One week after State Rep. Doug Broxson threatened his political opponent on voicemail, the battle over who will become Northwest Florida’s next state senator has only gotten uglier.
An anonymous complaint has prompted the Escambia County Property Appraiser to open an investigation into a homestead exemption claimed by State Rep. Mike Hill, Broxson’s opponent. Florida law allows homeowners to exempt $50,000 in taxable value on their “permanent residence,” an exemption Hill and his wife have claimed for a home they own in Pensacola’s Marcus Pointe area, outside of his legislative district. However, Hill is registered to vote at a Pensacola Beach condo located within his district.
Hill’s detractors have argued that if his residency is established for legislative purposes at the Pensacola Beach condo, then he isn’t eligible for a homestead exemption on the Marcus Pointe home.
State law defines a permanent residence as “that place where a person has his or her true, fixed, and permanent home and principal establishment to which, whenever absent, he or she has the intention of returning.”
“My wife and I are blessed to have a home in Pensacola, where we jointly hold a deed,” Hill said in a statement. “That home has a homestead exemption and is the only home in our family that does. Because we enjoy the beauty of the beach we also lease a condo. We spend time in both homes. My residency to serve in the Florida House was certified by the House leadership, and the homestead exemption in Pensacola is in full compliance with the law. So in both cases there is absolutely no violation of any rules or any laws.”
Hill attributed the investigation to Broxson’s campaign.
“This is really about a political opponent who may have incriminated himself by leaving a threatening voicemail,” Hill said, referring to a voicemail left last week in which Broxson threatened Hill with additional PAC spending from Tallahassee. “He and his cronies are now using the dirty tricks that the Broxson voicemail promised,” Hill said.
Notwithstanding the investigation, the law would appear on its face to be on Hill’s side. State law entitles the homestead exemption to any “person who … in good faith makes the property his or her permanent residence or the permanent residence of another or others legally or naturally dependent upon him or her.” In a 1997 legal opinion, Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth wrote that “Florida courts have determined that actual physical presence on the property is not a constitutional or statutory requirement for entitlement to the exemption.”
Escambia County Property Appraiser Chris Jones did not respond to a request for comment Friday.
Broxson also under investigation
Meanwhile, Broxson himself faces an investigation as a result of the voicemail he left for Hill. Navarre resident James Calkins filed a complaint with the State Attorney’s office alleging that the voicemail points to coordination between Broxson and Tallahassee political committees, which would be illegal under state law.
“It is clear on the face of the Doug Broxson voicemail and the attendant actions of outside organizations that there is coordination and collusion to aid Broxson’s candidacy and harm Mike Hill,” wrote Calkins in his complaint.
Citing a conflict of interest, State Attorney Bill Eddins referred the matter to Governor Rick Scott to be assigned to another circuit. A relative of Broxson’s works within Eddins’ office and the two men belong to the same Rotary club.
Calkins said Friday that the matter had been assigned to the office of 2nd Circuit State Attorney Willie Meggs. Calkins spoke with Meggs’ office on Tuesday concerning the investigation, he said.
It’s unlikely either investigation will be concluded before the August 30 primary election.