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Rick Baker hosting first major fundraiser in mayoral bid

Former two-time St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker is hosting the first official fundraiser kicking off his bid for a third term against incumbent Rick Kriseman.

The reception is tonight (May 23) beginning 5:30 p.m. at the Morean Center for Clay St. Pete’s Warehouse Arts District.

Baker, who served two terms as mayor from 2001-2010, officially filed paperwork for his campaign May 8, making the formal announcement on the steps of City Hall the next day.

On April 11, Baker supporters registered Seamless Florida, the political committee tied to Baker’s campaign. The committee’s name is a take on one of Baker’s books on governing.

RSVPs for the event are at bakerstpete.com, by contacting Rick Porter at (407) 849-1112, rick@politicalcapitalflorida.com or with Gretchen Picotte at (407) 849-1112, gp@politicalcapitalflorida.com.

Morean Center for Clay is located at 420 22nd St. S. in St. Petersburg.

Bob Buckhorn apologies for military conference joke

Over the course of six years as mayor, Bob Buckhorn has said things that have offended some people, but he has rarely (if ever) been forced to apologize.

Until now.

Unless you’ve been avoiding local (now national) press over the past couple of days, you know the mayor has been (metaphorically) under fire since the Tampa Bay Times’ Howard Altman reported Friday afternoon on a number of reporters who took offense with a crack Buckhorn made at a military conference last week at the Tampa Convention Center.

As Altman originally reported, Buckhorn told the crowd about his experience as a hostage during a demonstration of special operation rescue tactics:

The highlight, he said, was when he was aboard a Navy special warfare boat, firing blanks from 50-caliber machine guns. “And so, the first place I point that gun is at the media,” he told the crowd.

“I’ve never seen grown men cry like little girls, for when that gun goes off those media folks just hit the deck like no one’s business. It’s great payback. I love it.”

Altman reported that the audience — approximately 1,000 people — mostly laughed at the remark. But some in attendance, specifically military reporters who have had live guns pointed at them for real, found nothing humorous about the comment.

Initially, Buckhorn blew off the furor.

It was “a silly reaction,” he told the Times.

But after the story got legs in the national media over the weekend, Buckhorn spokesperson Ashley Bauman responded Monday afternoon.

“This was a story that he had told for three consecutive years,” she said in a statement to FloridaPolitics.com, “and at no time was it ever construed to be serious or an accurate portrayal of what occurred.”

“It was merely a humorous tongue-in-cheek description. Clearly, that does not translate on Twitter and in light of the current rhetoric at the national level aimed at the media, inadvertently served to reinforce some of those sentiments. That was not his intention, in fact, as the son of a former wire service reporter he has nothing but the highest regard for the work of journalists and their profession and he apologizes to those he offended.”

The mayor also offended the sensibilities of some local residents when he typed, “whatever” on Twitter over the weekend in reaction to a tweet by Tampa Heights activist Rick Fernandez on his concerns with the Tampa Bay Express project.

Andrew Warren, Aramis Ayala blast Jeff Sessions plan for stricter sentencing in criminal cases

In recent years, criminal justice reform, especially in drug sentencing, has taken on more momentum, with governors in some of most conservative parts of the country embracing such efforts.

In Florida, progressive State Attorney candidates like Andrew Warren in Tampa and Aramis Ayala in Orlando won their respective races last year by running on a similar platform.

The two State Attorneys joined a group of current and former prosecutors last week in blasting Attorney General Jeff Sessions recent directive that the Justice Department return to a previous policy of filing the most serious charge available against a defendant under provable facts.

“The Attorney General’s directive marks an unnecessary and unfortunate return to past ‘tough on crime’ practices that we now know simply don’t enhance or promote the safety of our communities,” wrote 31 state and local prosecutors from around the nation in a letter to Sessions.

“There is no empirical evidence to suggest that increases in sentences, particularly for low-level offenses, decrease the crime rate,” the letter continued. “Instead, we know that in many instances contact with the justice system exacerbates the likelihood of future criminal conduct and that the deterrent effect of long-term prison sentences is questionable at best,” the letter continued. “Moreover, it is important to note that national crime rates remain near all-time lows — down over 50% from their peak in 1991, to levels the country has not experienced since 1970.”

