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2016 House field continues to shape up in central Florida, Tallahassee

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It’s more than a year out from 2016 legislative elections, normally a quiet time when warring factions retreat to their camps and use the odd-numbered year to strategize and keep their powder dry.

But with recent drama surrounding the race for the 2021-22 speakership, state party infighting involving sitting House Rep./RPOF Chairman Blaise Ingoglia and an imminent Senate map redraw likely to pit incumbents against one another as they vie to ascend to the upper chamber, things in the House are very much “on” in this 2015 “off” year.

According to the Florida Division of Elections, Democrats hoping to ride presidential-cycle electoral tailwinds into office filed for the House last week in HD 9, HD 43, and HD 47.

— Dianne Williams-Cox giving it another go in South City & Gadsden

Democrat Dianne Williams-Cox has joined the fray in a now three-way race to succeed state Rep. Alan Williams in a majority-minority seat based in liberal Leon and Gadsden counties.

Williams-Cox ran against Williams last year in a campaign tinged with personal animus toward Williams, whom the longtime state employee said had promised her he would step aside and run for the Tallahassee City Commission. She was defeated soundly, collecting less than 32 percent of the primary vote. The vast majority of her support came from precincts in the Gadsden half of the district.

She joins a field populated by nonprofit CEO and Democratic operative Ramon Alexander –– so far a prohibitive frontrunner, garnering $69,224 in campaign contributions through July 1, including $12,154 in June — and Brad Johnson, who has collected just $9,100 and waived his June filing, indicated he raised no money last month. Both Johnson and Alexander are former aides to former Tallahassee Mayor John Marks.

— Incumbent John Cortes draws an intra-party challenger

Meanwhile in central Florida, state Rep. John Cortes, who toppled former one-term state Rep. Ricardo Rangel in a contentious primary upset, has drawn an opponent in Democratic Kissimmee Mayor Pro Tempore Sara Shaw, who hopes to do the same.

Cortes took out Rangel last August in what some Democratic insiders say was a coup for an anti-state party out-group associated with state Rep. Darryl Rouson. Rangel was bested by a margin of 52 to 48 percent despite a heavy fundraising advantage.

Shaw, according to the Orlando Sentinel, missed a court appearance after receiving a speeding ticket for going 105 on Florida’s Turnpike. She disputes the charging officer’s account. Earlier this year, the Florida League of Cities granted her its “Home Rule Champions Award” for 2015, according the the FLC’s website.

Cortes has raised just $6,510 for his re-election bid, though he was prohibited from raising funds during the 2015 regular session and Special Session A, called to pass a budget amid a breakdown in negotiations back in May.

— Attorney Henry Lim gives chase to Winter Park state Rep. Mike Miller 

Orlando-area immigration attorney Henry Lim has filed to take on freshman Republican Mike Miller in an HD 47 seat that, like a handful of east central Florida districts, seems to switch party allegiances almost every cycle — see vanquished former state Reps. Joe SaundersMike Clelland and Karen Castor Dentel.

Lim will try to avenge fallen Democratic state Rep. Linda Stewart, who despite a concerted effort that saw the Florida Democratic Party dispatching canvassers and mailers promoting the former Orange County commissioner’s moderate record, lost to Miller 52 to 48.

Miller has raised a hearty $38,350 through July, according to state campaign finance records. The seat is likely to be a top priority for both state parties.

Ryan Ray writes about campaigns and public policy in Tampa Bay and across the state. A contributor to FloridaPolitics.com and before that, The Florida Squeeze, he covers the Legislature as a member of the Florida Capitol Press Corps and has worked as a staffer on several campaigns. He can be reached at ryan@floridapolitics.com.

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