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Editorial: Beg your pardon: Roger Stone for governor? Don’t laugh ... yet
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Editorial: Beg your pardon: Roger Stone for governor? Don’t laugh ... yet

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Roger Stone arrives for the Conservative Political Action Conference held in the Hyatt Regency on Feb. 27, 2021 in Orlando, Florida.

Roger Stone arrives for the Conservative Political Action Conference held in Orlando, Florida in February.

Just when you think politics can’t get any weirder comes the news that Roger Stone wants to run for Florida governor. Yes, that Roger Stone, the sharp-elbowed political operative (from Richard Nixon to Donald Trump) and self-described dirty trickster.

Ordinarily, this would be a disastrous idea. But these aren’t ordinary times.

If Stone messes up Gov. Ron DeSantis’ reelection plans, we say: Go for it. Leave no stone unturned — pun intended — and make the 2022 race more competitive. If nothing else, it will help neutralize the relentless Republican strategy to game the system, like forcing people to request mail ballots more often to make it harder to vote. Stone plays rough. DeSantis needs a dose of his own medicine.

A long-time Fort Lauderdale resident, Stone wants DeSantis to promise to fully serve a second term and stop using his office as a springboard to the White House. While we deplore what Stone stands for, like his fondness for Donald Trump, who pardoned him for multiple felonies, we also agree DeSantis is an opportunist who uses public office to promote his personal ambitions. (He repeated this week he’s not running for president despite a very ambitious cross-country travel schedule.)

Stone is a convicted felon. A federal jury in Washington convicted him of seven crimes in 2019 including obstruction, witness tampering and making false statements. He was on his way to a 40-month prison term when Trump commuted his sentence in July 2020. Six months later, Trump issued a pardon that Speaker Nancy Pelosi called “an act of staggering corruption.”

Fear-mongering

Stone’s views are more extreme than the governor’s. He wants DeSantis to suspend school board members for mandating masks that he calls “illegal, unscientific and medically meaningless.” More far-fetched is his baseless claim that 1.6 million “phantom” Florida voters are ineligible because of a “law of mathematical probability.” That’s Trump-style fear-mongering. Florida desperately needs a leader who will build up institutions, not tear them down — and that starts with elections.

But before dismissing Stone as the same sideshow act he’s played throughout his career, consider this: He wants to run as a third-party Libertarian, a spoiler. With his high name ID and flamboyant ways, he would be an obvious protest candidate, siphoning votes away from a Republican governor who barely defeated far-left Democrat Andrew Gillum by less than 33,000 votes three years ago.

Little wonder that DeSantis doubts Stone’s qualifications. In an interview with Fox 13 in Tampa, DeSantis questioned whether Stone could run. “Someone said he was going to run, but isn’t he a convicted felon?” DeSantis asked a reporter. “I don’t think you can run if you’re a convicted felon.”

Under Florida law, convicted felons lose their civil rights “until such rights are restored by a full pardon, conditional pardon or restoration of civil rights” under the state Constitution, which appears to suggest that clemency is still required in Florida for federal convictions. That would block Stone from running.

To his credit, DeSantis committed in 2019 to help nonviolent felons regain their civil rights. When he signed a flawed elections bill (SB 7066) that imposed unfair financial restrictions on felons seeking to regain their voting rights under Amendment 4, he wrote: “I am considering whether to seek restoration of all civil rights to some of those whose rights were restored by Amendment 4.”

That led to the Cabinet vote last March that eased the restoration of civil rights for nonviolent felons — people like Stone.

Another hurdle

Stone knows he could not win, and he told the Sun Sentinel Editorial Board he has “no illusions” about beating DeSantis. The question here is whether he’s qualified to run, and the answer is complicated, this being Florida.

Even if Trump’s pardon restored Stone’s civil rights, he faces another hurdle. He has been a registered Republican in Broward since 2017 so he could not run as a Libertarian. State law prohibits a candidate from switching parties less than 365 days from the start of the qualifying period, which is next June. We got Stone’s voting history from the Broward elections office through a public records request.

The 365-day prohibition, pushed by a politically motivated Legislature more than a decade ago, targeted one person: former Gov. Charlie Crist, who had left the GOP to run as an independent for U.S. Senate. The rule, a case of election rigging, is too restrictive, and Stone says he would challenge it. But that was tried unsuccessfully by ex-Republican Nancy Argenziano, who wanted to run for Congress as a Democrat in 2012.

Libertarians have a long history of futility in state politics, but in a tight race, they could make a difference. An unknown, Adrian Wyllie, got 3.8% of the vote for governor in 2014, when Republican Rick Scott beat Crist by 1 point. Wyllie got 223,000 votes with no money and no profile. Everybody has heard of Roger Stone. He would give DeSantis and Republicans a lot of headaches.

Is Stone bluffing? No, he says. But whether you like him or detest him, he should not be barred from running for office by political trickery or excessive legal barriers, and besides, the idea of Stone lobbing grenades at DeSantis all along the campaign trail through next November has a bizarre appeal. Run, Roger, run.

Other views is a sampling of other editorial board opinions on national issues.

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