Instant winners aplenty in Florida Senate races

You might want to call them instant winners.

As of 5 p.m. Friday, a dozen Florida Senate candidates appeared to win their elections when the qualifying period ended without them drawing opposition.

Newcomers Lauren Book and George Gainer were among those candidates who did not draw an opponent.

Gainer, a Bay County Republican, ran unopposed in Senate District 2. That race was expected to be hotly contested and deemed one to watch by political observers. But in March, Rep. Matt Gaetz dropped his state Senate bid to run for Congress instead. Gaetz is one of the several Republicans who qualified to run in Florida’s 1st Congressional District.

Book is a well-known South Florida Democrat, having spent years trying to bring awareness to childhood sexual abuse. She is the daughter of lobbyist Ron Book. She is expected to win her bid to represent South Florida in Senate District 32.

Gainer and Lauren Book are the only newcomers who won their races after running unopposed. The remaining candidates all will return to the Senate after they failed to draw an opponent.

Audrey Gibson won re-election in Senate District 6; Perry Thurston won re-election in Senate District 33, and Oscar Braynon won re-election in Senate District 35. Braynon is set to become the Minority Leader in 2016.

On the Republican side, Aaron Bean won re-election in Senate District 4; Rob Bradley won re-election in Senate District 5; David Simmons won re-election in Senate District 9; Wilton Simpson won re-election in Senate District 10; Tom Lee won re-election in Senate District 20; Bill Galvano won re-election in Senate District 21; and Denise Grimsley won re-election in Senate District 26.

Galvano and Simpson are both believed to be in line for the Senate presidency.

Candidates had until noon Friday to qualify to be on the ballot. State elections officials said they expect all of the candidate qualifying information to be finalized by Friday evening.

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Tom Lee, Bill Galvano to remain powerful GOP voices in Senate

Two key Republicans will be returning to the Florida Senate in new districts and without opposition.

Bill Galvano of Bradenton and Tom Lee of Brandon were the only candidates to meet Friday’s noon filing deadline and thus have been assured of returning to Tallahassee.

Lee’s political future had seemed uncertain after court-ordered redistricting could have placed both him and Galvano in the newly drawn District 21, which covers parts of Hillsborough and Manatee counties.

Lee declined to run against Galvano, and after considering a run for the Hillsborough County Commission opted instead to move within the boundaries of the new District 20.

The move keeps two powerful GOP voices in Tallahassee.

Galvano is in line to become Senate President in 2019, provided Republicans keep their majority in that body. Lee served as the chair of the appropriations committee in the last session.

Galvano picked up high-profile help recently when Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam campaigned for him in Wimauma in southern Hillsborough. Galvano has worked closely with Putnam to attack citrus greening, which threatens the livelihood of the state’s citrus farmers.

He was first elected to the state House of Representatives in 2002, and then to the Senate in 2012. He served as Republican majority leader in 2014.

Lee initially was elected to the Senate in 1996 and was re-elected without opposition in 2000. Redistricting forced him to run again two years later, but he was again elected without opposition. In 2004, he served as the Senate president.

After losing a statewide election in 2006 to Alex Sink for chief financial officer, Lee left politics before returning in 2012.

“I just humbly look forward the privilege of serving West Central Florida in the Senate,” Lee said in a statement Friday. “When a public servant does a job between elections, the re-elections tend to take care of themselves.

“I represent everyone in our district, not just those in our party. Without a Facebook or Twitter account, I tend to rely on the old-fashioned way of doing things.”

Lee hopes to close on a piece of property within the boundaries of his new district by early next month.

In campaign filings with the state, Galvano listed his net worth at $2.064 million. Lee listed his net worth at $2.9 million.

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Joe Henderson: Tom Lee’s tough, surprising choice

I’m a little surprised by Tom Lee’s decision to run for re-election to the state Senate.

Along with just about everyone else in the media and Florida politics, I’ve had lengthy chats with Lee about his future since a judge drew new district lines that essentially forced him to make a tough decision.

