Here’s where sh*t stands in Tampa Bay state legislative races

Republican Sens. Tom Lee and Bill Galvano have already won re-election, and fellow GOP incumbent Sens. Jack Latvala and Jeff Brandes only face opposition from write-in candidates in their seats. Of the six Senate seats covering Hillsborough and Pinellas County, only districts 18 and 19 will be home to a new senator in the fall.

Tampa Republican Rep. Dana Young is the front-runner in the SD 18 race in both polling and fundraising, though favorable district lines and robust fundraising from Democratic attorney Bob Buesing mean the race is far from over.

Through Aug. 12, Young had a comfortable lead with nearly $400,000 on hand in her campaign account and another $774,000 on hand in her political committee, “Friends of Dana Young,” while Buesing’s most recent report shows him with $240,000 in the bank, including nearly $100,000 in loans.

Democrats have a slight advantage in voter registrations in the Hillsborough County district, which voted plus-1 for Barack Obama four years. Young and Buesing also face no-party candidates Sheldon Upthegrove and Joe Redner, though neither candidate has seen much success in fundraising.

The SD 19 race will be decided with the Aug. 30 Democratic Primary, and as of Aug. 12, St. Petersburg attorney Augie Ribeiro held a commanding fundraising lead over Reps. Ed Narain and Darryl Rouson, as well as former Rep. Betty Reed.

Ribeiro has supplied the bulk of his own campaign funds, with more than $500,000 in loans or self-contributions since he filed June 23, though he has spent most of that money for an on hand total of $33,761. Narain and Rouson each have about $51,000 in the bank, with Reed coming in at just under $20,000.

Whether Ribeiro’s massive ad buys — he spent nearly $150,000 on media and mailers between Aug. 6 and Aug. 12 — can put him on top of his three opponents remains to be seen, though the winner of the primary should have an easy time toppling lone Republican contender John “Mr. Manners” Houman.

In the House, Republican Reps. Jake Raburn and Jamie Grant and Democratic Rep. Janet Cruz have won re-election without opposition, while fellow incumbents Dan Raulerson, Chris Sprowls, Larry Ahern and Chris Latvala are all dominating their opponents on the fundraising front.

HD 69 Rep. Kathleen Peters has also turned on the afterburners in recent months to shoot past Democratic challenger Jennifer Webb, who she led by about $65,000 as of Aug. 12.

While Republican Rep. Ross Spano still leads in the HD 59 race, Democrat Rene Frazier has crossed the $100,000 on hand mark and only trails the incumbent by about $6,000.

Frazier, an attorney, still must get past schoolteacher Naze Sahebzamani in the Democratic Primary, however. As of her last report, she trailed Frazier with about $19,000 on hand.

HD 63 could also flip this cycle, as it did in 2012 and in 2014, though Republican Rep. Shawn Harrison has held on to the fundraising lead.

According to his most recent report, the two-time representative has about $116,000 in the bank compared to $84,000 for former Democratic Tampa City Council member Lisa Montelione.

Montelione no longer faces primary opponent Mike Reedy, who dropped out of the race, so she and Harrison have already begun the sprint toward Election Day.

Most of the rest of the Bay Area’s seats should be decided during the Aug. 30 primary election, including who will replace Young in HD 60, Rouson in HD 70 and Democratic Rep. Dwight Dudley in HD 68.

Republican Rebecca Smith has about $133,000 in the bank in the contest to take over for Young, compared to $61,000 for fellow Republican Jackie Toledo. Smith also picked up endorsements from top state level Republicans Adam Putnam and Jeff Atwater.

No matter who makes it out of the primary, they face stiff odds against lone Democratic candidate David Singer, though he has been able to amass a $67,000 war chest since filing for the seat in April.

In the HD 70 race St. Petersburg City Councilman Wengay Newton is the only candidate with money in his campaign account. His $22,000 on-hand total bests fellow Democrats CJ Czaia, who is $100 in the red, and Dan Fiorini, who has about $1,400.

Republican Cori Fournier is also running for the Democratic stronghold and has about $100 on hand.

In HD 68, Democrats Ben Diamond and Eric Lynn have been in a major spending battle, with Diamond nearly burning through all but about $14,000 of his $238,000 in fundraising thus far.

Lynn, who entered the race in May after dropping out of the CD 13 contest, has about $88,000 of his fundraising total, leaving him with about $20,000 in the bank Aug. 12.

