The Florida Elections Commission is fining a former Escambia County school board candidate for campaigning as a Republican in a non-partisan seat.
Kells Hetherington lost the 2018 race, but still faces a fine of $500 for describing himself as a “lifelong Republican” in a candidate bio. Stephanie Cunningham, assistant general counsel for the FEC, explained that bio was displayed on the local election supervisor’s website.
“Respondent campaigned based on political party affiliation when he supplied a statement to be published on his filing officer’s website, that stated he is a Republican,” Cunningham said during the commission’s meeting Tuesday. “I am recommending the commission find one violation of Section 106.143(3).”
The candidate's statement read, in part: “A lifelong Republican, I was raised in the Congregationalist Church ... I appreciate your taking the time to take a look at my candidacy and I would be honored to serve as your District 2 School Board Member”
Hetherington was originally fined $200 for violating state election code, but sought to sue the FEC, claiming they infringed on his free speech rights. In response, the FEC launched an investigation.
"My biography can damn well say that I'm a life-long Republican," Hetherington wrote. "My First Amendment right to free speech is not abridged simply because I'm running in a nonpartisan race. The prohibition is on my campaigning as a Republican, which I have not done."
Hetherington has alleged one of his political opponents originally filed the complaint, and has accused her of harassment. That opponent is Michelle Salzman, who is challenging Pensacola Republican Mike Hill for his seat in the House.