News Column

Hispanic Lawyers Take Early Lead for Florida Post

July 24, 2013

Gov. Rick Scott's office has started scheduling interviews with candidates for the vacant Orange County Clerk of Circuit Court post, and a pair of Republican attorneys with Puerto Rican roots are among the prospects.

One is Eduardo J. Fernandez, a lawyer who could be a front-runner to replace Clerk of Circuit Court Lydia Gardner, who died in May.

The Puerto Rican-born Fernandez, a Shutts & Bowen lawyer and past local Young Republicans president, said he was contacted by Scott staffers about interviewing for the post but the meeting had to be rescheduled. Another Puerto Rican GOP attorney, Gina R. Perez-Calhoun, was slated to be interviewed by the Governor's Office last week, but she said it had to be rescheduled, too.

Scott's potential interest in a Hispanic candidate for clerk of the court may be part of larger push in some GOP circles to build inroads within Orange's burgeoning Latino population. Scott recently appointed Marco Pena, a Florida Hospital executive and former GOP state House candidate, to the board of Metro Orlando's main road-building agency.

"I'm encouraged," said Lew Oliver, the Orange County Republican Party chairman. "I'm getting signals from his office that this is the direction he's going in" for the clerk appointment as well.

However, Oliver said he was not aware of all the candidates Scott's office was interviewing.

Two other non-Hispanic Republicans who signaled interest in the vacant slot -- former county tax collector candidates Jim Duffy and Jim Huckeba -- each said they had not been contacted yet. But both suggested Scott may have other issues and vacancies to worry about, such as his open lieutenant governor's post.

Gardner's chief administrative officer Colleen M. Reilly is one non-Hispanic Republican who has been contacted for an interview, though it hasn't taken place yet. Reilly is handling Gardner's duties now as an interim replacement.

Scott's office would say little about the clerk pick or its timing. "We are reviewing our options, and a decision has not yet been made," a spokesman said.

A special election is slated for 2014, to fill out the remaining two years of Gardner's term. Then in 2016, the regular election will be held for a full four-year term.

Whoever gets Scott's nod to fill out Gardner's term could get a boost heading into the 2014 special election.

Two candidates have formally filed to run already. Puerto Rican Democratic attorney James Auffant raised $14,025 in the three-month fundraising stint that ended June 30, although $10,000 was a loan to himself.

Pedro Malaret, yet another GOP attorney from Puerto Rico, has also filed to run in 2014, but said he was waiting to hear from the Governor's Office before pushing ahead on fund raising.

Orange County Commissioner Tiffany Moore, a black Democratic attorney, has also said she plans to run for the post next year.

ddamron@tribune.com or 407-420-5311 or Twitter @dadamron

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(c)2013 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)

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Source: Copyright Orlando Sentinel 2013


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