Because his current Brandon home now lies in a different district than the one Lee represents, he had three choices:

  • Challenge Senate Majority Leader Bill Galvano if he wanted to keep his current seat. Lee ruled that out early.
  • Move within the newly drawn boundaries of District 20, which includes parts of Hillsborough, Pasco and Polk counties so that he could run for the Senate again.
  • Run for an at-large seat on the Hillsborough County Commission, where he would have been a heavy favorite.

It came down to options 2 or 3, and as William March of the Tampa Bay Times first reported, Lee chose No. 2.

Why that surprises me, a little, is because Lee talked to me at length about the lure of bringing his Tallahassee experience to his home county. He has young kids and being able to spend more time with them, especially on weekends, was appealing.

Plus, Lee is never shy about saying Tallahassee is where good governance goes to meet a painful end at the hands of lobbyists, special interests and agendas that have little to do with the overall good of Florida.

That’s one of the reasons Lee is not the most popular guy in the statewide GOP.

In the county, Lee’s impact would have been immense. As a resident of eastern Hillsborough, Lee would have given a much-need pragmatic voice to a part of the county that has been treated as a fresh hunting ground for runaway development. The result has been suffocating growth and traffic.

His entry into the race likely would have meant the end of Jim Norman’s attempt to return to public life as a county commissioner. It’s a definite boost to the political ambitions of Republican commission candidate Tim Schock.

But, statewide politics has real appeal too. The power to shape the future of the nation’s third-largest state can be irresistible. That’s the path he chose.

Interestingly, even if Lee wins he will have to run again in 2018.

A lot of things can change between now and then, starting with the races for governor (paging Adam Putnam, please report to the candidate’s booth) and cabinet posts. Lest we forget, Lee unsuccessfully challenged Alex Sink in 2006 to be the state’s chief financial officer.

Lee has been coy throughout the process that led to this decision and there is no reason to believe that won’t continue. For now, though, he has shown one of his cards. He will show the next one when he gets around to it.

___

Joe Henderson has had a 45-year career in newspapers, including the last nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. He has covered a large variety of things, primarily in sports but also hard news. The two intertwined in the decade-long search to bring Major League Baseball to the area. Henderson was also City Hall reporter for two years and covered all sides of the sales tax issue that ultimately led to the construction of Raymond James Stadium. He served as a full-time sports columnist for about 10 years before moving to the metro news columnist for the last 4 ½ years. Henderson has numerous local, state and national writing awards. He has been married to his wife, Elaine, for nearly 35 years and has two grown sons – Ben and Patrick.

 

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Mitch Perry Report for 6.15.16 – What will Marco do?

Is Marco Rubio ready to do the (almost) unthinkable, and soon announce that he will be running again for the U.S. Senate seat that he renounced a year ago?

We’ll find out soon enough, as the deadline to make such a decision is just nine days away.

The man who runs this website, Peter Schorschwrote last night that a deal is in the works where Rubio’s Miami-Dade County ally, Carlos Lopez-Cantera, would drop out and announce he’s running for CFO in 2018. Dealing with CLC is important, since Rubio has made such an issue of their friendship. Well, Lopez-Cantera has sounded pretty contemptuous of all things Washington during his campaign for Senate, so it wouldn’t be a radical thing for him to say that it works better for him to keep his current day job until 2018.

David Jolly would also drop out, while outsider candidates Todd Wilcox and Carlos Beruff would no doubt stay in the race. Wilcox told us yesterday that Rubio’s entry back into the race would only magnify the difference between a career politician like Rubio and himself. It’s uncertain what Ron DeSantis might do.

Whether this is a great move by Rubio will be for others to decide. Personally, I think it’s a good move if it’s to be believed that Rubio aspires to run again for president in 2020. It seems to me much better to still be in the game (in Washington) than coming from the private sector (a la Jeb Bush, Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney).

Whether he can actually win in November is in dispute, but not that he would be the nominee.

That’d be a comeback, of sorts, if you consider how badly he was humiliated in the state’s March presidential primary, when he won all of one of Florida’s 67 counties.