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Jack Latvala talks transportation, infrastructure during AIF symposium

When it comes to the funding transportation and infrastructure, Sen. Jack Latvala has good news and bad news.

The good: State funding for transportation and infrastructure has bounced back after years of budget cuts. Recent budgets have been record setting, not just when it comes to roads, but all other aspects of transportation.

The bad news? Florida still has a backlog of projects, and the Clearwater Republican told business, political and transportation leaders Thursday he’s concerned the backlog will get worse before it gets better.

“We’ve got generally a political mood that is anti-tax, anti-new revenue,” he said during the 2016 Building Florida’s Future symposium in Tampa. “I predict that will continue for a couple more years, and I imagine the backlog will get a little worse.”

Latvala served as the chairman of the transportation, tourism and economic development appropriations subcommittee, and played a role in crafting the transportation budget. He has been tapped to head the full appropriations committee for the next two years.

The 2016-17 budget included $10.8 billion in transportation projects, and fully funded the Department of Transportation’s Work Program. The budget included $571.5 million for resurfacing more than 2,000 lane miles; $739.5 million for scheduled bridge repairs and replacements; and $3.9 billion to expand capacity.

Latvala said regional needs also should be addressed, in part to reduce congestion in the state’s metro areas. One way to solve the problem, Latvala said is to get people out of their cars and on to buses or trains.

According to 2013 U.S. Census data, 89.8 percent of the commuters in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties traveled by private vehicle. That was higher than the national average.

Census data showed just 1.4 percent of Tampa Bay commuters used public transportation to get to work. The area trailed South Florida, where about 3.8 percent of commuters used public transit.

Latvala helped kick of the day-long symposium, which is meant to bring together community leaders, lawmakers and industry experts to talk about the transportation, infrastructure and economic development issues important to Florida’s future. The event is sponsored by Associated Industries of Florida and Port Tampa Bay.

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Florida Senate Republicans raising money Wednesday in Big Apple

Senate Republicans are racking up frequent flier miles this summer.

The Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee is holding a fundraiser in New York City on Wednesday. The event includes a VIP reception at the The London NYC, a luxury hotel in the heart of New York City, and a private dinner at A Voce, a swank restaurant in Columbus Circle.

Senate President Designate Joe Negron, the committee’s chairman, is listed  as the headliner. He’s expected to be joined by Sens. Lizbeth Benacquisto, Anitere Flores, Bill Galvano, Jack Latvala, Rob Bradley and Wilton Simpson.

The committee has spent the summer raising cash to keep Republicans in the majority, and their efforts have taken them beyond Florida’s borders. Last month, the Negron-led fundraising committee held a two-day fundraiser at Pebble Beach golf club in California.

California was a popular spot for Florida politicos last month. Innovate Florida, the fundraising committee backing Galvano, held a fundraiser in Napa Valley just a few days later.

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Jack Latvala to be first inductee into Legislative Hall of Fame at Pasco-Hernando State College

State Senator Jack Latvala will be the first legislator to be inducted into Pasco-Hernando State College’s Legislative Hall of Fame.

Latvala will be honored at a brief ceremony at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Alric C.T. Pottberg Library at the College’s West Campus, 10230 Ridge Road, New Port Richey.

Morris Porton, chair of the PHSC District Board of Trustees, will officiate over the ceremony, which will include the unveiling of a plaque that will be displayed in perpetuity in the Legislative Hall of Fame. An identical plaque will be presented to Latvala.

PHSC President Timothy L. Beard will also recognize Latvala’s efforts leading to the construction of several buildings on the college’s West Campus, for strengthening articulation agreements with the University of South Florida and preserving the integrity of the college’s local service areas.

Latvala, a Republican, represents District 16 (District 20 before redistricting) that covers northern Pinellas County. Latvala first served in the state Senate from 1994 to 2002, when he termed out.

Latvala concentrated on his business interests after leaving the Senate. He decided to run again in 2009 when the state House voted to allow oil drilling within three miles of Gulf beaches. He was elected and has been re-elected since then. Latvala is running for re-election this year.

During his first stint in the Legislature, Latvala served as Senate Majority Leader and was named as a rising star by the Wall Street Journal. He was also repeatedly ranked as one of the most effective senators in an annual survey by the Miami Herald. He has been named “Legislator of the Year” more than 40 times by a wide range of statewide groups including law enforcement, first responders, environmentalists, business groups, medical associations and educators.

