Cliff Stearns never struck me as controversial. Quiet and unassuming, he's managed to forge a solidly conservative path during his time in Congress, but largely avoided the spotlight until this past year, when he earned accolades for his work leading the Solyndra investigation. So I was, quite frankly, shocked that this election year brought not only a slew of primary challengers against Stearns, but also at the level of vitriol of their attacks on him.
I wrote about Ted Yoho's nonsensical accusations a month ago, and recently came across an Ocala Star-Banner article detailing false attacks coming from another of Stearns' Republican challengers.
James Jett has been accusing Stearns of ethical violations, claiming that he had claimed homestead exemptions on two properties at the same time. Considering the substantial property tax savings from the homestead exemptions, this is a serious charge of defrauding Florida taxpayers.
But public records indicate that Jett is wrong; Stearns did not, in fact, receive simultaneous homestead exemptions for his Ocala home and a second residence in St. Johns County.
According to Marion County records and officials, Stearns claimed homestead exemption in the southeast part of Ocala from 1982 until 2003. Stearns acquired the St. Augustine property in September 2002 for $675,000, according to St. Johns County records. The 4,264-square-foot home sits along the Matanzas River, an intercoastal waterway, and features a dock and boathouse.
Stearns' homestead exemption in St. Augustine took effect in the 2004 tax year and was retained through 2006, St. Johns County records indicate.
In May 2006, Stearns' wife, Joan, wrote to St. Johns County officials that the couple had recently purchased a home in Ocala and would be transferring the homestead exemption from the St. Augustine address to that site. The couple has claimed homestead on the Ocala property from 2007 to the present, Marion County records show.
This is not complicated. If you own multiple properties in Florida, you can decide where you want to reside and claim that one as your homestead, but you can only pick one at a time. That is exactly what Stearns did.
Making matters worse for Jett is the fact that he is the Clerk of Court for Clay County. His constitutional duty is to maintain the public court records for his county. For Jett to make a false claim when he could have easily discovered the truth in the public records means that either (1) he was fully aware he was lying when he accused Stearns of double-dipping on his homestead tax exemption, or (2) he is completely unqualified for his job as clerk of court.
What I'm left wondering is if there isn't something more behind these ridiculous attacks on Stearns. The behavior of his so-called Republican challengers is beyond belief. They can't attack his voting record (Stearn's ACU rating of 96 is the second highest in Florida, and even POLITICO notes that he is "highly regarded for his extensive record on fiscal responsibility"), so they are reduced to the personal destruction tactics more commonly employed by the Left.
Considering the very powerful feathers that Stearns has been ruffling with his work on the Solyndra investigation, who might benefit if his otherwise impeccable reputation is muddied? It's something to ponder...
Sunshine State Sarah | Career politician? Great! (Why Ted Yoho is very, very wrong about Cliff Stearns)
Recent op-ed by Stearns in The Washington Times with sharp criticism for the Obama administration's practice of granting ObamaCare waivers to his union buddies and other cronies