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Constitutional upheaval

Published:   |   Updated: May 7, 2013 at 01:38 PM

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When voters go to the polls this year, they will face a ballot that may look a bit strange — all five elected constitutional officers will be up for election for the first time.

This situation developed after four of the five officers opted to step down at the end of their terms.

Though Republican Sheriff Al Nienhuis has been at his post since January 2011, he did not get there by the normal electoral process. Then-Gov. Charlie Crist appointed Nienhuis — who was the undersheriff in Pasco County — to fill a vacancy left by the departure of Richard Nugent, who was elected to the U.S. House.

"There's not going to be a lot of familiar faces," County Commissioner Dave Russell said.

Russell said voters could also be facing some new names due to redistricting in the state Senate and House.

"Any and all of those could … provide new representatives," Russell said.

Civic activist Linda Hayward said it is a good thing that some of these entrenched constitutional officers step down and someone new comes in with cost-saving and streamlining ideas.

"A lot of these old constitutionals have been there so long, they became accustomed to these big old fat budgets," Hayward said. "We might get somebody who might want to come in and look for efficiencies, cut their budgets and be up front and say that."

Hayward called it an exciting time for the county, but it will require a bit more homework on the part of voters, who will have to learn the platforms of the new faces.

"People are going to have to study up on these people's backgrounds," she said.

When Hernando County Tax Collector Juanita Sikes announced this month that she would not seek re-election to a fourth term, she became the fourth constitutional officer to make such an announcement.

Others include Circuit Court Clerk Karen Nicolai and Property Appraiser Alvin Mazourek (both Republicans) and Democratic Supervisor of Elections Annie Williams.

All will step down at the end of their terms

Some of the new names on the ballot may already be familiar to some voters: Republican Sally Daniel, chief deputy with the tax collector's office, has filed to run for county tax collector; Republican John Emerson, chief deputy with the property appraiser's office, filed to run for that office; and Republican Don Barbee, general counsel for Nicolai's office, is running for Clerk of the Court.

Republican Bobby Sullivan and Democrat James "Eddie" McConnell are vying for the sheriff's post.

Four people are seeking to replace Williams as supervisor of elections: Republican Kyro Morales, former employee of that office; Democrat Elizabeth Townsend, the office's director of operations; Republican Shirley Anderson, district director for Nugent; and Republican Mark Caskie, former county code enforcement supervisor.

Government watchdog Anthony Palmieri said he doesn't think the overhaul in constitutional offices will affect residents too much.

Some of these new candidates "have been in these offices working there for many years and they have experience," Palmieri said. "They're just probably going to carry on the policies of their predecessors, and in many cases you probably won't notice any change at all." (352) 544-5290

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