Among his accomplishments: Florida Forever, a land preservation program; creation of Tampa Bay Water, a national model for regional water supply planning; and the outlawing on predatory title loans in Florida. Other accomplishments: passing laws requiring Duke Energy to refund $600 million to customers in Florida; reforming laws prohibiting the bulk purchasing of condos which required owners to sell for pennies on the dollar; and ending Florida’s last-in-the-nation status of banning 64-ounce growlers which stifled the growth of small microbreweries in Florida.

He is a proponent of reducing taxes, reforming the state’s welfare system, enacting tough consumer protection laws and cracking down on violent crime and criminals. He also wants to improve the state’s educational system by providing sufficient funding for public schools, enforcing accountability in education, and providing opportunities and resources to children and families who need additional support to succeed.

He is the father of state Rep. Chris Latvala, also a Republican.

The Legislative Hall of Fame establishes a new PHSC tradition that recognizes legislators for supporting the college and higher education opportunities for their constituents. The event is open to the public.

PHSC serves the educational needs and interests of its community by awarding certificates, diplomas, associate and baccalaureate degrees. As a comprehensive, multi-campus learning-centered institution, PHSC utilizes various instructional modalities and support services. PHSC provides an accessible, diverse teaching and learning environment rich with opportunities for students to achieve academic success and cultural growth in a global society.

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State leaders, experts to discuss future of mobility at Better Transportation Summit

With the fatal crash of Tesla car on autopilot near Williston in May, Floridians already know the future of transportation is impacting the state’s highways.

Exploration of that future will be one of the themes when the 2016 Floridians for Better Transportation Summit meets Tuesday and Wednesday at the Loews Don CeSar Hotel on St. Pete Beach.

“Transportation is transformative. It has the power to fuel the economy, stimulate job creation and change the way we live,” said Floridians for Better Transportation President Matthew D. Ubben. “If Florida can get transportation right, the rest will follow.”

The keynote speaker will be Lawrence Burns, a former University of Michigan engineering professor who has also served as a vice president for research and development at General Motors.

Burns, the author of “Reinventing the Automobile: Personal Urban Mobility for the 21st century,” has long been a champion of the “reinvention of the automobile,” including driverless cars, vehicle electrification, fuel cells, advanced batteries and other innovative vehicle concepts.

Other summit speakers include Sen. Jack Latvala, the incoming state Senate budget chair, and state Rep. Lake Ray, who will talk about local and statewide transportation issues.

Florida Department of Transportation Assistant Secretary Brian Blanchard will discuss developments in Tampa Bay’s transportation system.

Janet Zink, assistant vice president at Tampa International Airport and Jim Kuzma, chief operating officer at Space Florida, will provide updates on aviation and aerospace developments.

Port Tampa Bay Vice President Ram Kancharla will discuss the impact of the newly expanded Panama Canal.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, by video, will give an update on transportation developments in Washington, D.C., impacting Florida.

Other confirmed speakers include: FDOT District Secretary Paul Steinman, All Aboard Florida Vice President Rusty Roberts, Kenworth of Jacksonville President Denny Ross, BB&T Capital Markets Managing Director Kevin Sterling and Jim Tymon, chief operating officer for the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

Ed Moore, president of the Independent Colleges & Universities of Florida, will talk about Florida’s political outlook.

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Jack Latvala facing only write-in candidate in re-election bid for SD 16

Clearwater Republican state Sen. Jack Latvala will not face opposition from either a Republican or a Democrat this fall in Senate District 16, with only write-in candidate Katherine Perkins standing in the way of his being re-elected.

As the qualifying period came to a close Friday, no Democrat rose up to challenge the Pinellas County power broker, who lost out in a battle for the Senate presidency last year to Palm City Republican Joe Negron.

In exchange for a final detente with Negron, Latvala got a coveted consolation prize: the Appropriations Committee chairmanship, making him arguably the most important player in the budget process, given his extensive experience and mastery of the rules.

During the 2016 Legislative Session, Latvala chaired the Senate budget panel on Transportation, Tourism, and Economic Development and co-chaired the overall committee that oversees the spending of related dollars.

A staple of the Florida Senate across much of the last three decades, Latvala is known as a consummate dealmaker who “would rather get half of what I want that none of it,” as he once said — and knows how to negotiate for it.

A Tampa Bay Times story about the 2015 Legislative Session, for instance, portrayed the “gruff and tough” Latvala thusly:

“The veteran Republican lawmaker from Clearwater is having another Latvala-esque legislative session, relishing his role on a wide range of issues, from housing to beer to state troopers to Florida’s space program. He’s where the action is.”