In a memo sent out to federal prosecutors on May 10, Sessions announced that he was reversing a Justice Department policy from the Obama administration that led to prosecutors in drug cases often filing charges in a way that avoided triggering mandatory minimum sentences in federal law.

“It is a core principle that prosecutors should charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense,” Sessions said in his directive. Such a move is expected to increase the chances that suspects will receive mandatory minimum sentences. That’s a significant change from the policies that Obama and former Attorney General Eric Holder had advocated. Instead, Holder gave prosecutors more latitude to avoid charges that would trigger mandatory minimums. In the last five years of the Obama administration, the number of defendants charged in federal cases dropped from about 103,000 to about 77,500, the lowest number since 1998.

GOP-controlled state legislatures in Texas, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Georgia have adopted a number of progressive initiatives in this field over the past decade. Many of those states began by establishing task forces to examine the laws that they wanted to change.

However, St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes criminal justice reform bill (SB 458) died in the Senate Rules Committee earlier this month.

 After he had defeated 16-year Republican incumbent Mark Ober last November, Warren said he was “grateful for the fact that Hillsborough County shares my vision of criminal justice reform.”

Others signing on to the letter include New York City District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., Baltimore State Attorney Marilyn Mosby and former Los Angeles District Attorney Gil Garcetti.

You can read the contents of that letter to Sessions here:

On May 10, 2017, Attorney General Sessions announced a new charging and sentencing policy for the United States Department of Justice that requires federal prosecutors in all cases (absent high-level approval) to “charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense” — defined as those offenses that “carry the most substantial guidelines sentence, including mandatory minimum sentences.” Any prior inconsistent policy of the Department of Justice relating to these matters was rescinded.

The Attorney General’s directive marks an unnecessary and unfortunate return to past “tough on crime” practices that we now know simply don’t enhance or promote the safety of our communities. There is no empirical evidence to suggest that increases in sentences, particularly for low-level offenses, decrease the crime rate. Instead, we know that in many instances contact with the justice system exacerbates the likelihood of future criminal conduct and that the deterrent effect of long-term prison sentences is questionable at best. Moreover, it is important to note that national crime rates remain near all-time lows — down over 50 percent from their peak in 1991, to levels the country has not experienced since 1970.

Although there are no certain benefits to the newly announced policy, there are definitive and significant costs. The increased use of mandatory minimum sentences will necessarily expand the federal prison population and inflate federal spending on incarceration. There is a human cost as well. Instead of providing people who commit low-level drug offenses or who are struggling with mental illness with treatment, support and rehabilitation programs, the policy will subject them to decades of incarceration. In essence, the Attorney General has reinvigorated the failed “war on drugs,” which is why groups ranging from the American Civil Liberties Union to the Cato Institute to Right on Crime have all criticized the newly announced policy.

As current and former elected state and local prosecutors, we are committed to prioritizing the safety, fair treatment and dignity of all members of our community. This is why we have grave concerns with the tenets embodied in the Attorney General’s directive. And it is why we agree with national law enforcement leaders who have opined that we “need not use arrest, conviction, and prison as the default response for every broken law.”

See A Crime and Justice Agenda for the New Administration, Law Enforcement Leaders To Reduce Crime and Incarceration (February 13, 2017), available at http://lawenforcementleaders.org/fighting-crime-strengthening-criminal-justice-agenda-new-administration/.

We will continue in our own jurisdictions to undertake innovative approaches that promote public safety and fairness, and that ensure that law enforcement’s finite resources are directed to the arrest and prosecution of the most serious offenders. It is through these priorities that prosecutors can best advance public safety and fortify trust in the legitimacy of our criminal justice system.

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Wengay Newton on why he’s supporting Rick Baker — and not Rick Kriseman

Wengay Newton’s enthusiastic endorsement of Rick Baker in St. Petersburg’s mayoral election has surprised and upset some Pinellas County Democrats, but the veteran pol isn’t losing any sleep over the issue.

“It’s a non-partisan race,” the Democratic state Representative from District 70 said. “It has nothing to do with partisanship.”

Although the race is non-partisan, Baker is a well-known Republican, while Newton and incumbent Rick Kriseman are prominent Democrats.