In other news …

Tom Lee has finally made a decision regarding his political future in Hillsborough County.

Rick Baker has endorsed Rebecca Smith in the HD 60 contest.

Kevin Beckner raises more than $11K in his battle to dethrone Hillsborough Clerk of the Court Pat Frank.

Former Plant City Mayor John Dicks had the most robust month of fundraising in the Hillsborough County Commission District 6 contest last month, but he still trails two other Democrats in overall fundraising.

Boca Raton Democratic Representative Ted Deutsch says lifting the loophole that allows those on a terror watch list to still buy guns should be a priority in Congress in the wake of the Orlando massacre.

And the Tampa Bay business elite is calling on the Hillsborough County MPO to approve the TBX in its TIP next week.

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Tom Lee to run for re-election to the Florida Senate

After months of deliberation, Hillsborough County Republican Tom Lee has apparently decided to run for re-election to the newly created Senate District 20 seat later this fall.

The Tampa Bay Times first reported the news.

Lee is currently serving in Senate District 24, a seat he won back in 2012. It was a return to the Legislature after a six-year interregnum following his defeat to Alex Sink in the contest for Chief Financial Officer in 2006. Before that, he served a full decade in the state Senate, including two years (2005-2006) when he served as Senate President.

But his current district was redrawn last year, and it put him in the same district as Manatee County Sen. Bill Galvano (who met up with the Tampa Bay Young Republicans at a mixer in Ybor City on Monday). Lee had declared earlier that he wouldn’t challenge Galvano, but left it open about his future options.

He hinted strongly that he was considering a run for Hillsborough County Commission, which would allow him to stay closer to his home in Brandon.

His decision Tuesday will no doubt provide a bit of relief to the two Republicans running for the District 6 countywide seat that Lee presumably would have entered, Jim Norman and Tim Schock. 

It also ends any blunts the ambitions of two local House Republicans who were considering a run for the SD 20 seat if Lee had opted not to run for re-election. Those officials include Ross Spano and Shawn Harrison.

The newly drawn Senate District 20 includes parts of Hillsborough, Pasco and Polk counties. No Democrat has entered the race.

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Kelli Stargel draws Polk County Democrat challenger in SD 22 race

A Polk County Democrat announced this week that she will run against Lakeland Republican Sen. Kelli Stargel in the newly redrawn Senate District 22.

Former Polk County School Board member Debra Wright made the announcement Monday during the Open House of the Democratic Headquarters in Haines City and during the same meeting earned the support of Polk County Democratic State Committeewoman Ruth Ann Eaddy.

“Ms. Stargel’s record has shown a disregard for what is best for her constituents by writing laws and taking positions that are best for her corporate sponsors and are especially bad for women,” Write said Monday. “The law she wrote that would make it impossible for a judge to award custody of children in divorce cases to the more responsible parent was so poorly crafted even our Republican governor was persuaded to veto it.”

After the announcement, Eaddy said Polk County Democrats were “delighted” Wright is “taking on one of our most misguided state legislators in this new district.”

Eaddy also noted that Wright’s candidacy marks the entry of a Democrat into the three districts in the Florida Senate and five districts in the Florida House that include Polk County, though Florida Division of Elections records show no Democrat has filed against Republican Sen. Tom Lee in the new SD 20, nor Republican Sen. Denise Grimsley in the new SD 26.

Wright served one term as the District 6 member of the Polk County School Board before losing out to current school board member Lynn Wilson 53-47 in the 2014 election cycle. Once her paperwork is accepted by the Florida Division of Elections, she will be the only candidate in the SD 22 race other than Stargel.

Stargel currently represents SD 15, which includes a southwestern piece of Orange County, a small slice of Osceola County and the northern third of Polk County. That district delivered her a 17-point victory over Democratic challenger Christopher Pennington four years ago, but the newly redrawn SD22 could be a little tougher for the veteran lawmaker.

SD22 includes the northern third of Polk County as well as Southern Lake County and is the least GOP-friendly of Polk County’s three new Senate districts.

