It’s difficult to look at today’s actions any differently from what they appear to be. You have a Republican candidate that has qualified by petition, indicating a solid base of support from the grassroots, yet, once the Republican incumbent drops out, another ‘successor’ is chosen, in the eleventh hour, to run for the seat. Is Jason Sager being ostracized by the Republican Party for daring to challenge the incumbent, prior to her decision to withdraw? For those who have been battling against the status quo for the past year and a half, it’s not an encouraging sign. It certainly seems to be politics as usual, with the power base doing whatever is necessary to hold it’s own…meanwhile, Rome continues to burn. – Tom Tillison
Michael D. Bates
BROOKSVILLE – U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite will not seek re-election and is supporting Hernando County Sheriff Richard B. Nugent in his bid for election to the 5th Congressional District seat.
In a statement, Brown-Waite cited persistent health problems.
The four-term congresswoman said she encouraged Nugent to run “because I know him to be a strong conservative who will continue my fight for veterans and seniors.”
Nugent, a Republican, agreed to do so and filed today with the state supervisor of elections office.
“There is no one in this country who has been more committed to serving our seniors and veterans than Ginny Brown-Waite,” Nugent said. “I am proud to continue her fight on their behalf and thank Ginny for her service and sacrifice.”
Nugent, 58, said Brown-Waite called him late March 31 and asked if he would be willing to run for her seat because of health issues and a problem with her pancreas. He didn’t give her an immediate answer until this past Saturday.
“It took me by surprise,” Nugent said. “It was not something I was anticipating. When she called me you could have knocked me over with a feather.
“It took me a long time, talking with my wife, talking about the pros and cons of it – because, obviously, this is a change for us. I’m a home kind of guy, I like being at home.”
The district has one of the highest concentrations of veterans and Social Security recipients in the country.
“Whomever takes that [seat] has got to have a strong contact with veterans,” said Susan McManus, a political science professor at the University of South Florida.
Nugent said he agreed to run because of his long experience in law enforcement, commitment to the military and “great love for this country.”
“I have three sons serving in the U.S. Army so I think I have an even greater stake in providing for our veterans,” he said.
If elected, Nugent said he would press for more long-term jobs in his district.
“I don’t think anyone’s really happy with what’s going on (in Washington),” Nugent said.
Republican Jason Sager and Democrat Jim Piccillo are also running for the congressional seat.
Sager called Friday’s political turnaround good news for his race.
“It benefits us because we’re not having to challenge the juggernaut machine of an entrenched incumbent,” Sager said. “At the same time it’s disappointing that my political party (has) continually discounted me and chosen to hand-pick a candidate who has never shown any interest in national politics.
“It’s obvious there’s a power struggle in place that is trying to protect itself,” he added.
Sager said he will pit his record of fiscal responsibility against Nugent’s track record as sheriff, who saw a budget increase every year in office.
Sager said Nugent may have name recognition in Hernando County but not in the entire district, which includes Citrus, Lake, Levy, Marion, Pasco, Polk and Sumter counties.
“I look forward to challenging the sheriff in any debates coming forward,” said Sager, who describes himself as a Jeffersonian Republican who adheres to the country’s founding precepts.
He also espouses the concepts of the growing Tea Party movement.
Piccillo, who lives in Land O’ Lakes, said he sees Nugent’s entry into the race as a “token gesture” by the Republicans and doesn’t believe the sheriff will attract many votes.
“I wish him the best but I don’t think he would do well in this seat,” Piccillo said. “I think this was a friendly gesture and Jason Sager will come away with the nomination.”
Piccillo also cited Nugent’s many issues with the Hernando County Jail.
In March, Nugent surprised county commissioners by proposing to take over the operations of the jail from Corrections Corporation of America and said he could run it more efficiently and save the county money.
On April 13, he withdrew his proposal, saying the jail was in too bad of shape and needed an estimated $2 million in repairs.
And this week, Nugent said he would consider running the jail now that CCA has opted out of its jail contract in 120 days.
CCA representatives said the county’s overture to Nugent was one factor in leading to its contract termination.
Brown-Waite’s pullout means the 5th District is no longer a “safe” Republican seat and the election is now a toss-up, Piccillo said.
Blaise Ingoglia, chairman of the Hernando County Republican Executive Committee, said the executive board was slated to meet in special session Friday night and issue a statement in a couple days regarding the 5th district race.
“No matter what happens, a Republican will win the seat,” Ingoglia said.
Ingoglia said Friday’s announcement was a surprise and he was not aware she was withdrawing from the race.
“Our hearts and prayers go out to Congresswoman Ginny Brown-Waite and her family and we wish her a speedy recovery,” Ingoglia said.
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