Newton was one of three people who introduced Baker at his well-choreographed campaign kick-off announcement earlier this month. The former City Councilman proudly said that even though the Legislature didn’t wrap up its Session until late the previous night, he was determined to make the drive back to St. Pete to be at the event that morning.

Newton served on the St. Pete City Council from 2007 to 2015 before running for the HD 70 seat, easily defeating Republican Cori Fournier. In August, Newton also easily won in what was supposed to the more competitive Democratic primary, when he took 62 percent of vote over businessman Dan Fiorini and lawyer C.J. Czaia.

Newton endorsed Kriseman over Bill Foster in the 2013 mayoral election, but the Mayor backed Fiorini in the primary.

“I went to Kriseman for support in my House race. He told me to pound sand,” Newton said on Friday.

But Newton insists his endorsement is about who he thinks is the best man to lead St. Petersburg, not because Kriseman blew him off.

“Rick Baker is my friend for over 10 years. It’s a shame that in the areas of greatest need, they’re still taking about that here in 2017,” Newton said about the economic conditions in South St. Petersburg.

“I was born and raised in those areas. It’s a shame that nothing’s been done. Baker is the only mayor that’s got something done in Midtown.”

Team Kriseman says the Mayor has worked to improve the south side of St. Petersburg, but admits there’s more work to be done.

“Mayor Kriseman has moved South St Pete forward,” said Jacob Smith, Kriseman’s campaign manager. “The mayor worked closely with Commissioner (Ken) Welch to fund the South St Pete Community Redevelopment Association, the largest CRA in the city. The mayor also kept an important campaign promise from 2013 – reinstating park, walk, and talk, where police officers can become more connected to the neighborhoods they serve. The mayor knows that there is still work to do, but because of his record, he’s earned the support of people like School Board Member (Renee) Flowers, who endorsed Foster last time.”

“Rick Kriseman will continue working with Representative Newton to do what’s best for South St. Pete to keep moving forward,” Smith added.

To honor John Kennedy’s centennial, Tampa Theatre to screen “JFK in Tampa” Wednesday

Next Monday, May 29, John F. Kennedy, the nation’s 35th President, would have turned 100 years old.

To commemorate that anniversary, the Tampa Theatre will screen Wednesday night (one night only), “JFK in Tampa,” Lynn Marvin Dingfelder‘s Emmy Award winning 2013 documentary on Kennedy’s visit to Tampa Nov. 18, 1963, four days before his assassination in Dallas.

Dingfelder obtained footage of Kennedy’s appearance in Tampa from a visit to the Kennedy Library in Boston. That footage (later transferred digitally) was something no one else in Tampa possessed (as she learned through former WTVT sports anchor Andy Hardy) because federal authorities seized the footage of Kennedy taken by Tampa’s local television affiliates in the immediate aftermath of what happened in Dallas days before.

Nearly 54 years since JFK’s death, Marvin Dingfelder said JFK’s message captured from speeches given in Tampa that day still hold up.

“He talked about Cuba. He talked about the importance of education. Of course, he talked about segregation,” she recounts. “He also spoke about space initiatives and moving forward and the challenges before us, and he said what will future generations think of us if we don’t take these steps today?”

On that day in 1963, as depicted in “JFK in Tampa,” Kennedy took an extraordinary long 28-mile motorcade through the city, with appearances at MacDill Air Force Base, Al Lopez Park, the Fort Homer Hesterly Armory (now the Jewish Community Center).

The president spoke before 4,500 guests at a Florida Chamber of Commerce-sponsored event, ending the day with a trip to the International Inn Hotel (now the Westshore Grand) before returning to MacDill.

Dingfelder captured numerous interviews for the film, including one with former Congressman Sam Gibbons, who was Kennedy’s Florida campaign chairman in 1960, just a few months before he died in the fall of 2012.

The only previous public screening of “JFK in Tampa” at the Tampa Theatre in 2013 drew a sold-out house. Since then, Dingfelder says she’s frequently heard from people who said they’ve never seen it.

As she realized that the former president’s 100th birthday was approaching, Dingfelder reached out to the management at the Tampa Theatre, who were pleased to be to show the film again this Wednesday night.

The film will screen Wednesday, May 24, at 7 p.m. Doors open at 6 p.m.

Tickets can be purchased in advance at the Tampa Theatre’s website, or at the box office.

