Write-in candidate closes County Commission District 2 primary
As qualifying ends, Griffin and Watson are unopposed
Published: Friday, June 20, 2014 at 2:22 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, June 20, 2014 at 10:07 p.m.
The Democratic primary might well decide the Alachua County Commission District 2 race, and the county’s roughly 80,000 Republican, small party and independent voters will have no say in the outcome.
In a qualifying week development, a write-in candidate who is head of the local Move to Amend group signed up to run for the commission seat. That move closed a primary that would have been open to all county voters because the only two candidates in the race were Democrats.
Write-in candidate Harry Patterson, a member of the Green Party of Florida, signed up to run on Tuesday. Prior to that, the two candidates were Democratic incumbent Lee Pinkoson and Democratic candidate Harvey L. Ward Jr.
As qualifying for state and local races ended at noon Friday, two area candidates — Alachua County School Board member April Griffin and state Rep. Clovis Watson Jr. — wound up with no opposition.
Florida is a closed primary state, meaning only voters registered in a political party can vote in that party’s primary. However, state law opens a primary to all voters when all of the candidates for an office are from that party and, with no general election opposition, the primary decides the race. When there is general election opposition, including a write-in candidate whose name will not appear on the ballot, the primary again is closed.
The ability of a write-in candidate to close a primary has, over the years in Florida, been the subject of lawsuits and complaints that a loophole in state law is being exploited to disenfranchise voters.
In an interview Friday, Patterson said he decided to run after attending the Green Party of Florida annual membership meeting in Orlando in early June. At that event, there was discussion on the need for more Green Party members to launch campaigns for office.
“I think that no race should go unchallenged,” he said.
His local political involvement has included leading the local contingent of Move to Amend, a nationwide political push for a constitutional amendment to undo the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling that removed spending limits on corporations and unions in political campaigns.
In February, the County Commission voted to put a nonbinding referendum on the November ballot to see if county voters support the measure. Pinkoson joined Republican Susan Baird in casting the dissenting votes against placing the referendum on the ballot.
Alachua County Supervisor of Elections records show that the only local campaign contribution Patterson made between 2004 and 2014 was $100 to the Move to Amend political action committee. Records show his wife contributed to the 2012 campaigns of Democratic County Commissioners Robert “Hutch” Hutchinson and Mike Byerly.
Based on campaign contributions in the current election cycle and on Pinkoson’s past County Commission races, the closed primary could favor Ward. Pinkoson, who switched from Republican to Democrat before running for office in 2002, has over the years received political and financial backing from Republicans and businesses that often back GOP candidates.
“Not only am I fortunate enough to have support from Democrats, but I have had crossover support,” Pinkoson said.
Contributors to the Ward campaign include a slew of current and former Democratic elected officials. Some of them were Cynthia Chestnut, a former Gainesville commissioner, state representative and county commissioner; former Mayors Pegeen Hanrahan and Craig Lowe; former City Commissioners Susan Bottcher, Thomas Hawkins, Jack Donovan and Warren Nielsen; and current City Commissioners Lauren Poe and Helen Warren. Former Democratic Executive Committee chair Jon Reiskind also has contributed.
Friday, Ward said he felt the issues in his campaign — funding social services, fixing roads and protecting springs — should resonate with voters regardless of party affiliation.
Asked if he felt the closed primary would benefit his campaign because of the local Democratic leaders who are supporting him, Ward said: “I’ve been a Democrat longer than Commissioner Pinkoson. That may have something to do with (the support).”
With qualifying wrapping up Friday, here are the candidates in the other countywide and legislative races:
— In County Commission District 4, Democrats Ken Cornell and Kevin W. Thorpe will face off in the August Democratic primary, with the winner advancing to face Republican John Martin in November.
— In the August School Board races, incumbent Gunnar Paulson and challenger Philoron Wright face off for District 3. In District 5, Rob Hyatt and Janice Vinson will go against one another for the seat now held by Carol Oyenarte. District 1 incumbent April Griffin returns to office without opposition.
— In the race for Alachua County tax collector, two high-ranking officials with the office, Republican Jon Costabile and Democrat John Power, will compete to succeed the late Von Fraser.
— In Florida House District 10, Republican incumbent Elizabeth Porter faces write-in candidate Barbara Ann Prince. In House District 21, Republican incumbent Keith Perry faces Democrat Jon Uman. District 20 incumbent Clovis Watson Jr. returns to office without opposition.
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