Did a Florida Republican who once wore blackface in high school also vote for Barack Obama?
State Rep. Anthony Sabatini, a Howey-in-the-Hills Republican, initially registered as a Democrat, according to Lake County Supervisor of Elections records.
Sabatini pre-registered to vote in Lake County in 2006, right before his 18th birthday, and signed up as a Democrat. He voted for the first time in the mid-terms that November.
A Eustis High School graduate, he maintained his registration in Lake County for years. In 2008, he voted on a Democratic ballot in the Presidential Preference Primary. That’s the year Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama fought it out for the presidential nomination.
Sabatini has not responded to inquiries from Florida Politics about who he voted for or why he registered as a Democrat.
He also voted in the state primary and general election that year, both times sending in votes by mail as a military overseas voter. That’s the same year Sabatini joined the Florida Army National Guard.
Sabatini only voted in the general election in 2010 and 2012, and kept his registration in Lake the entire time. He was also working toward a bachelor’s degree at the University of Florida in Alachua County around that period, and he earned his degree in 2012.
It’s not uncommon for undergraduates to keep registration and their home address in a home county while attending school.
But in 2015, he registered in Alachua County. That’s the first time he registered as a Republican. The Alachua County Supervisor of Elections Office says he maintained that until moving back to Lake County in 2016.
The time period lines up with when Sabatini studied law at Florida. He graduated from law school in 2017.
The Republican spent nine years registered to vote as a Democrat, and less than four as a Republican. He’s now 30 years old.
Sabatini has regularly cited President Donald Trump as a political role model, and he had become a Republican to vote in the Presidential Preference Primary in 2016, while still in Alachua.
Lake County hasn’t elected a Republican state Representative in any part of the county since 2002.
But Sabatini’s affiliation with the GOP certainly started before his first election to office. He served as a Eustis City Commissioner from 2016 until 2018. During that time, he developed conservative credentials and a statewide reputation with actions like calling for America’s discarded Confederate statues to be sent to Eustis.
That’s when he resigned from office and moved to Florida House District 32. He ran in the district, and easily won a Republican primary over Shannon Elswick and Monica Wofford despite being outspent.
A week before the general election, news broke of an image of Sabatini dressed in blackface while still a student at Eustis High.
Sabatini said he’d dressed on Celebrity Day as friend Brandon Evans, a running back for the football team, who in turn dressed as Sabatini. Evans confirmed that story, and said he wasn’t offended then or now by Sabatini darkening his skin for the look.
The story didn’t stop Sabatini from winning the heavily Republican district by 13 percent.
The pictures became hot news again after Secretary of State Mike Ertel resigned amid a separate blackface scandal, and as Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam came under heavy fire his mishandling a blackface story of his own.