By EDIE GROSS
© St. Petersburg Times, published June 13, 2000
For the first time in 24 years, the race for Pinellas County supervisor of elections has attracted more than one candidate.
Republicans Patricia "Pat" Baker and Deborah Clark are vying for the post held for nearly 12 years by Dorothy "Dot" Walker Ruggles, who died May 16 of breast cancer.
Ruggles, an elections employee since 1977, had run unopposed in 1988, 1992 and 1996. Charles J. Kaniss, the supervisor before Ruggles, ran unopposed in 1980 and 1984 before retiring.
On May 30, Gov. Jeb Bush appointed Clark, Ruggles' deputy administrator, to serve as interim elections supervisor. Clark, an employee of the office for 22 years and deputy administrator for the last 18, said she wants to upgrade the office's technology and make information more available to voters.
The supervisor's office recently posted campaign finance reports for candidates in all county races on its Web site (www.co.pinellas.fl.us/soe/).
Baker, a local businesswoman and a Republican State Committeewoman for 12 years, said she also wants the supervisor's office to permit absentee voting on the Internet and to allow Web site visitors to download forms.
Baker, 59, ran for a state Senate seat in 1990, but was beaten in the Republican runoff by Don Sullivan, who later lost to Democrat Jeanne Malchon. Baker served as the county's vice chair for the George Bush for President campaign, was on the board of the Pinellas Center for the Visually Impaired and is a member of the Seminole, Gulf Beaches of Tampa Bay and Gulfport chambers of commerce.
She favors term limits and says the supervisor's office is in need of new faces.
"We've had no new blood in there," Baker said. "If there is a problem, you're perpetuating it. I'm not saying there is, but you need new ideas."
Clark, 51, opposes term limits but said she would not serve more than eight years, because voters have already approved term limits for constitutional officers.
Clark said that her experience in the supervisor's office is an asset. "Of all the offices in the courthouse, this is the one office that should not be politicized," she said.
The supervisor, who oversees a staff of more than 30 and is paid about $107,000 a year, is responsible for registering voters, keeping voter lists current, keeping track of candidate filings and organizing all elections.
Baker and Clark will face each other in the Sept. 5 primary, which could be open to all voters if the two Republicans remain the only candidates.