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Dennis Ross to Congressional Rival Lori Edwards: Resign as Elections Commissioner

September 7, 2010 - 6:00pm

Former Rep. Dennis Ross, the Republican candidate looking to take the congressional seat U.S. Rep. Adam Putnam is vacating, called on his Democratic opponent Lori Edwards Wednesday to resign as Polk County supervisor of elections.

Almost two years ago Lori Edwards said she would take a leave of absence from her position to run for Congress, said Ross. By saying that, she clearly understood then that she would be unable to exercise her duties impartially and her remaining as supervisor would be a conflict of interest and present the appearance of impropriety. Just because she was told that a leave of absence would not be allowed, does not mean that the conflict of interest or potential for abuse does not remain.

Ross, who routed conservative activist John Lindsey in the Republican primary, also took aim at the way Edwards acted through the Democratic primary, where she bested Doug Tudor, who ran against Putnam in 2008.

Through her actions during the primary election, Lori Edwards has clearly shown that she is unable to exercise her duties impartially and ethically, and for the sake of all candidates and the integrity of our democratic system, I call on Lori Edwards to step down as supervisor of elections, said Ross. I also call on her to commit to removing her name, appearance, and voice from any voter education advertisements during the general election

The Ross campaign blasted Edwards and claimed she is using the office to promote herself, noting that her name appears on office vehicles and comment cards at the polls and questions her handling of a petition drive led by Dewey Smith in 2005 to cut the salaries of government officials. The campaign also criticized Edwards for being prominently featured in taxpayer-funded television and radio ads. It claims that in 2008 Edwards said she would take a leave of absence if she ran for Congress.

The potential for a serious conflict is not merely a hypothetical idea, said Fred Piccolo, Ross' campaign manager. Imagine if, in District 13, Vern Buchanan or Christine Jennings had been supervisor of elections in 2006. Taxpayers would have rightly questioned the ability of the supervisor's office to be unbiased, and the validity and security voters deserve in an election would have been compromised beyond repair.

From Dewey Smith, to taxpayer-funded mobile billboards, to taxpayer-funded television and radio ads, to placing comment cards with her name on them inside every voting booth, Lori Edwards cannot be trusted with this election, insisted Piccolo. These instances, and others, show a clear pattern of using her office for political gain.

Perhaps inspired by the run the Tampa Bay Rays are giving the New York Yankees in the AL East, Piccolo used a baseball analogy to describe the situation in this Tampa Bay area congressional race.

Lori Edwards originally asked the taxpayers to allow her to play in the baseball game, be the home plate umpire, hire the other umpires, allow one of the umpires she hired to replace her for a few innings while she still remained in the game, and then be allowed to return behind the plate if her absence doesn't go well, he said.Now she just wants to remain the umpire, hire the other umpires, remain in the game, and then be one of the judges in the replay booth if things are close.

The Edwards campaign brushed off the attacks from the Ross camp and said its accusations were mere politics.

Were not surprised that Dennis Ross is slinging mud, said Tony Coppola, a spokesman for Edwards. Its obvious that he is going to run a negative campaign.

Coppola added that Edwards had no intention of stepping down from her position.

While this district, which includes most of Polk County as well as parts of Hillsborough and Osceola counties, has traditionally been a Republican stronghold, the Democrats have increasingly done better in the district. Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain won the district by the slimmest of majorities in 2008, pulling 51 percent in the district.

There is a serious third-party candidate in the race. Conservative Polk County Commissioner Randy Wilkinson is running as the TEA Party candidate in the race.

With more than 15 years of service on the Polk County School Board and County Commission, Wilkinson said he was troubled by Edwards activities in the elections office.

This is certainly far from the ideal situation, he said.

Wilkinson said that Ross is in no position to attack the way Edwards holds office.

Thats the pot calling the kettle black, he said. He needs to clean up his own house.

Reach Kevin Derby at or at (850) 727-0859.

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