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By Stephen Hudak
The Orlando Sentinel

TAVARES - When nine-time incumbent Emogene Stegall began her career in the Lake County elections office, her opponent, Michael "Mike" Smalt, was 5 years old.
Smalt, a Lake County deputy making his first run at countywide elected office, says now is the time for change.
"She's done a good job for a good many years," he said of Stegall, bidding to extend her record as the longest-serving elected official in county history. "But I believe things are starting to fall on the downside."
Stegall, 82, said Smalt lacks the credentials and experience to improve upon her record as supervisor of elections, which boasts 36 years of unchallenged election results.
"As far as I'm concerned, he's not qualified," Stegall said. "He's been a deputy all his life."
Smalt, a Drug Abuse Resistance Education instructor, appears in uniform on his Web site and sought a gubernatorial appointment for sheriff after Lake County Sheriff Chris Daniels died in a charity bus race in October 2006. He insisted that his law-enforcement training has prepared him for the elections office.
"I deal with laws and ordinances every day in my job," he said. The elections office "is rules, regulations, statutes and laws, all of which govern the election processes."
Smalt criticized the Lake supervisor of elections Web site, saying it does not provide enough information for candidates like himself who have other commitments and who cannot work on campaigns during regular business hours.
Smalt said he would expand and reorganize the Web site, update office technology and cross-train the elections staff.
He also criticized Stegall as a "double-dipper" because she collects a state pension and a salary for her elected post.
Stegall sloughed off the criticism, saying she is no different from thousands of military and government employees who continue to work after retiring.
"I earned my retirement. I earn my salary," she said. "I think the issue here is capability, not what the paycheck is."
Though a Democrat in a county where registered Republicans are a clear majority, Stegall has easily fought off GOP challenges in the past two elections, including a sound whipping of businessman Frank Lovejoy in 2004.
She received 60 percent of the vote -- the same percentage President Bush, at the top of the Republican ticket, won here.
Stegall said county voters, regardless of party affiliation, appreciate her and her staff of 10.
"We stay focused on providing fair, honest, impartial and unbiased elections," she said.
Stegall, who worked 14 years in the elections office before she was elected to lead it, has served as the county's elections supervisor since 1972.
The position will pay $109,902 next year, according to a salary formula set by statute.

Wire Service
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