Another write-in candidate, Michael Ryan, had been listed on the Division of Elections website, but Ryan did not qualify on Friday.

The 64-year-old Latvala initially served in the Florida Legislature from 1994-2002, and came back to the Senate in 2010.

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George Gainer becomes instant winner in SD 2

George Gainer is on his way to the Florida Senate.

The Bay County Republican won the Senate District 2 seat Friday after no other candidate qualified for the race.

“I am humbled and honored to have been elected without drawing another candidate to run against me,” Gainer said in a statement. “From the first day I announced my candidacy, I have worked to visit with as many voters as possible throughout the district. They have my pledge that my door is always open to them and I will do my absolute best to serve them with honor in Tallahassee.”

The Senate District 2 race was expected to be one of the most expensive and hotly contested races this election cycle. Gainer was set to face Matt Gaetz, a Fort Walton Beach Republican and the son of former Senate President Don Gaetz.

At the time, the race had high stakes — Gainer was backed by Sen. Jack Latvala, who was locked in a battle for the Senate presidency with Sen. Joe Negron, of whom the elder Gaetz is an ally.

But those stakes dropped significantly when the presidency was decided in Negron’s favor late last year.

And in March, when Rep. Jeff Miller announced he wasn’t running for re-election, the younger Gaetz dropped his state Senate bid to run for U.S. House.

Gainer is a Florida native, who has spent much of his life in Bay County. He opened his first car dealership in 1968. That same year, Gainer made his first run for public office. He was elected to the Bay County Commission at the age of 25, and served on the board until 1972.

He ran again and was elected to the Bay County Commission in 2002. Gainer is married with six children and 12 grandchildren.

According to LobbyTools, SD 2 is heavily Republican, with 55.5 percent of active voters in 2012 identifying with the GOP; 30.7 percent identified as Democrats. Another 13.9 percent of voters were either NPA or another party.

In 2012, The district overwhelmingly voted for Mitt Romney 74-26 percent over President Barack Obama in 2012; two years earlier, Gov. Rick Scott 70-30 percent over Democrat Alex Sink.

The voting age demographics of SD 2 is 62 percent white, 29 percent black and 5 percent Hispanic; the district has a median age of 40 years old.

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jolly

New poll of Florida’s battleground 13th Congressional District: David Jolly 44%, Charlie Crist 44%

Jack Latvala was not exaggerating.

Earlier this week, the Republican state Senator said he had paid for the polling that shows David Jolly leading Charlie Crist in Florida’s 13th Congressional District.

Latvala said he conducted “multiple polls, actually, because we didn’t believe it the first time.”

Latvala’s right, the numbers are hard to believe.

According to a new survey conducted by St. Pete Polls, Jolly leads Crist by less than a tenth of a point, 44 to 44 percent among likely CD 13 voters. These numbers are startling considering that the way the district is drawn; it should favor a Democrat. Also, previous polling by St. Pete Polls of this district showed Crist to be enormously popular with the Democratic base.

But like Rick Baker before him, who a previous poll showed would have run competitively against Crist, the Republican Jolly fares very well in CD 13.

Of course, Jolly is technically the incumbent in the Pinellas-based congressional district, but, as of this moment, he is still running for the U.S. Senate. However, both Jolly and Marco Rubio are under intense pressure from national, state, and local Republicans to reconsider their plans for 2016. GOP leaders want Rubio to run for re-election to his Senate seat and Jolly to fight for a full second term in the House.

Jolly has shown numerous signs that, instead of going all-out on that campaign, he is positioning himself to appeal to the moderate voters who would decide the race for his House seat, Tampa Bay Times political editor Adam Smith wrote in a column Wednesday.

“Does this look like a man consumed with winning a statewide Republican primary?” Smith wrote. “No. What it looks like is a candidate hugging the center and consciously reaching out to Democrats, independents and moderates alike.”

Jolly’s favorable ratings with CD 13 voters appear to be what’s driving much of his strong poll numbers. Asked if they have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of Jolly, 48 percent of voters said favorable, compared to just 26 for unfavorable. These numbers stand in stark contrast to Crist’s favorable ratings, which are upside-down at 43 percent to 46 percent.

The poll also asked CD 13 voters who they would vote for in the presidential election. Democrat Hillary Clinton received 47 percent support in this bellwether district, while Republican Donald Trump received 37 percent and Libertarian Gary Johnson took 9 percent.

