of a major party, so I agreed that he should be included in discussions about the Sheriff’s race.  Swope’s performance at yesterday’s Tiger Bay forum proved me partially-wrong — Swope very much deserved to be included on the panel, if, for no other reason, he offered a set of alternative policies which contrasted sharply with those of Gualtieri and Rice.

But Greg Pound, a write-in candidate, had no business being included in the discussion.

Unfortunately, my beloved Suncoast Tiger Bay saw fit to invite Pound to be part of the panel on the Sheriff’s race.

What people came to see was Gualtieri vs. Rice.  And the two did not disappoint. The Tampa Bay Times’ Peter Jamison has the play-by-play:

“Rice faced repeated questions about his ties to antigovernment groups and his positions on issues such as immigration. … At one point Thursday, Rice was asked whether he would “go against” the U.S. government on federal laws he considered unconstitutional. … At one point, while Rice explained his view that Florida could benefit from an Arizona-style law allowing police to check the immigration status of those they stop for questioning, several people shouted from the crowd, ‘Why?’ “

Pound’s presence, however, was not just a distraction, but a disservice.

Pound has no chance of winning. None.  Nor is he a genuine candidate. He’s a write-in. He’s raised no money, has no organization to speak of.  Yet, he was afforded the same status as Gualtieri, Rice and Pound.

So instead of seeing Gualtieri and Rice engage in a genuine debate, as only Tiger Bay could provide, the crowd was often forced to listen to Pound’s ramblings.

How embarrassing was Pound? Just look at this caption and picture from this morning’s Tampa Bay Times:

That woman’s face says it all.

By the way, Pound did not have to be invited. If Tiger Bay had saw fit to only invite the candidates running in the GOP primary, i.e. Gualtieri and Rice, few would have complained. Showcasing Gualtieri and Rice would have been a service to a community still tying to sort out such a competitive race.

Instead, what occurred yesterday was a farce.

In the 2008 election, all of the write-in candidates running against Jim Coats and Randall Jones ended up receiving (combined) 0.26% of the vote. A total of 1,133 people voted for write-ins.  That’s but a quarter of one percent of the total vote.

At yesteray’s Tiger Bay panel, the write-in candidate received about 25% of the speaking time.

How is that fair? To those listening in the crowd? To the legitimate candidates speaking? To the voters of Pinellas County who depend on forums, such as this, to help decide clarify the race?

The answer is, it was not fair.

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.