The name may not be familiar with many living in Hernando County, but behind the scenes he plays a prominent role in political happenings around the county. His name is Tom Barnette. A self-proclaimed local conservative “lobbyist.”
Some might recall that Barnette was rewarded by county commissioners with a contract to develop a website, called “The Mermaid Trail” and was paid $50,000 in 2014. To date, there is no functioning website.
Others might also recall that Tony and Bradley Dye, owner of Corporate Jet Solutions, tell a story of Tom Barnette being described to them as a “political lobbyist” by Commissioner Diane Rowden, Commissioner Wayne Dukes, and County Administrator Lynn Sossamon. The Dye’s claim they were encouraged to secure Barnette’s services and pay him a $10,000 fee to make sure their business proposal before the county commission was approved.
Barnette is not registered on any database in Florida that we can find as a “lobbyist.” (FloridaLobbyist.gov, Florida Association of Professional Lobbyist, SW Florida Water Management District Lobbyists)
According to the Dye’s, Barnette has created an alliance involving Republican Commissioners Dukes and Nicholson along with Democrat Diane Rowden. But, that alliance is now in trouble with the multiple investigations concerning Nicholson putting his re-election bid in doubt. (FDLE Investigation, State Attorney Investigation, Ethics Investigation)
Keep in mind, Barnette was Commissioner Wayne Dukes’ campaign manager in 2014 when he was awarded the “The Mermaid Trail” contract and most recently was helping Commissioner Nick Nicholson by organizing his campaign fund-raising event for his 2016 re-election bid.
But last week, while at a fund-raiser for Sheriff Al Nienhuis, Barnette sidled up to Nicholson’s Republican primary opponent, Joe Swilley, and quietly whispered, “Whatever you do, don’t drop out of the race.”
“I’m not dropping out for anything,” Swilley responded.
“Just don’t drop out,” said Barnette again.
The whole exchange was overheard and witnessed by Michael Angelo Gordon who is running for the Hernando County School Board and was standing next to Swilley.
When asked what he thought Barnette meant, Gordon said, “It sounded like Barnette was throwing his support behind Joe.”
We asked Barnette to confirm the conversation.
“I encourage anybody to run. I believe personally that we need more people running for office,” said Barnette. “So, I encouraged him to stay in the race.”
According to some political insiders, Barnette is also working some sort of deal to steal Republican support away from John Allocco who is running against incumbent Democrat Diane Rowden in the District 3 Commission race. So, we asked Barnette if this were true.
“That’s ridiculous!” responded Barnette. “That is not the case. I’m certain that he would do just as good a job as anyone else if elected. I like John.”
Our sources won’t confirm what the Barnette deal involves. But…. if it’s true, it appears to be important enough that the “old Brooksvillian power brokers” might be planning to support an anti-business Democrat for District 3 over Republican John Allocco.
The question is, why?
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