Judge says Dingfelder can stay on ballot for Hillsborough County Commission

08/04/10 Seán Kinane
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A Hillsborough Circuit Judge ruled today that John Dingfelder can remain on November’s ballot.

Dingfelder missed a deadline to resign from Tampa City Council and took his name off the ballot. The county’s Democratic Party then nominated him to be their candidate. The local Republican party sued, claiming that Dingfelder is not an eligible candidate, but today a judge ruled against them.

We spoke with Patricia Kemp, chair of the Democratic Party of Hillsborough County.

"Well, they ruled in favor of having John Dingfelder on the ballot, and also, more importantly, saying that the Democratic Party has nominees. I mean, that was the basis of the lawsuit that the Republicans did, and there were Republican supporters that did this. They tried to say that not only couldn't the name of John Dingfelder be on the ballot, but that the democrats should have no nominee at all, was their argument, which would be a really extreme thing for a judge to do. I know of no other case, ever, in Florida, that's been done, and no one [inaudible] one. So, that would be a very extreme action for the judge to take. The judge ruled that, indeed, the Democrats did have a nominee, and that's whoever the democrats nominated. The Hillsborough County Democratic Party nominated John Dingfelder for this seat. One of the sites the judge makes in his memorandum, which for me says it all, is from a 1956 Florida case about voting rights. 'The right to vote is among the most important rights we all share as Floridians and Americans. Judges must be careful in determining whether a candidate nominated by a political party is legally qualified to run for office because the effect of a mistake could disfranchise a large segment of the population. Thus the law requires judges to resolve doubts about qualification of a political candidate, in favor of the candidate.'"

"It sounds like the judge is saying that even if John Dingfelder made a mistake earlier,it was up to the party to nominate someone in his place, and you nominated John Dingfelder. And whether or not that individual made a mistake, that the voters should still have the right to be able to vote for someone.

"That's right. I mean,what the Republicans were initialing were saying was that they could remove John Dingfelder from the ballot, that they could remove a nominee's name from the ballot. But that doesn't preclude the party from having a nominee. The party rightfully nominated someone who was qualified, and that was John Dingfelder. So, he's there. I thought it was a very solid case for a solid law, and because I can't see a judge saying that we could not have a nominee."

"And of course, Linda Saul-Sena is in a very similar boat as John Dingfelder is. They both were on city council, they both missed the deadline to make the announcement that they were going to run and resign from council, run for county commission, and they both were nominated by the party after they withdrew. So, what do you think this says for Linda Saul-Sena's candidacy?"

"I think it goes very, very well for Linda Saul-Sena's candidacy. As you say, they're very similar cases. Before we even knew the decision, her attorney was saying that yesterday, also. I just think the arguments fall, the law falls on the side of protecting the voter's rights. It's the voter's decision to decide if they want these nominees, Linda Saul-Sena and John Dingfelder. And I think that the Republican Party is very threatened by these nominees. They are very, very strong nominees. This was an attempt to get around that. Or these cases are to distract and to take away the public's attention from the great public service and the representation that these two candidates, Linda Saul-Sena and John Dingfelder, have already given us the City Counsel members. They've demonstrated how good they are. I don't think the Republican Party would have filed these law suits, had they thought that these were weak candidates, or candidates who wouldn't win."

"And finally, do you have any indication from the Republican Party, if they plan to appeal this judge's decision?"

"Absolutely not. I don't know."

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