Paul Chandler’s HD 44 campaign confident he’ll overcome residency challenge

Paul Chandler

Democratic House District 44 special election candidate Paul Chandler might use the “Bev Kilmer” defense as part of his efforts to overcome a challenge to his residency qualifications to run in this fall’s special election.

Chandler, from Lake Buena Vista, faces Republican Bobby Olszewski, from Winter Garden, in the Oct. 10 special election to fill the vacant HD 44 seat to represent southwest Orange County.

First, though, Chandler may have to overcome a lawsuit filed last week in Leon County challenging his qualification to run for office in Florida. Chandler has had a split residency between Missouri and Florida for years, and allegedly even voted in Missouri last year, but insists Florida has been his primary residence for years. The suit challenges that.

His campaign calls the suit frivolous, more of a distraction than a concern.

“We’re all confident that this is going to be a breeze,” said Chandler’s campaign Communications Director Joey Roulette. “But Paul is mainly focused on his campaign and running on the issues. This is a diversion from the campaign issues.”

Essentially, Chandler intends to prove he qualifies as having established domicile in Florida as early as 2012 when he first applied for and received his state ID card, and no later than early 2015, when his current home’s lease began. That standing is irrelevant to where he was registered to vote, and should be the basis of satisfying the state rules for residency for election purposes, his campaign argues.

That was the defense Kilmer used last year when she ran for the Florida House of Representatives.

Article III, Section 15 of the Florida Constitution requires a candidate for any legislative office “shall have resided in the state for a period of two years prior to election.” It does not explicitly define “resided,” Kilmer argued last year.

Kilmer, however, was never sued, so the public accusations about her residential status were never tested in court. The lawsuit against Chandler was filed Aug. 8 in Florida’s 2nd Judicial Circuit by Charles Hart, a Republican who lives in Windermere.

Chandler has not yet filed a response in court. He has hired an attorney, but Roulette was not ready to identify him Friday.

Kilmer, the former Florida state representative who served six years, left in 2005, and then ran again last year. In 2010 she had moved to Texas, and campaign materials charged she had given up her Florida residency. Questions were raised about when she moved back, and when the clock needed to start ticking to meet the Florida two-year requirement.

Among other things, Kilmer had registered to vote in Texas, something she did not change back to Florida until 2015.

Kilmer argued that she established domicile in Florida. She did appear on the ballot against incumbent state Rep. Brad Drake in an Aug. 30, 2016, Republican primary battle for House District 5. Drake crushed her, taking 74 percent of the vote.

Still a mystery in Chandler’s case is whether any of the Republican candidates from Tuesday night’s Republican primary, or their campaigns or surrogates, promoted the suit, which was handled by attorney Roger Beaubien of the Coates Law Firm in Tallahassee.

The campaigns of Olszewski and John Newstreet, who finished second on Tuesday, pointed fingers at each other. Meanwhile campaign finance records show that the campaign of Bruno Portigliatti, who finished third Tuesday night, made two payments to the Coates Law Firm totaling $650 for legal fees, including a payment made the day the suit was filed. Portigliatti, however, said that his campaign had indeed hired the Coates firm to do legal work, but it was completely unrelated to the lawsuit. He said he did not learn about the lawsuit until the day after it was filed, and was appalled that it had been filed.

Scott Powers

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 [email protected].


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