According to the district plan, Democrats make up 41 percent of the SD 22 electorate compared to a 37 percent share for Republicans. Back in 2012, the district went for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney by about a 2 points, though Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson snagged a 12-point margin over former Republican Congressman Connie Mack IV in the same cycle.

Stargel has a substantial head start in fundraising, however. Through the end of April, the Lakeland Republican has $195,604.46 in her campaign account, though she has only raised $1,000 since the start of the 2016 Legislative Session.

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Gwen Graham contributes $1,000 to Lisa Montelione in her bid for State House 63

Tampa City Councilwoman Lisa Montelione is the first of three major candidates vying for the House District 63 seat to report fundraising totals from April, bringing in $19,490, her highest fundraising month to date.

Among those contribution $1,000 to her campaign last month was Cigar City Brewing founder Joey Redner, as well as his wife Jennifer.

And a look further back into the Tampa Democrat’s contributions to date include a $1,000 check received in late February from none other than Gwen Graham, the Tallahassee Congresswoman who recently announced that she would not be running for reelection this fall, after her district was significantly changed due to redistricting.

Two weeks ago, Graham made statewide headlines when she announced that she was “seriously considering” a bid for governor in 2018, and the contribution came as the Graham camp begins to create a statewide farm team of surrogates for her likely 2018 bid for the Governor’s Mansion. Sources familiar with Graham’s thinking say both her fundraising strategy and personal contributions will be inflected by a desire to create allies and stoke good will with down-ballot Democrats.

Other notable $1,000 contributors who have donated to Monteleone’s campaign in recent months include Lisa DeBartolo and Jose Toledo, the husband of Republican House District 60 candidate Jackie Toledo.

Montelione is battling Mike Reedy for the Democratic nomination this August. The winner will take on Republican incumbent Shawn Harrison, though there have been rumors floating about that he may consider a run for state senate if Tom Lee opts out of not running for reelection in his SD 20 seat.

Harrison and Reedy have yet to disclose their fundraising for April. Those reports are not due until next week.

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Rick Scott vetoes contentious alimony bill

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has vetoed a controversial alimony reform bill, saying in his veto letter the legislation had the potential to put the “wants of a parent before the child’s best interest.”

The bill was the last one sent to the governor, and is the final bill of the 2016 legislative session he needed to take action on. The Naples Republican signed two other bills — a bill dealing with mental health and substance abuse and another streamlining the process for veterans to receive benefits — into law Friday.

In his veto letter, Scott commended the bill’s sponsors — Sens. Tom Lee and Kelli Stargel, and Reps. Colleen Burton and Ritch Workman — for their efforts to reform the state’s divorce and alimony laws. However, Scott expressed concerns that the legislation would have an adverse effect on children.

“Current law directs a judge to consider the needs and interests of the children first when determining a parenting plan and time-sharing schedule,” said Scott in his letter to Secretary of State Ken Detzner. “This bill has the potential to upend that policy in favor of putting the wants of a parent before the child’s best interest by creating a premise of equal time sharing.”

Scott said the state’s judges “must consider each family’s unique situation and abilities and put the best interests of the child above all else.”

The bill passed the Senate 24-14, before clearing the House on a 74-38 vote. Among other things, the legislation would have created a legal premise for child custody plans that said children should spend equal time with each parent. Under the proposed legislation, judges would have still had the latitude to decide custody questions after a divorce.

“In the end, Rick Scott is a family values conservative, and this was the right choice to protect children and their primary caretaker,” said Brian Burgess, a media relations consultant who urged Scott to veto the bill, in a statement Friday.

That provision is what led the Family Law Section of the Florida Bar to lobby for a veto. The group had initially backed this year’s proposal.

“We are very pleased that, with his veto of SB 668, Governor Scott has done the right thing by putting Florida’s children first,” said John Giotis, chairman of the Florida Council for Safe Communities, in a statement.” Divorce is always a very difficult situation, and this bill would have put its most vulnerable victims, children, at risk. We sincerely hope that, going forward, any reforms to Florida family law will put the best interests of Florida children above all other concerns.”

