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Election tomfoolery perplexes

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By GREG HAMILTON, Citrus Times Editor of Editorials

© St. Petersburg Times
published November 3, 2002

We've entered the final days of the strangest election season in Citrus County since Charles Horn's infamous "Cut the Bull" campaign in 1990 against County Judge Gary Graham.

That race featured such novelties as snorting bull billboards and a board game built around some of Graham's strange courtroom decisions and antics. This year, we've had just about everything else.

In the past few days, we've seen an elected official call a press conference to angrily denounce a candidate. Typically, such fireworks occur when the combatants seek the same office. Not this time, however.

Sheriff Jeff Dawsy waded into the increasingly muddy battle between his friend, County Commissioner Jim Fowler, and opponent Scott Adams because, he said, Adams impugned the department's reputation by falsely saying that it is the target of a state investigation.

Dawsy achieved his goal of defending the agency, but he accomplished more. Not only did he send a strong signal to his legion of supporters a week before Election Day that Adams is the enemy, he also drew front-page attention to comments that relatively few had heard up to that point.

That unusual episode became weirder when Adams, in jest, said he was considering action against Dawsy for practicing medicine without a license. Dawsy labeled Adams "delusional," which Adams said was a clinical diagnosis that the sheriff lacks the medical credentials to make.

Oh, brother.

Two days later, one of the more slimy pieces of local campaign literature in memory began soiling mailboxes around the county.

The mailing from the Fowler camp features a red-tinted photo of a glowering Adams, making him look as menacing as a WWF bad-boy wrestler. The text focuses on a 1993 arrest and asks the burning question: "Is a guy who thinks it's okay to spit on police officers the kind of person you want on the Citrus County Commission?"

The prize for the oddest bit of campaign-related correspondence this year, however, goes to an e-mail from Commissioner Josh Wooten that is circulating around the county.

Like Dawsy, Wooten is not even on the ballot this year. Like the sheriff, Wooten is a Democrat. Both men, however, support a Republican, Fowler, against an independent candidate. Here are excerpts from that message:

"Adams ran as a Republican in 2000, and is now closely aligned with Republicans running for office. He is slandering me and our Democrat sheriff.

"Citrus County Government is serious business, with a nearly a $140-million budget. Who do you think is best qualified to handle a budget of that magnitude? Two, Commissioner Fowler is the Chairman this year, and has ruled in a total bipartisan fashion. He has appointed me to many important committees, including the Elections Canvassing Board.

"On matters of the heart (People Issues), Jim always seems to be compassionate. ... Please think long and hard before you cast your ballot in this race, as I'm the one who has to sit there with the winner. Who would you want to sit next to if you were making decisions affecting the safety, health, and welfare, of 120,000 citizens?"

Wooten also sent a memo to members of the county's Tourist Development Council criticizing Adams for suggesting using tourist tax revenue to improve the lake system, saying the idea was "misleading to the public."

The weirdness just keeps on coming.

It's been the kind of election in which a candidate worth nearly $3-million is fighting tooth and nail to retain a job that pays $45,000. He's collected nearly $100,000 in campaign contributions, almost all from the most powerful segment of the business community, and becomes indignant when it's pointed out that some might find this curious.

Even the Times has felt the impact of this bizarre season. We find ourselves recommending a candidate with a criminal record, a candidate we've blasted in editorials for the past several years.

At least, it will all be over on Tuesday night. Of course, depending on the outcome of the races, the strangeness may just be getting started.

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