CLEARWATER — First he was in, then he was out. Now he’s back in.
Almost one year after withdrawing, former state lawmaker Peter Nehr on Monday announced his re-entry into the crowded race for the Pinellas County Commission District 4.
Nehr originally filed to run early last year but then withdrew after learning that long-time incumbent commissioner and fellow Republican Susan Latvala was seeking another term.
“I had no intention of running against a Republican incumbent,” he said.
Latvala later changed her mind and withdrew. Nehr also declined to run against former county commissioner Neal Brickfield, another Republican who dipped his toe in the District 4 water before withdrawing, and rumored candidate, Brian Aungst Jr., who decided not to run.
His re-entry sets up an intriguing battle with Dunedin Mayor Dave Eggers, perhaps the only other candidate in a crowded field of 10 candidates with name recognition to match Nehr’s.
A former Tarpon Springs city commissioner, Nehr served six years in the state House, from 2006 to 2012. He was defeated in his bid to win a fourth term as representative for House District 65 House term in November by Democrat Carl Zimmermann.
“I believe my years of experience as a former City Commissioner and a State Representative will allow me to successfully continue the good work of Commissioner Susan Latvala in representing the constituents of District #4 and all the citizens of Pinellas County,” Nehr wrote in a statement.
He said the county needs his experience as it faces critical issues over the next four years dealing with the outcome of the referendum on raising sales tax to develop mass transit in Pinellas and the reform of the county’s expensive EMS system.
“The issues of Transportation, EMS funding, Homelessness and other critical issues are too important to have someone without experience in office,” he said.
Nehr’s withdrawal from the race last year came a couple of months after a media report that he spent almost $22,000 in campaign contributions to pay his then live-in girlfriend, Kim Marie, for consulting work on his campaign following his defeat to Zimmerman.
He said the payments were for her work on his campaign and that there is no investigation pending on the matter.
“All of those expenses were born before the race ended,” he said, adding that Marie and he are no longer together.
District 4 covers the northern part of Pinellas. Although 10 people have filed for the seat, that number could be reduced by the time qualifying ends on June 20. Candidates must either collect 1,668 signatures from District 4 residents supporting their candidacy or pay roughly $5,500 to qualify.