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PINELLAS SHERIFF

Very different worlds: GOP candidate Jim Coats has decades of law enforcement experience and the blessing of the departing sheriff. Democrat Bubba the Love Sponge Clem is a former radio shock jock fired for indecency.

MICHAEL SANDLER
Published October 26, 2004

Pinellas County voters could not ask for a more distinct choice in the race for sheriff.

Democrat Bubba the Love Sponge Clem, a former shock jock who was fired this year for crossing the line into indecency, takes on Republican Jim Coats, the department's chief deputy and a veteran who spent half his life with the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.

Clem has no law enforcement experience and has never held public office.

Until February, he hosted one of the most popular radio programs in Tampa Bay. But that ended after he was responsible for $755,000 in fines from the Federal Communications Commission - the largest ever for indecency.

Though he legally changed his name from Todd Clem to Bubba the Love Sponge Clem, he will be listed as Bubba Clem on the ballot.

Clem has embraced his lack of experience as an advantage. He said voters deserve a choice in the tradition of former entertainers, such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jesse Ventura. If elected, he said he would focus his attention on making deputies happy. His ideas include establishing a 24-hour day care facility and amending the take-home car policy so it includes deputies who live one county away.

Clem's biggest challenge is to convince voters he is serious and up to the job. Clem said he would finance most of the campaign with his own money. By early October, he had spent about $10,000.

"People can laugh at me all they want," Clem said. "I've been laughed at and ridiculed and scrutinized all my life. I don't need any (official) endorsements to be able to exercise my rights to run as a political candidate. I'm running on the aspects of an average man."

Coats has what Clem lack s - more than 30 years of law experience and endorsements from just about every member of the local public safety community. He's Sheriff Everett Rice's handpicked successor.

Where Coats may have his work cut out for him is trying to match Clem's name recognition and media savvy. He's quiet, and he's relatively unknown outside law enforcement circles. This is his first run for public office after years of being the man behind the sheriff.

That time has paid off, with Coats nearing $200,000 in campaign contributions. He has been campaigning since February 2001 and easily defeated his Republican opponent in the primary.

Coats said he would not make too many changes. In many ways, he's already running the department. He has served as Rice's top deputy for nearly a decade and oversees the department's budget.

One priority would be to establish a centralized records database for all Pinellas law enforcement agencies. He said he also wants to keep the department on the cutting edge of technology.

Despite his opponent's reputation, Coats said he's not one to take Clem lightly.

"From our position, we treat him just like any other candidate, any other opponent," Coats said. "We take the challenge serious, and do whatever we were going to do. I really don't consider him a celebrity."

THE JOB

The sheriff is elected countywide. He oversees a budget of about $225-million and 2,800 employees, including 893 sworn law enforcement officers and 826 detention deputies. The sheriff serves a four-year term and is paid a salary of $145,187.

REPUBLICAN

JIM COATS, 60, was appointed deputy sheriff in 1995. He has been a deputy with the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office since 1971. He was appointed by former Gov. Lawton Chiles as an interim sheriff of Gulf County (1993-94) and Santa Rosa County (1992). He moved to Pinellas in 1968 and is a member of the board of directors for Boys and Girls Club of the Suncoast. He is chairman of the Pinellas County Alliance for Children and Family Services and a member of the executive board of the Sheriff's Police Athletic League. He has a bachelor's degree in criminal justice from Saint Leo College and an associate's degree in business administration from St. Petersburg College. He is a graduate of the National Aviation Academy and holds a pilot's license. He is married with one son. ASSETS: home, boat, truck, investments, savings. LIABILITIES: mortgage. SOURCE OF INCOME: chief deputy salary.

DEMOCRAT

BUBBA CLEM, 38, is making his second run for sheriff but this is his first time on the ballot. He campaigned in 2000, but pulled out of the race before officially qualifying for the ballot. Clem hosted a popular and controversial morning radio show, which aired on WXTB-97.9 FM from 1997 until February of this year, when Clear Channel fired him, and on WFLZ-93.3 FM from 1992 until 1997. He moved to Pinellas County in 1992. He attended Indiana State University, but did not graduate. He is single with one son. ASSETS: Home, 401(k) investment, U.S. Savings Bonds, stock, furniture, jewelry, trucks, cars, tanning bed. LIABILITIES: Mortgage, line of credit, car loans. SOURCE OF INCOME: salary (settlement with Clear Channel), merchandise revenue.

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