 

TBX critics not pleased with Bob Buckhorn tweet

Critics of the Tampa Bay Express project are upset with Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn over what they say was a “flippant” response to concerns about what the $6 billion project will do to the affected neighborhoods when construction begins.

After reading an interview Buckhorn gave Friday praising the TBX project with the website BusinessFacilities.com, Seminole Heights resident and TBX foe Rick Fernandez sent a tweet to Buckhorn saying, “your continued support for TBX is disturbing and out of touch.”

Buckhorn replied, “Whatever.”

That comment generated responses from other Tampa citizens who oppose TBX, like Chris Vela, who wrote: “PA EJ maps show TBX is est. to affect 115k ethnic/racial minorities out of 180k along our interstates. Not whatever, stand up Mr. Mayor.”

Vela was referring to the potential relocation of residents if the project moves forward as planned.

The Tampa Bay Express is a $6 billion interstate expansion project overseen by the Florida Department of Transportation that would rebuild the exchange between Interstate 275 and Interstate 4 near downtown Tampa. It would also replace the three-mile span of the northbound Howard Frankland Bridge, and most controversially, add 90 miles of tolled “express lanes.”

The project would also raze homes in Seminole Heights, Tampa Heights, and V.M. Ybor. Nearly 80 percent of the registered voters living at properties that DOT plans to demolish are black and Latino, according to a Tampa Bay Times analysis.

“A respected neighborhood leader and citizen of Tampa tweeted his surprise and concern regarding Mayor Buckhorn’s statements heartily endorsing the TBX boondoggle – just to be summarily dismissed. When is it ever appropriate for an elected official to publish a response and address a constituent’s legitimate question in such a flippant manner?” asked Michelle Cookson with Sunshine Citizens, the activist group formed to oppose the TBX. “This attitude is astonishing given that Mayor Buckhorn’s constituents have been pleading for him to defend the resurgent urban core for over two years.”

Although initially low-key when FDOT introduced TBX to the public two years ago, Buckhorn said in November of 2015 that he was cognizant of the concerns that neighborhood activists had about the project hurting the neighborhoods where the proposed expansion is to occur, saying, “They recognize that it’s going to have an impact on the community. They realize that Tampa has changed drastically since that plan was created, and so they’ve got to be able to mitigate that, and they can’t put up a barrier that’s going to divide the city. So I think there’s a way to find that middle ground, but I’m thankful that they’re able to reach out to the neighborhood and have that discussion.”

Some members of the Tampa City Council have been more critical.

FDOT officials said last December that they were hitting the “reset button” on the project and intend to take the next couple of years to research and respond to community feedback, and are expected to unveil a revised plan by 2019.

Ashley Bauman, the director of public affairs with the City of Tampa, said Buckhorn had no comment on Saturday.

Marco Rubio has little to say about Donald Trump, but a lot about the media

For anyone following national politics, it’s been a dizzying week.

Marco Rubio isn’t sure what to make of it all.

The Florida Senator, who turns 46 next weekend, was considered a possible nominee for President of the United States less than 15 months ago, but he’s now just a sideshow in the circus that is the Donald Trump presidency, and he’s getting frustrated about it.

Speaking at the Pinellas County Republican Party’s Lincoln Day Dinner, Rubio touted his bill to reform the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which is being co-sponsored by Montana Democrat Jon Tester and Georgia Republican Johnny Isakson and gaining some momentum in the Senate. The bill would reform the VA by allowing the secretary to dismiss bad employees, and “ensure appropriate due process protections for whistleblowers.”

“That’s an important law. How many of you read about that in the newspaper?” Rubio asked the hundreds of Republicans who gathered at the Hilton St. Petersburg Carillon Park.

He said it simply wasn’t sexy enough, without mentioning why the national press is so focused on what Trump has been saying and tweeting, and what his staff is telling the press every day.

“It’s not being posted because nobody clicks on those stories, because the stories that get all the clicks are the stories about something controversial and explosive,” he said, adding that, “I’m not here to beat up the press but just because somebody told you something doesn’t mean that’s what happened.”

“Maybe it did? And maybe it did, and if it did then we need to find out, but if it didn’t, that would be unjust, would it not? So before you ask me to give you a hard opinion on something, let me find out the truth first, let you find out the truth first?”

