Last minute party switches in the race for Leon County Sheriff continue to roil the contest, and those decisions are proving to be fodder for candidates trying to score points with voters.
In the run-up to qualifying, Sheriff Mike Wood switched his long-held Democratic party affiliation to no party, and fellow Democrat Tommy Mills did the same. The move means all candidates will skip an August primary and head into the general election. And the remaining Democratic contender, Walt McNeil, is calling a foul.
“Are you a Democrat or are you not affiliated with your party? To say you’re not affiliated with your party, but to carry the mantra of your party seems disingenuous," he said Wednesday on WFSU's Persectives Show.
Wood disagrees his move was disingenuous, but he admits it was a political decision—aimed at giving him the best shot at getting elected.
“This is a political race, if I’m not confused here. So as it relates to how to get to the finish line first, political maneuvering has a lot to do with that," he said.
Switching to NPA allows Wood and Mills to avoid the possibility of losing in the primary. Mills did not attend Wednesday's candidate forum.
Talon gun range owner Charlie Strickland is the lone Republican in the race. He has said he believes the race should be no-partisan, but he’s also using the party switch against his challengers. Strickland started off as an NPA candidate, but qualified as a Republican.
“When two of the candidates abandoned their bases at the 11th hour at the last minute…and left their bases, we saw an opportunity to return to my base, and galvanize my base," he said. "Republicans in Leon county have been marginalized for a very long time. They haven’t had a say.”
Hanging over the sheriffs race are big issues, such as Tallahassee’s high rate of violent crime based on its population size. The city is leading the rest of the state in that measure. And the city and county are still trying to work out bugs with their joint-dispatch center, which the sheriff, along with the city manager and county administrator, oversee. That system has had several malfunctions that some say, contributed to the death of a sheriff’s deputy in a 2014 shootout along with a slow response to the fatal shooting of an Florida State University law professor.