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Joe Henderson: As Dan Raulerson leaves HD 58, only question is which Republican replaces him

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Today marks the end of Dan Raulerson’s five years in the Florida House representing District 58. He is stepping down following recent back surgery and to concentrate on his local accounting business in Plant City.

As he told me during a recent chit-chat, “I’ve got to make a buck.”

In politics, one person’s departure is another person’s opportunity, and qualifying is under way to fill Raulerson’s seat. A special primary will be held Oct. 10 followed by a general election on Dec. 19.

Two Republicans are already in the race – Yvonne Fry and Lawrence McClure. Democrat Jose Vazquez, whom Raulerson beat in 2016 by 16 points, has filed as well – although he also plans run in the district where Janet Cruz is stepping down because of term limits. That could make for an interesting stump speech. “Vote for me …. I might be here, might not.” Libertarian Party of Florida candidate Bryan Richard Zemina also has filed.

Raulerson said he will remain “absolutely neutral” on the Republican side and will not run again for public office.

“I’m done baby,” he said.

The early read on this race is that Fry will be tough to beat in what could be a GOP slugfest. Special elections tend to draw only the most motivated voters and Fry has made a lot of friends in Plant City. And while Raulerson may be neutral, that didn’t stop state Rep. Ross Spano, who represents the Brandon area, from backing Fry, as did Hillsborough School Board member Melissa Snivley.

Fry grew up as a farmer’s daughter in Plant City and later founded her own communications business. She is past chair of both the Hillsborough Commission on the Status of Women and the Florida Commission on the Status of Women. She helped create the Plant City Economic Development Corp.  and serves on boards all over town.

In an endorsement on Fry’s campaign Facebook page, long-time friend Sandee Park-Sytsma said, “Words I would use to describe Yvonne are hard-working, trustworthy, passionate and forward-thinking with traditional values. Those are traits I would want anyone to have that we send to Tallahassee.”

Fry will hold a fund-raiser on Thursday morning.

McClure has been busy too, though. Like Fry, he has deep Plant City roots and reported he raised $90,000 in his first week of campaigning. That’s a ton of cash in a special election.

“With just over 60 days left before the primary, we are working hard to meet with each and every Republican voter and share with them our conservative principles,” McClure said.

There is another major storyline in this race. Democrats were bitterly disappointed when Plant City farmer and attorney John Dicks decided not to run. The party leadership had strongly recruited Dicks because he, too, is a well-known and respected name in Plant City.

However, Dicks told William March of the Tampa Bay Times in an email that, “I consider public service to be both a calling and commitment and have been honored with the encouragement and support from so many. However, we have, right now, too many things going on in our lives (business, personal and family) to disrupt them for an unexpected and quick campaign.”

Translation: Barring something unforeseen, a seat where Democrats could have been competitive with the right candidate stays Republican.

Joe Henderson has had a 45-year career in newspapers, including the last nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. He covered a large variety of things, primarily in sports but also including 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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