Rubio made the same complaints while interviewed on Fox and Friends on Thursday when asked about Trump’s possible connections with Russia and Comeygate. So if you’re looking for Rubio to bash Trump when he seems to be in free fall, Rubio is not your man. Instead, he sounds like a man who isn’t sure what to think about all of the news coverage.

Other than he doesn’t like it, labeling the way politics is covered these days as “entertainment.”

Referring to the seemingly daily bombshell stories about Trump and Comey, Rubio asked if it wouldn’t be better for everyone involved if everyone knew the facts and didn’t have to “take concrete positions one way or another. “

“Isn’t that what you deserve? Isn’t that what the president deserves? Isn’t that what our nation deserves? Isn’t that what everyone deserves?,” as the crowd of partisan Pinellas Republican cheered lustily.

But before you think that Rubio thinks that Trump is getting a raw deal from the mainstream media, he was there to tell us that he spends 10 hours a week in the Senate Intelligence Committee looking at threats to the nation, including “looking at the specific threats to the 2016 campaign and what Russia did, and what they’re beginning to do in Europe and other places.”

Rubio said mournfully that the campaign last year was about getting people back to work and reminding people about the American dream, but “we don’t talk about these things.”

But the tone of his speech seemed like it was more of the media’s fault for not focusing on incremental policy changes — but how can it compare to a president who can’t stop contradicting his own press spokespeople?

He said that everyone was to blame for our current situation. Looking for an example of how the press doesn’t always get it right always, he chided an Associated Press story this week that initially reported that North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis needed CPR after exerting himself too strenuously this week proved to be incorrect.

“I’m not saying it was malicious,” he said about the AP report (who he praised as generally being straight up in its reporting), “but imagine if it was public policy or decisions of national magnitude. Should we not know the facts?”

Rubio didn’t leave himself out of his critique. Remember when he began attacking the size of Trump’s hands on the campaign trail last year and got live coverage from the cable news networks?

“I know that I spend all my time working on the VA bill and so forth — we will get very little coverage that doesn’t get a lot of clicks and a lot of attention, but if I spend time saying something outrageous, I’ll get a lot of coverage, so I’m incentivized to do that,” he admitted.

The media critique was the highlight of what was one of Rubio’s less inspired speeches seen in some time. Then again, he’s part of the Republican dominance of Washington D.C. that doesn’t appear to be getting much done. Well, there is that VA bill that’s gaining some momentum.

Before the event, a crowd of over 200 protestors gathered at the entrance to the Hilton St. Petersburg Carillon Park. Activists have been demanding that Rubio hold a town hall meeting, something that he has yet to do in 2017.

There were layers of security both outside and inside the hotel.

UPDATE: On Saturday on Twitter, Rubio criticized the Tampa Bay Times coverage of the story, which highlighted his critiques on the media, tweeting, “They actually ran the exact headline I predicted they would run to get clicks!”

That supposition neglects the fact that very little else in his speech was newsworthy.

(Photos courtesy of Kim DeFalco).

Hillsborough lawmakers clash during Tampa Chamber’s Session look-back

As House Minority Leader Janet Cruz notes, the Hillsborough County Legislative Delegation works “as a united front” when representing their community in Tallahassee.

That’s true on issues like the eleventh-hour move by the Florida Senate to push the University of South Florida out of pre-eminent status under a conformity education budget bill that passed in the waning hours of the legislative session two weeks ago.

Over that matter, members acted in unison, denouncing what they said was a fundamental unfairness, leading to USF being denied up to $16 million.

But that unity is not so apparent on several other issues, like the “Schools of Hope” education bill (SB 7069) and the lack of funding for Florida Forever, the conservation land-buying program that 2014’s Amendment 1 was meant to address.

It was those subjects where Democrats and Republicans differed sharply Friday in a post-session review luncheon sponsored by the Greater Tampa of Chamber of Commerce at Maestro’s restaurant in Tampa.

Sen. Darryl Rouson spoke wistfully about the fact that the education bill would have only taken one more vote in the Senate to have been defeated.

“It’s almost an insult to call it a schools of hope bill because every school is a school of hope,” the St. Petersburg Democrat declared, adding that unlike in the House, the Senate wasn’t willing to give tens of millions of dollars to high-performing out of state charter school before offering those funds to existing public schools.

