tampabay.com

Clerk race could have 3 in running

By DAVID DECAMP
Published April 21, 2007


A month into his latest gig, former state Rep. Ken Littlefield is sniffing after another political office.

Littlefield is interested in running for Pasco County clerk of courts in 2008, broaching the option with Republican leaders including county party chairman Bill Bunting and state Sen. Mike Fasano.

Clerk Jed Pittman, 65, a Republican, announced last year he will retire after 32 years, spurring unusually early intrigue in an unsung, but well-paying, post. The job pays $136,000.

Littlefield, a Republican, was tapped in March by Gov. Charlie Crist to be executive director of the Florida Statewide Advocacy Council, a $95,000-a-year job. That came after Crist yanked Littlefield's nomination to be on the utility-regulating Public Service Commission, a job that would have paid him $132,000 a year.

"You serve at the pleasure of the governor," said Littlefield, who was a lawmaker from 1999 until last year. "There are no end dates, and it could end any day. It could end in six months."

Littlefield, 62, who had called Wesley Chapel home, lives in Tallahassee while leading an agency charged with helping people with special needs deal with other government agencies, such as the Department of Children and Families.

Unlike real estate broker Greg Armstrong, Littlefield has not filed paperwork to run and raise money. Nor has another potential candidate, chief deputy clerk Paula O'Neil, 50, a Republican from Bayonet Point.

Armstrong, 52, filed to run April 13, becoming the only official candidate for any county race next year. Armstrong, a Republican who lives in New Port Richey, wanted to be the first candidate so he could get a head start on fundraising and cultivating supporters.

Because Littlefield would have to resign from his state post to raise campaign donations, he said he will wait until next summer to begin a campaign - if he runs, of course.

Usually, the clerk's race attracts scant attention, particularly so far from the election. But Littlefield said the race is intriguing because it's open for the first time in decades.

"As someone who has lived here 30 years, I'm glad to see the level of interest, because historically we don't have it," said Armstrong, president-elect of the West Pasco Realtors.

As an administrative job, the clerk lacks the zing of high-profile votes that face local and state lawmakers. The clerk makes sure deeds are recorded, handles County Commission records and keeps scores of documents intact as they wind through the court system. The most exciting development in recent years has been allowing people to pay traffic tickets over the Internet.

But the quiet comes with good pay and has no term limit.

Money and political security are not why Littlefield says he is interested. He wants to "return home to Pasco" and "to serve the people of Pasco," a tenor echoed by other potential clerks.

"I am interested because I care about the future of the office," said O'Neil, who became the chief deputy clerk in July 2006.

As they have discovered, however, the field has time to grow.

For example, Fasano said Armstrong contacted him several months ago to inquire about the clerk's race. Littlefield did so several weeks ago.

One of their questions was whether Fasano was interested in the job.

In the first three months of this year, Fasano has raised $60,350 toward his re-election bid. He has no opponent yet in what would be his final term in the Senate because of term limits. He said this week he intends to be on the Senate section of the ballot, but ...

"For me to say absolutely no, who knows what's going to happen eight months, 10 months, a year, or a year and a half from now?" said Fasano, R-New Port Richey.

So far no Democratic candidate has turned up. Pittman soundly defeated New Port Richey attorney Robert Altman, a Democrat, in 2004.

County Commissioner Michael Cox, a Democrat elected last fall, said he has talked about the clerk's race with Armstrong, a fellow member of the Holiday Rotary. But Cox has not pledged to support him.

"There is a fundamental difference between Greg and I, and that is my political party," Cox said. "But if you check my campaign reports, you'll see he contributed to my campaign [$250]. He certainly has an upper hand on other people" seeking Cox's endorsement.

David DeCamp can be reached at 727 869-6232 or ddecamp@sptimes.com