By Michael Eng | Managing Editor
Seriously, I couldn’t make this up if I tried.
Amid all the rhetoric about Big Bird’s exaggerated demise and Colorado’s altitude affecting President Barack Obama’s ability to debate, a far more bizarre — and entertaining — sideshow is playing out locally.
Last week, Florida House of Representatives District 58 candidate Jose Vazquez, a Democrat, threatened to drop out of the race against Plant City Republican Dan Raulerson. His reason: The Hillsborough County Democratic Party removed his information from its website.
Sure enough, the site’s list of candidates jumps from District 57 to 59.
In a barely readable press release, Vazquez issued a statement Oct. 7, presented here in its original text: “The Puertorrican and Democrat Candidate for State House of Representatives District 58, Jose Vazquez, want the Chairman of the Hillsborough Democrat Party, Chris Mitchell resign to his position tomorrow before 5 pm. If Mitchell not quit Tomorrow, On Tuesday October 9, 2012 at Noon Jose going to withdraw his race.”
Hours later, the party fired back.
“The Democratic Party always desires to offer the voters of Hillsborough County a real choice in every election. To that end, the party strives to recruit qualified, committed and ethical candidates. In Florida, though, any person who is a registered member of a given political party can pay the filing fee and run as a candidate in that party’s name. Because of this, the party may not have knowledge of the individual, his qualifications, commitment to public service, or ethical orientation.
“Mr. Vazquez was not recruited as a candidate by the local Democratic Party,” the release stated. “Hence, we are unable to speak with confidence regarding his motivations for running — or for withdrawing — from the race.”
The next day, Vazquez seemed to be making his plans to withdraw. On his campaign website, he published his intentions, again presented in its original text: “Tomorrow Tuesday October 9,2012 at noon, I will be at the office of the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Located at 2514 N. Falkenburg rd. Tampa fl, 33619. The visit have 2 goals, 12:00 to 12:20 I want get some answers about why in the ballot (I receive by mail) my fellow Democrats Candidates for Senate 24 and for State Representative District 59 are not include. At 12:30 withdraw and call my opponent to concede the race and at same time I will response to any question about my withdraw as 2012 candidate for District 58 and I will show the ballot I receive by mail.”
But, Tuesday came and went. There were no grand gestures, no speeches, no fireworks. On Wednesday, Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Public Information Coordinator Travis Abercombie confirmed his office had not received withdrawal papers from Vazquez.
It is worth mentioning Vazquez qualified for the race by paying a $1,781.82 qualifying fee June 8 — just minutes before the deadline to declare candidacy passed. It also should be noted that this is not Vazquez’s first foray into politics. He made headlines in 2008 after he qualified as a write-in candidate for the District 58 seat — while he was in prison for a felony conviction of driving with a revoked or suspended license.
And all the while, Raulerson, one of our current city commissioners and former mayor, has been running his campaign, pounding pavement and preparing to represent his constituents in Tallahassee. He first met Vazquez at a forum presented Oct. 4, by the Greater Temple Terrace Chamber of Commerce.
“He is trying to do the honorable thing, and he had the courage to step up and enter the race; I applaud him for that,” Raulerson said. “If he does withdrawal, he should have no regrets.”
Although some may perceive Vazquez’s candidacy — a long-shot at best for the seat long held by Rep. Rich Glorioso — as a waste of Raulerson’s time and his supporters’ contributions, Raulerson said it has helped him learn more about the redrawn district, which now includes about half of Temple Terrace.
“If you have a race, and you have two people in the race, that’s a good thing,” he said. “He made people think about the race and the type of leadership they want. In my opinion, that’s always a good thing.
“Frankly, I don’t think anyone should just walk into (the seat),” Raulerson said. “I’ve gone to thousands of homes and met many new folks.”
For now, Vazquez said he will remain in the race. He is accusing Mitchell of violating party rules by campaigning against a party member and said he will remain in the race until that issue makes its way through his party’s members.
“I could drop out tomorrow, the next day — or even four days before the election,” he said.
But if he makes it to Nov. 6, without the support of his party, I would be surprised to see more than a handful of votes go his way.
“Party rules have not been violated,” Mitchell said. “In certain circumstances, it becomes clear that the Democratic Party should decline to extend — or to withdraw — support for a candidate, because we do not believe his or her election is in the best interest of voters. Generally, if the party becomes aware that the behavior of a person running as a Democrat is not beyond reproach, we are going to take that very seriously. In cases where the situation cannot be rectified, or the candidate does not understand the seriousness of the situation, the party will not support the candidate.
“This is the case with Jose Vazquez,” he said.