Of the five Pasco County judgeships up for election this year, voters will decide only one race: a lone contested showdown between the Sheriff’s Office’s top civilian employee, Jeremiah Hawkes, and former Zephyrhills city councilman Kent Compton.
Hawkes has spent the past nine years with the Sheriff’s Office, where he’s now commander of the management services bureau. Compton, in addition to serving a dozen years on the city council, has been an assistant state attorney for the past decade in the sixth judicial circuit, which includes Pasco and Pinellas counties.
Their recent positions could make the race scan as a battle of East Pasco versus West Pasco. But as the Aug. 28 election draws near, both said they’re focusing on county-wide campaigns.
Hawkes noted his endorsement from District 1 Commissioner Ron Oakley, whose district spans most of the eastern half of the county, and his spot on the Dade City Chamber of Commerce. Compton pointed to his attendance at chamber of commerce and bar association events on the west side of the county.
"We’re crisscrossing the county as much as possible," Hawkes said. And with so much terrain to cover, "you have to try to be in as many places as you can."
The candidates are nearly even on campaign financing: As of the end of June, Compton had raised just over $30,000, Hawkes just over $28,000. Much of Compton’s has come in the form of loans to himself, as has several thousand of Hawkes’. Otherwise, most of their money has come from individual donors and businesses, including several attorneys and law firms, and in Hawkes’ case, some lobbyists.
Hawkes received a total of $2,000 from three PACs so far — including $1,000 from House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s Watchdog PAC. Compton received $125 from the West Central Florida Federation of Labor’s WCFFL Political Committee.
In a race that forbids politicking and prizes name recognition, both candidates hope to draw voters with their resumés.
Hawkes, 41, touts a series of public service jobs: five-and-a-half years as a county and circuit court prosecutor and two as general counsel for the Florida House of Representatives. Under then-Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio, he worked with Chris Nocco and Richard Corcoran, and all three joined the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office in 2009.
Nocco, now sheriff, has endorsed Hawkes.
Hawkes’ father, Paul Hawkes, spent nearly a decade as a district judge before resigning in 2011, amid a scandal about his role in the state financing of an opulent courthouse.Jeremiah Hawkes said he doesn’t worry that the sour ending to his father’s career will hurt his — and that he hasn’t heard any such concerns while campaigning.
Compton, 53, notes his public service career, too, as well as a background that includes five years in his own practice, two years as a clerk for the Second District Court of Appeal and two years as an assistant public defender.
His pitch to voters combines job experience with more personal matters. He takes pride in having lived in the county for 25 years and sending his children to its public schools. He said he hopes to win voters with a calm, disciplined temperament.
"I feel like if you’re an elected official, you should live here and for a very long time," he said.
Both said they see the judicial seat — vacated by Candy VanDercar, who is not running for reelection — as an exciting new opportunity.
Hawkes, who previously applied, unsuccessfully, for appointments to vacant judgeships, said VanDercar’s retirement struck him as a chance "to get a new set of challenges and serve the public in a new way."
Compton said he thought the position "is perfect for me."
"The judicial office is a leadership position," he added. "It needs someone who’s experienced in the public eye. It needs someone who’s experienced in the courtroom."
Contact Jack Evans at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @JackHEvans.