Joe Henderson: Jackie Toledo would be better off talking kitchen counter issues than immigration

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Jackie Toledo has made the repeal of some immigration reforms a centerpiece of her campaign against Rebecca Smith for the House District-60 seat in next week’s Republican primary.

In a recent mailer to voters, she vowed to seek the repeal of a Republican-passed law that grant in-state college tuition to what she called “illegal immigrants.” She also wants to repeal a measure that makes it possible for undocumented immigrants to obtain a law license.

It’s an interesting gambit for Toledo, who first made her political name by losing a close and controversial 2015 race for the Tampa City Council.

She likely faces a tough fight this time, too. Smith, who founded the A.D. Morgan Corp., has high-powered endorsements from Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, Hillsborough Sheriff David Gee, and former Gov. Bob Martinez.

The winner of this primary faces Democrat David Singer in November.

The district they all want to represent covers a large part of South Tampa and extends to parts of Ruskin in southern Hillsborough County and, I believe, comes with a lot of misconceptions about its makeup.

The district includes Plant High School, which generally is considered one of the best and more upscale public high schools in the county. Less known, though, is that 22 percent of its students receive free or reduced lunches.

It is one of six schools in south Tampa where a volunteer group known as “End 68 Hours of Hunger” is working to provide meals for hungry families over the weekend, when schools are closed.

Also, south Tampa is notorious for bad flooding and traffic. While some of that is a city problem, Toledo has an extensive background in traffic engineering and management that could be useful in solving a long-term problem in the district.

Think people in south Tampa would welcome some help from Tallahassee with that?

Being a state Representative is mostly about seeking solutions for the pressing needs of your district. A lot of it is what Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn calls “infrastructure work” and it can be tedious.

It also often flies below the headline-writers’ radar, but it’s vital and it is why voters send candidates to the Legislature. They know who is in there getting things done for them. That’s why an argument about everyday concerns like jobs and transportation might sell better to voters than more pointed fingers with a jag on immigration.

In her unsuccessful race for city hall, Toledo outspent opponent Guido Maniscalco by about 3-1 and ran an unusually negative campaign for a council seat. Despite wide criticism for her tactics, she lost by just 151 votes in a runoff after Maniscalco went door-to-door around his Seminole Heights neighborhood in the closing days.

The lesson is that while sweeping issues like immigration might grab headlines, voters tend to pick candidates who can get basics accomplished for them and their neighbors.

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.