Republican Rep. Jamie Grant of Tampa countered that the $140 million slated to go to charter schools is a better purpose of taxpayer funds than giving it to public institutions graded as “F” schools for three consecutive years.

Grant said House Republicans deserved praise because most of these charters aren’t in their home districts.

Republican Sen. Dana Young of Tampa said the “disagreement and negative feelings” expressed on the panel stemmed more from the process — adding the bill to a conforming bill completed in the last few hours of Session — than the policy itself.

Rep. Wengay Newton argued that the idea of cutting funds to struggling public schools is wrong. The St. Petersburg Democrat blasted the fact that Florida is ranked 42nd in the nation for education funding per student and 49th for the number of instructors per 100 students in public schools.

(Apparently, the public favors the Democrats in this argument. The Miami Herald’s Kristen Clark reported that by a margin of at least 3-to-1 so far, Floridians are telling Gov. Rick Scott via email and phone calls that they want him to veto the bill).

Sometimes the arguments transcended party lines, such as the legislation to completely defund VISIT Florida, the state’s tourism agency.

“I’m not willing to put my name behind anything that is adverting to Syrians that could be invested in education or we could be talking about the rising costs of health care,” said Grant, referring to recent reports of wasted taxpayer dollars spent by the state agency.

But he received strong pushback from both Democrats and Republican on the panel.

“There were problems with transparency, there were problems with contracts, those should be addressed on an individual basis,” agreed Rep. Sean Shaw, a Tampa Democrat. “But for a state that depends on tourism as much as Florida, I am very leery of destroying and eviscerating the entity that is responsible for that tourism.”

“Every product needs marketing to get it out there, and we are going to have our lunch eaten by Utah and Michigan and Austin and all of these other places that advertise if we don’t advertise … particularly in Europe, but not Syria,” Young added.

State Sen. Tom Lee of Brandon joined Grant to defend the Legislature over criticism from environmentalists that they failed to adhere to 2014’s Amendment 1 when it comes to allocating money to properly fund Forever Florida, the state’s conservation and recreation lands acquisition program.

“I think it would be deeply disingenuous to say that a constitutional amendment us to purchase land,” Grant said. He insisted the amendment’s language calls for the Legislature to act as “stewards of that land,” which Grant said wasn’t the same thing as purchasing said land.

“I think it would be equally disingenuous to only say we’re going to manage it and not acquire (land),” Shaw responded, quoting the exact language of the amendment.

Lee alienated the Chamber and other parts of the Tampa Bay area establishment with his stance on several issues during the past session. Though he wasn’t asked (and didn’t volunteer) to discuss his controversial request for an audit of Tampa International Airport, he did speak freely about why he and St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes inserted an amendment on a bill to reconfigure TBARTA.

Lee said he spoke with many officials involved with efforts to increase transit in the Tampa Bay area, and said what he heard back was by no means monolithic. “The truth is, there really wasn’t us among you all about what to do about TBARTA,” he said.

And Lee compared a new TBARTA with the extremely unpopular Hillsborough Public Transportation Commission, the troubled county agency in that lawmakers voted to kill at the end of the year.

“They become their own runaway train, spending millions of dollars at your expense, and these feasibility studies sometimes end up being twice the cost for capturing the ridership,” Lee said. “Nobody’s scrubbing these things except the people whose real estate projects stand to benefit from them.”

Regarding USF, Young put into perspective the disappointment of the school missing benchmarks to quality for pre-eminent status as well as the millions that would have gone into receiving that designation.

The university received $42 million in new recurring operational funds, Young said, as well as $12 million for the Morsani Medical School to be built in downtown Tampa and $3 million for dormitories.

“The future of USF is bright,” she said.

David Gee to step down as Hillsborough County Sheriff at the end of September

Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee announced Friday that he will be stepping down from his job at the end of September.

Gee, a Republican who has served in his position since 2004, and was re-elected last year to another four-year term when he failed to draw a Democratic challenger.

“This decision has not been made lightly and was one of the most difficult decisions that I have made in my career,” Gee said in a statement. “Each of my Sheriff’s Office family and the citizens of our community is very important to me. I have dedicated my life to serving others and hope that I have served well.”

