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In saner era, Suncoast's sheriff races still colorful

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By JAN GLIDEWELL

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 19, 2000


Talk about your peculiar political dynamics.

No local political race, now that sanity has broken out in Port Richey and Crystal River, draws a more emotional response than that for sheriff.

Hysterical letter-writing machines, like the one we actually found operating inside the Pasco County Sheriff's Office about 16 years ago when a different guy was sheriff, start cranking up and turning out nasty pro-candidate, anti-media blasts.

One guy wrote in last week and said he is going to start checking the backgrounds of Times editors because they keep turning up unpleasant things like a girlfriend or a corpse-robber on the payroll of this sheriff or that. That's going to be a hoot.

The editors in question, despite the fact that they are my friends and, in one case, my boss, are two of the most boring men I know ... at least in terms of public records. Unless I really miss my guess, the worse thing they've ever done is fail to polish their wingtips.

My background, at least, would yield more fun information.

Things are very quiet in Citrus County where Sheriff Jeff Dawsy, as of this writing, is collecting what looks more like tribute than campaign contributions, because he has no opposition.

And in Hernando County it looks like tradition may rule with a field of apparently bright and qualified candidates with just the occasional weirdo in the woodpile seeking to replace retiring Tom Mylander, one of the best in the business.

Tradition also rules in Pasco County, where candidates and incumbents tend to be a little more, er, colorful.

As one of my colleagues pointed out the other day, former Sheriff Jim "Stack-'em-up-in-the-jails-like-cordwood" Gillum announced that he wants his job back by saying he is not a deadbeat dad, that he won't ever date a female employee again (which created just the tiniest of problems last time out) and did not knowingly take campaign contributions from a drug dealer.

I feel safe in adding that Gillum is not a serial killer (although he has been known to shred wheat), has never cross-dressed in public and only once, when he began saying that reporters who asked him questions were all communists, has he channeled the spirit of the late U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy.

Incumbent Lee "Loose" Cannon, whose first campaign was loosely based on not being Jim Gillum, has had his moments, implying that a circuit judge was a liar and trying to squeeze more money out of the tax rock with a set of figures that stank worse than one of you-know-whose cruise ships after a week in the Bahamas.

Cannon's bouts with being out of touch with reality are, at least, purpose specific. Gillum's were just downright inspired.

Add to the fray my old pal Oonagh Guenkel, who has absolutely no chance of winning but at least gives me the chance to say "Oonagh" a lot more than I normally do, and with nobody looking at me strangely.

Before she gets angry at the "can't win" thing, Guenkel should remember that I also told Pasco County Commissioner Sylvia Young, now in her 20th year on the board, and former Gov. Bob Graham, who served two terms, the same thing. And I told them the same year that I told Skip Mize and Phil Williams that Lunch on Limoges, the most successful restaurant in Pasco County history, was a terrible idea.

I know almost nothing about Bob White, another candidate for sheriff, which, in this case, is probably a good thing. My guess -- from the viewpoint of ignorance -- is that ignorance could lead to the bliss of success in this race.

I'm still bothered by the depth of emotion in the race, though. It concerns me that the people we let pick the men and women who wear guns, and use them if necessary, surround themselves with excitable people.

Actually, I think the entire concept of elected law enforcement chiefs is absurd. It's the kind of thing that will someday have us wind up with a looney in office because he has good hair. (Current company need only to look in their respective mirrors to get over being offended).

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