The Governor’s Office received more than 11,000 emails and phone calls about the proposal. About 80 percent of those messages were from supporters.

Scott acknowledged the contentious nature of the measure in his veto letter, saying the revisions “evoked passionate reactions from thousands of Floridians because divorce affects families in many different ways.”

In a statement Friday, Workman said he was disappointed the governor decided to veto the bill, but understood his reasons

“The governor’s message is clear; we must tackle each issue in family law separately rather than lumping them all together,” said Workman. “I am committed to reforming these issues. Next session I intend to facilitate individual bills regarding alimony payments, child custody and other family law issues. The system has long been in need of significant overall and Florida families deserve consistency and fairness in their divorce proceedings.”

The bill also would have changed the way Florida judges could award alimony. The measure would have allowed the courts to reduce alimony payments if there was a “substantial change in circumstance.” That could mean the person paying the alimony becomes unemployed or reaches the age to receive full Social Security benefits.

Scott vetoed an attempt to modify the alimony law in 2013. At the time, he said it tampered with the “settled economic expectations of many Floridians who have experienced divorce.”

Scott did not address that portion of the bill in his veto letter, focusing only on the child custody portion.

“As a husband, father, and grandfather, I understand the importance of family and the sensitivity and passion that comes with the subject of family law,” said Scott in his veto letter. “Family law issues are very personal, and nearly every family comes to the court with different circumstances and needs. As such, we must be judicious and carefully consider the long term and real life repercussions on Florida families.”

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Mitch Perry Report for 4.15.16 – The Brawl in Brooklyn

Remember when we used to hold debates in this country?

Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. But it had been more than five weeks between debates before Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders engaged on the issues last night in a raucous two-hour forum in Brooklyn.

While it can be annoying to have the audience cheering and jeering, somehow it felt appropriate in the Big Apple – it reminded me of the time when Al Gore and Bill Bradley engaged in a Manhattan duel back in 2000.

There weren’t necessarily any surprises, other than Sanders daring to actually speak positively about the Palestinian people – something essentially verboten in our national politics.

One of Clinton’s best moments – and Sanders’ worst – was on the issue of guns. While Bernie’s s support for giving gun makers immunity from lawsuits might be fine in a general election, it’s devastating in a Democratic primary. He didn’t do well in that exchange.

Clinton proved most vulnerable in her continuing refusal to release the transcripts to her speeches to Wall Street firms. Seriously, how bad can it be? Pretty bad, one might think in the way that she is fighting against it.

And while we’re on the subject of a lack of transparency,what could possibly be bad in Bernie Sanders tax returns? There is speculation that A) he didn’t give much to charity, and B) he’s taken a lot of deductions. Who knows if that’s accurate? His refusal to release such forms invites such idle speculation.

I’ve been critical of Sanders lack of specificity on foreign policy. He actually did better than previously on that subject last night.

On style points, Clinton was the winner. Bernie is never going to be slick, and his fans love for that.

There was a lot of yelling going on, prompting moderator Wolf Blitzer to tell the candidates to behave themselves.

“If you’re both screaming at each other, the viewers won’t be able to hear either of you,” Blitzer said.

“OK,” Sanders said

“So please…” Blitzer started.

“I will…” Sanders interrupted.

“— don’t talk over each other.” Blitzer finished.

 Followed by another minute of the two talking over each over.

I’ve said throughout this campaign cycle that these debates rarely move the needle – remember when people thought Donald Trump’s anti-George W. Bush comments on Iraq would hurt him in South Carolina? Or the fact that Marco Rubio arguably won every one of the first series of debates, and got little to no bounce out of it?

There hasn’t been a poll I’ve seen that shows Sanders within single digits to Clinton in next Tuesday’s crucial primary in the Empire State. A new Wall Street Journal/NBC New York/Marist poll finds Clinton leading Sanders by 17 percentage-points, 57% to 40%.

In other news..

Florida Strong hits Tampa state House Republican Dana Young as part of their “Got ethics?” campaign.