The statement from the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office said that Gee would not be speaking with the media today.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who worked with Gee for a number of years when she was at the Hillsborough County State Attorney’s office, released a statement praising Gee for his “humility, integrity and selflessness.”

“His career exemplifies what it means to be a servant leader,” Bondi said. “I am blessed to call Sheriff Gee one of my dearest friends and most trusted advisers. I so greater admire the sacrifices both he and his wife, Rhonda, have made to ensure the safety and well-being of the people of Hillsborough County. His impact will last forever in our community.”

Gee is a lifelong resident of Hillsborough County who has served in the Sheriff’s Office for over forty years. He moved his way up the ranks, working as a homicide investigator, Internal Affairs supervisor, Public Information Officer, Chief Financial Officer and Chief Deputy until he was elected Sheriff in 2004.

Over the years, Gee was often discussed as a potential candidate for another political office but steadfastly declined any such opportunities.

There will need to be a special election to succeed Gee, as his term was not up until 2020.

Citing ‘assault on home rule,’ Kathleen Peters to run for Pinellas County Commission

Citing Tallahassee’s battle against home rule, Treasure Island Republican Kathleen Peters has decided against a fourth term in the Florida House, opting instead to seek the District 6 seat on the Pinellas County Commission.

In March, District 6 Commissioner John Morroni announced he will retire after his term expires in 2018.

“After the legislature launched an all-out assault on local government and home rule this year,” Peters said in a statement. “I found myself reflecting on my community priorities and where I feel I can have the greatest impact.”

“After long consideration, I have decided to change course and run for County Commission, District 6.”

A former mayor, Peters was initially elected to House District 69 in 2012, representing Gulfport, South Pasadena, and several South Pinellas County beaches. She had campaigned on reforms to the Florida mental health system and repairs and improvements to Pinellas County’s failing sewer system.

“I started my public service in local government serving as a city commissioner then mayor of South Pasadena,” Peters said. “During my time as mayor, the city emerged strong and debt free as we navigated the throes of a recession. I believe I will bring very diverse experience from both local and state governments that will make me a strong asset to the commission.”

Peters said her priority as a county commissioner will be “to strengthen our infrastructure to ensure the county can withstand any storm mother nature throws at us without doing any further damage to the environment.”

“This will require strengthening and nourishing our beaches to protect homes, roads and infrastructure, as well as ensuring the integrity of sewer systems throughout the county,” she added.

In addition, Peters vows to continue working to ensure “Pinellas County has a coordinated system of care to address the mental health and addiction crisis.”

Also eyeing the same Commission job is term-limited Republican state Rep. Larry Ahern.

Ahern, from Seminole, has represented House District 66 since 2010. In April, he filed paperwork for the District 6 seat.

With Peters’ entry in the race, both her and Ahern are looking to take similar paths to the Commission, each serving in the Florida House before moving on to a spot on the Commission. Morroni, like Peters, is a Treasure Island resident who also served two terms in the House (1992 to 2000). First elected to the County Commission in 2000, Morroni served as chair in 2005, 2012 and 2015.

In addition, Democratic Commission members Janet Long and Charlie Justice previously served in the state House.

An ally of influential Clearwater Republican Sen. Jack Latvala, Peters filed 18 projects during the 2017 Session, with only four making it out of committee. Among her successes were a Pinellas Park pond project, funding for the Florida Holocaust Museum, and a program for helping residents with disabilities get employment in the hotel and motel industry.

Peters and Latvala, the Senate Appropriations chair, also co-sponsored legislation seeking to prevent further erosion of state’s beaches. Both lawmakers represent a large portion of Pinellas County beaches.

All of Peters’ other bills stalled in the House, possibly due to her support for Enterprise Florida, a program favored by Gov. Rick Scott that had been targeted for elimination by House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

Latvala also supported Enterprise Florida as of late, even though he seemed to be against business incentive programs as far back as 2015.

In contrast, Ahern voted for severe cuts to Enterprise Florida, earning Scott’s strong disapproval.

Let’s Get to Work, the political committee supporting Scott, conducted a round of robocalls in March hitting Ahern and other Republicans who voted for HB 7005, the bill to eliminate Enterprise Florida and a slew of other economic incentive programs.

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