The prize for first to file for Florida House District 36, which was left wide open Wednesday after Mike Fasano was tapped Pasco County Tax Collector, goes to Bill Gunter.
“It’s a nice day,” Gunter said hours after he filed paperwork announcing his candidacy Thursday. “I just feel like the constituents of the district need a voice for them.”
Gunter’s already got supporters like Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Trinity, who’s in line to become Speaker in 2016.
Now if only Gunter lived in District 36, which covers parts of coastal Pasco, the Republicans might really have something.
Turns out, Gunter lives further inland, about five miles away, or a 10-minute drive, from the district boundary. It’s a geographical quirk that kind of makes him the “outsider” candidate for the constituents of District 36. He really lives in District 37, which is firmly held by Corcoran.
For Gunter, residency isn’t a major issue. He said he plans to move by the date of the special election, which he said should be in eight to 10 weeks.
He said he knows the district well because of his job with the chaplain corps of the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office, and pastor of Redeemer Community Church, which isn’t in District 36 either.
“Many of the people I’ve served as pastor live in District 36,” Gunter said, “so I feel like I already know many of them and their issues.”
He said his church isn't exclusive.
"My church is mixed with everybody," he said. Though Redeemer is a Presbyterian church, he said District 36 residents who have attended his services are from all sorts of faiths, including Catholics, Baptists, and Methodists.
“Of course not,” he said, “I’m talking about other Christians.”
When he moves, he said he doesn’t plan to sell his Roundelay Drive home, which he bought in 2003. He explained that he might lose next year in the regular election, in which case he would move back. He plans to move to a rental somewhere in District 36.
“Lord willing, if I win again, then it would be wise for me to settle down,” Gunter said.
But what if he loses this year? Will he be forced to live in a district he doesn't represent because he had to make arrangements in case he won? Gunter said he's still working out the details.
"You get into this knowing you'll make some sacrifices," he said.
Florida law allows candidates to run for seats in districts where they don’t reside. And Gunter has done this before. In 2012, he ran for a Pasco County Commission seat in a district where he didn’t reside. He lost, but he said it wasn’t an issue then.
“It was brought up a few times here and there, but it wasn’t like anyone harped on it,” Gunter said.
But Florida Republicans, especially Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, have made residency a major issue this year. He and media outlets have flagged several Democratic lawmakers -- Sen. Maria Sachs, Rep. Perry Thurston, Rep. Alan Williams, Rep. Hazelle Rogers, Rep. Joe Gibbons, and Rep. Jared Moskowitz -- for questions about their residencies. Latvala thinks the situation is so pervasive that he’s calling for a wider investigation.
When told Thursday about Gunter’s residency status, Latvala said he should be treated like anyone else.
“People need to live in the districts they serve,” Latvala said. “As far as I’m concerned, he’s got to really move.”
Gunter said he would. He promised.
“I am committed 100 percent to moving,” Gunter said. “I will fulfill the requirements of the law.”