The Tampa City Council talked tough to Florida Dept. of Transportation officials regarding the relocation of residents because of the TBX project.

Among the properties that FDOT planned to tear down was the building leased to Tampa Heights citizens for a community center. State lawmakers Ed Narain and Tom Lee took a bow at the center on Thursday for procuring over $1 million from the Legislature that will move the property to a different site.

Tom Lee has been redrawn out of her state senate district in Brandon this year. He tells FP that he may run for office in Hillsborough County this year.

And former Cuban prisoner Alan Gross and humanitarian will speak at USF next Tuesday.

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Hillsborough state and local lawmakers celebrate bipartisanship in saving the Tampa Heights community center

When the Florida Department of Transportation announced their plans to add toll lanes to I-275 in what is now known as the Tampa Bay Express project, Tampa Heights residents reacted in shock last year.

FDOT officials said that as part of the ultimate construction of the project, there are properties in Seminole Heights and Tampa Heights that will be have to be removed – including the former Faith Temple Missionary Baptist Church on Palm Avenue that in the past five years has been transformed into a community center by the Tampa Heights Junior Civic Association.

Those plans haven’t changed, but Tampa House Democrat Ed Narain and Brandon GOP state Senator Tom Lee were able to save the day to an extent by getting a $1.2 million appropriation into the state budget that will allow for the property to be physically relocated somewhere else in the community.

On Thursday, Narain and Lee were joined by Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller and neighborhood active Lena Young-Green in celebrating the news at the Tampa Heights Youth Community Center.

“The old Faith Temple Church serves as a save haven and educational center and a community resource for the Tampa Heights community,” said Narain. “This is truly a community treasure, and I’m proud to stand up here as a representative who was able to go to Tallahassee to start the process to get the funds to relocate this center.”

Senator Lee said that when done well, public service is a “team sport.”

Maintaining that bipartisan spirit, Commissioner Miller said he told Narain when he was elected in 2014 that as a member of the minority party in the Florida House, “you gotta learn how to work across the aisle,” and said that he told him that the first person he should get to know was Senator Lee.

Another Republican not in the room also received some love from the Hillsborough Democrat.

“I don’t say this too often, but thank you Governor Scott,” Miller said, eliciting laughs from members of the community who also attended the press conference.

Although the community is strongly opposed to FDOT because of the TBX project, as well Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s support for the TBX, Young-Green thanked both them for allowing the community to take over the church when it laid vacant in 2010.

“The mayor not be 100 percent behind us, but it was the city who took the lease from the Dept. of Transportation and then subleased to us because state law required that,” she said.

The construction is part of a DOT study completed in 1996 that includes widening I-275, adding express toll lanes and changing some exits. Young Green says the way people think of cities has changed since then. “There is a paradigm shift. There was a time 20-30 years ago when everyone was running from the urban area, running out to the suburbs and lots of roads were created.”

“There is a change in the air, and the Department of Transpiration has not caught up with the fact that more roads are not the solution,” she added.

Senator Lee told the audience that the funds for the relocation of the building were allocated to the Dept. of Economic Opportunity, and said he was confident that it wouldn’t be revoked if the money isn’t spent in the following year. He added that the Dept. of Transportation is assisting in looking for a new site for the community center.

The physical property encompasses about 1.75 acres.

Officials with the community center say a national search has just been initiated to find a firm that an engineers to determine how the physical move of the property will occur.

Young Green also broke down emotionally for a moment when she thanked Narain and Lee for working together in 2015 to pass the The Arthur Green Jr. Act , which addressed the controversial 2014 death of her late husband.

Green was cuffed and restrained by Tampa Police for swerving into traffic and sideswiping a couple of cars. The police officers were unable to recognize Green’s symptoms of hypoglycemia, a diabetic emergency. Within minutes, he lost consciousness and died soon after. The legislation is aimed at helping officers appropriately identify a diabetic emergency, avoid misidentification and prevent future tragedies.

Young Green is suing the city of Tampa for Arthur Green Jr.’s death.

 

 

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