Women rule: Citrus County voters change face of county government in 2022

An endorsement from Gov. Ron DeSantis put political wheels in motion.

Citrus County’s political year was anything but ordinary and neither were the results.

Voters elected Rebecca Bays and Diana Finegan to the County Commission, where they joined Holly Davis and Ruthie Davis Schlabach to form an unusual majority: four women on the five-member board.

House District 23 voters also returned Rep. Ralph Massullo for a final term — a move Massullo himself didn’t envision a year earlier.

And an 18-year School Board veteran lost her seat to a longtime school resource deputy.

Finegan and Bays took much different paths to their campaigns.

Finegan, who owns an air conditioning repair company with her husband, became interested in county politics during summer 2021 when she and her Homosassa neighbors complained to Commissioners about loud and reckless behavior on the Homosassa River.

While that issue is still being resolved, Finegan began attending County Commission meetings regularly and, in September 2021, she formally entered the District 2 race.

Meanwhile, Bays became a County Commission candidate by way of Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Bays, a former Commissioner who served four years a decade ago, had already announced her candidacy for HD 23 on the assumption that Massullo would be leaving his seat to run for Senate District 11 against then-Rep. Blaise Ingoglia.

Massullo, a Lecanto Republican, had already given his farewell speech on the House floor in full intention of taking on Ingoglia in the new Senate district.

All that ended when DeSantis announced his endorsement for Ingoglia. Two days later, Massullo was out of the Senate race and running instead for re-election.

Two previously announced HD 23 candidates dropped out quickly. Bays waited nearly 30 days, then withdrew from the race and switched her campaign to County Commission District 4.

Her opponents were former Commissioner Winn Webb, who served with Bays for two years, and John Murphy, digital director at the Citrus County Chronicle where his wife, Trina Murphy, is publisher.

With only Republicans in the race, Bays won the Primary and was elected to office.

Finegan won her Republican Primary as well against Stacey Worthington, but a mysterious no-party candidate blocked non-Republicans from the Primary and also kept Finegan’s campaign alive to the November election, which she easily won.

Massullo had minimal opposition for re-election: retired Florida Highway Patrol trooper Tod Cloud and Paul Reinhardt, an unemployed Beverly Hills resident.

Ingoglia, a Spring Hill Republican, seemed all set for an election to SD 11 without an opponent. On the last day of qualifying, Brian Moore announced his SD 11 campaign on the Green Party ticket; Moore ran for Senate because he couldn’t afford the qualifying fee for Governor.

Ingoglia easily won the election.

Citrus County voters also ushered in a new Congressman. Rep. Gus Bilirakis of Palm Harbor, saw his CD 12 move further north into Citrus, where he spent a good portion of the campaign becoming familiar with the community and its leaders.

Two other Citrus County races of significance:

Joe Faherty, who retired in December as a Citrus County Sheriff’s Office school resource officer, defeated school board veteran Linda Powers, who had served four and a half terms in office.

— Inverness voters turned aside a City Council member who was facing a contested election for the first time.

Dave Ryan was appointed to the Council nine years ago and then re-elected twice without opposition. When a local blogger suggested the city would benefit from a municipal election, Crystal Lizanich, a medical office manager who had never sought elected office, jumped in and won.

Voters re-elected Mayor Bob Plaisted, who also had an opponent.

Mike Wright

Mike Wright is a former reporter with the Citrus County Chronicle, where he had covered county government and politics since 1987. Mike's skills as an investigative reporter earned him first-place awards in investigative writing. Mike also helped the Chronicle win the Frances Devore Award for Public Service in 2002.


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