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Two west Orange County mayors yank support for Bobby Olszewski in HD 44 race

Two well-connected west Orange County suburban mayors have withdrawn their support for Bobby Olszewski in the upcoming Republican special election primary for House District 44, over his support for term limits for local elections.

Windermere Mayor Gary Bruhn and Ocoee Mayor Rusty Johnson announced in an open letter this morning that they are withdrawing their endorsements of Olszewski because of concerns over his commitment to the home rule paradigm that assumes cities and counties should have the rights to govern as they see fit.

The pair of mayors blasted Olszewski for supporting term limits for local offices, and stating in campaign fliers that as a state representative he would push for term limits.

Those fliers also called for ethics reform legislation that would address “secret government contracts” and increase the lobbying ban for local officials.

Olszewski responded Monday morning by doubling-down on that position, and challenging his opponents to state their positions on term limits.

The two mayors are more than just small-town mayors. Johnson serves as chairman of the National League of Cities’ Small City Committee. Bruhn is president-elect of the Florida League of Mayors.

“As local elected officials, we want to send people to Tallahassee that recognize our right to self governance and support that right. So when one candidate sends out flyer after flyer advocating that he will work to take away that right and advocates for term limits for local elected officials it goes against what we, the Florida League of Mayors and the Florida League of Cities strive for,” their joint letter states.

“Each of our cities and towns decide when our elections will be, how long our terms will be and if we should even have term limits. This is contained in every local government’s charter and it was the residents who decided that, not Tallahassee. This is our citizen’s right. It troubles us even more when a candidate has served at the local level and has forgotten the importance of Home Rule.,” they continue. “So with that, we can no longer support your candidacy to go to Tallahassee. We must put our resident’s rights first and speak out.”

Bruhn and Johnson were among the first endorsements of Olszewski, a former Winter Garden commissioner. He kicked off his campaign in April with a list of endorsements from Orange County municipal leaders.

At that time there was only one other Republican in the race, Dr. Usha Jain, an urgent care physician. Now Kissimmee/Osceola County Chamber of Commerce President John Newstreet and businessman Bruno Portigliatti have joined the race. The Republican primary is two weeks from Tuesday. The lone Democrat running is Paul Chandler, and the Republican primary winner will face him in the Oct. 10 special election to fill the vacant seat for southwest Orange County.

Olszewski responded in an email to Orlando-Rising Monday morning:

“I will not sell out my beliefs or conservative principles for an endorsement. I firmly believe that elected officials should be subject to term limits. I will not stop fighting for term limits and I believe this is a major distinction between myself and my opponents in this race. I am seeking to go to Tallahassee to represent the will of the people, not the priorities of politicians,” he stated.

Bruhn stated that his and Johnson’s response comes in part from their leadership roles in the municipal leadership organizations they represent.

“Mr. Olszewski served with us on the League of Cities Advocacy Committees and should know what the importance of home rule is. He also knows that the League has opposed efforts by the House [of Representatives] to mandate all local elections on a given day and ANY other intrusions,” Bruhn said in a statement to Orlando-Rising. “If he has already forgotten that as a candidate, how will he treat local government if he is elected when he is pressured from his leadership? Mayor Johnson serves as chairman of the National League of Cities Small City Committee. I am president-elect of the Florida League of Mayors. In these roles, our colleagues look to us to not only be advocates of home rule, but leaders. And that is why we must speak out.”

Written By

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

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