This result clearly shows that this poll is in no way skewed to favor the Republican. In fact, when asked who they voted for in the 2012 presidential election, 53 percent of respondents said Barack Obama.

Only those voters that voted in a general election in 2012 or 2014, or the 2016 Presidential Preference Primary were included in the results. The poll has a sample size of 746 and a 3.6 percent margin of error.

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AIF announces “Champions for Business”

Associated Industries of Florida’s, the state’s premier lobbying group, has announced the latest awardees of its “Champions for Business.”

The group gives the awards every year to state lawmakers “whose extraordinary efforts provide model leadership on key legislation for the success of Florida’s business community,” according to a news release.

On this year’s list are:

Sen. Jack Latvala, a Clearwater Republican and four-time award recipient, for championing business incentives that ultimately stalled in the House;

Sen. Dorothy Hukill, a Port Orange Republican and five-time award winner, for her role in this year’s tax cuts;

Sen. Charlie Dean, an Inverness Republican who won his second award, for “defending the state’s water resources”;

Sen. Aaron Bean, a Fernandina Beach Republican and three-time winner, for preserving tort reform measures this past session;

Sen. Garrett Richter, a Naples Republican and six-time winner, for carrying ‘fracking’ legislation “aimed at growing Florida’s onshore energy industry while providing safeguards for the environment”;

Rep. Jim Boyd, a Bradenton Republican and three-time winner, for “successfully sponsoring an Economic Development package”;

Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Fort Walton Beach Republican and three-time winner, who fought for Gov. Scott’s 2016 tax cut package;

Rep. Matt Caldwell, a Lehigh Acres Republican and four-time winner, for “exhibiting significant leadership in sponsoring environmental resources legislation”;

Rep. Frank Artiles, a Miami Republican and twice award-winner, who “took the lead in sponsoring Information Technology legislation that will bring the state’s cyber security measures up to date”; and

Rep. Ray Rodrigues, a Fort Myers Republican receiving his second award, this year for his companion bill to Richter’s ‘fracking’ legislation.

“At AIF, we proudly honor those elected officials who defend Florida’s competitive climate and continually strive to keep the Sunshine State a place where businesses and families can prosper,” said AIF President and CEO Tom Feeney in a statement.

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Latest on the legislative staffing merry-go-round

With a tip of the hat to LobbyTools, here are the latest movements – both on and off – of the legislative merry-go-round.

Off and on: Maggie Mickler is no longer press secretary for the Senate Majority Leader’s office. She has become director of communications at the Department of Management Services.

On: LaQuisha Persak has become the new press secretary for the Senate Majority Leader’s office.

Off: Lindy Smith is no longer legislative assistant for Cape Canaveral Republican state Sen. Thad Altman.

Off and on: Drew Aldikacti is no longer legislative assistant in Inverness Republican state Sen. Charlie Dean‘s office, moving to Clearwater Republican state Sen. Jack Latvala‘s office.

Off: Avery Coleman is no longer Latvala’s legislative assistant.

On: Macey Smith is a new legislative assistant for Senate Majority Leader Bill Galvano.

Off: Larry Ford is no longer legislative assistant for Senate Deputy Majority Leader Denise Grimsley.

Off: Maria Nieto is no longer legislative assistant for Tampa Democratic state Sen. Arthenia Joyner.

Off: Daniel Bruno is no longer legislative assistant for Miami Democratic state Sen. Gwen Margolis.

Off: Bret Prater is no longer deputy chief of staff in the House Speaker’s Office.

Off: Gail Lolley is no longer legislative analyst for the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee.

Off: Ryan Cox is no longer an attorney for the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee.

Off: Lara Medley is no longer legislative assistant for Lakeland Republican state Rep. Colleen Burton.

On: Erik Silveira is the new district secretary for Coconut Creek Democratic state Rep. Kristin Jacobs.

Off: Milan Thompson is no longer district secretary for Jacksonville Democratic state Rep. Mia Jones.

Off: David Shane is no longer legislative assistant for Palm Springs Democratic state Rep. Dave Kerner.

On: Marion Dozier is the new legislative assistant for West Palm Beach Democratic state Rep. Bobby Powell.

On: Elizabeth Bolles became the district secretary for Sarasota Republican state Rep. Greg Steube.

On: Adam Miller is the new legislative assistant for Melbourne Beach Republican state Rep. John Tobia.

Off: Macey Smith is no longer Tobia’s legislative assistant.

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