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Coats easily beats former shock jock

Published November 3, 2004

LARGO - Pinellas County elected a new sheriff Tuesday, choosing a veteran law enforcement deputy over an out-of-work shock jock.

Republican Jim Coats easily defeated Democrat Bubba the Love Sponge Clem, winning by a ratio of three-to-one.

Coats, 60, takes over the top job after serving as a deputy with the department for 33 years - more than half his life - and as its chief deputy the past nine years.

Clem, 38, had no law enforcement experience and has never held public office.

Coats replaces Sheriff Everett Rice, who was first elected in 1988 and decided not to run after four terms in office.

"I'm glad to have the campaign behind us," said Coats, who celebrated with supporters at the Hilton on Clearwater Beach.

"It's been a long three years for us. Our opponent ran a fairly decent campaign. I'm just so grateful for the amount of support we had."

Clem could not be reached Tuesday for comment.

Election Day jitters set in, and his campaign manager said Clem left the state shortly after voting Tuesday morning. He flew to Indiana, where he planned to watch the national election results with his mother and stepfather in his hometown of Warsaw.

"The tension was a little bit much," said campaign manager Brent Hatley. "He said, "I'm on my way out. I don't think I can take it.' "

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 earn $145,187 annually.

As Rice's top deputy, Coats has already managed the annual budget and handled many of the management responsibilities.

Twice in his career, Coats was appointed by the governor to fill in for sheriffs in Gulf and Santa Rosa counties who were suspended by the governor and charged with crimes. In 1993, he temporarily headed the scandal-ridden Indian Rocks Beach Police Department at the request of the city manager.

Coats said he will not make many changes. In many ways, he's already running the department. One priority will 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.

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

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

His biggest challenge was to convince voters that he was serious and up to the job. In September, he said he would finance most of the campaign with his own money and mentioned spending as much as $50,000 from his pocket.

But by Oct. 29, his campaign finance reports showed he had invested only $10,000 in July, which he used to pay his qualifying fee.

Coats spent more than $182,000 on his campaign and raised more than $196,000, according to his Oct. 29 campaign finance report.

"I thought the campaign could have been a lot nastier than it was," Coats said. "I would never take that position. He wasn't that bad of a candidate. In other sheriff races, there was a lot more negative campaigning."

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