Little more than a week after the end of the legislative session, Republicans in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties head to the polls Tuesday to choose a nominee to replace the late Rep. Clay Ford who died in March.
Whichever one of the half-dozen candidates emerges with the GOP nod in House District 2 will be a sizable favorite against Democrat Jeremy Lau. Gov. Rick Scott carried the district by 16 points in 2010 against his Democratic opponent, former Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink; Scott narrowly won statewide. Republicans also had an eight-point edge in voter registration, according to state numbers.
Among the candidates are insurance agents, a former mayor, a former city councilman and a tea party activist. Brandon Larrabee of the News Service of Florida offers this preview of the candidates.
There are few signs of a front-runner, but one candidate generating some buzz is Mike Hill, president of the Northwest Florida Tea Party. Hill boasts endorsements from Rep. Dennis Baxley and the National Federation of Independent Business in Florida, where he serves on the leadership council.
Hill fashions himself as a “genuine conservative” who says he will fight for limited government, lower taxes, personal freedom and individual responsibility.
But mailers targeting former Pensacola City Councilman Jack Nobles and former Gulf Breeze Mayor Ed Gray have served as a flashpoint in the race. Gray has produced an ad in which he says that Hill offers “no positive platform, no solutions, just a relentless smear campaign.”
In an interview, Nobles declined to comment in depth about the mailers, which paint Nobles and Gray as “two career politicians” who have voted to raise taxes. Gray declined to speak to a reporter Wednesday, saying he was focusing his time on contacting voters.
Hill said his campaign isn’t responsible for the mailers, but he backed up their message and said the attacks against Gray and Nobles weren’t personal.
“They’re career politicians, and that’s one thing I think that this area is kind of fed up with,” he said.
Beyond that, the race has covered everything from a feeling that Tallahassee is ignoring the area to how to use money meant to help eight counties recover from the effects of the BP oil spill.
“I’m looking forward to being a part of your governmental structure to go to Tallahassee, gain the respect of my peers over there and have state government look after the interests of northwest Florida just like they do all of South Florida and central Florida, because we deserve that,” Gray told a forum recently.
As for the BP money, most of the candidates agree that it should be spent by local officials.
“Let, at the local level, the counties determine how that money should be used,” Hill said.
Nobles adds that it should either be used to pay off debt or be invested and then used wisely.
“You give politicians money and they spend it pretty quickly,” he said.
Some of the candidates also have unique ideas and interests. Scott Miller, a businessman from Gulf Breeze and first cousin of Republican Sen. Greg Evers, says whoever represents the seat has to make sure that no one tries to use a toll to fund the replacement for the Three-Mile Bridge that runs from Pensacola to Gulf Breeze.
“I feel like we need to have somebody in Tallahassee who will watch that like a hawk,” he said.
Miller also has stressed his support for the Second Amendment, saying “people in South Florida” might try to curtail gun rights across the state.
David Radcliffe, a property and casualty insurance agent, developer and landlord, wants to return Citizens Property Insurance Corp. to a wind-only insurer. He worries that a recent measure creating a “clearinghouse” for the company will allow private insurers to “cherry-pick policies.”
“I need a good platform to go try to get my ideas heard in Tallahassee,” he said.
Mark Taylor, an insurance inspector who also works in construction and real estate, stresses workforce education, dovetailing with education reform efforts in Tallahassee. Taylor started selling real estate when he was in high school.
“Not everybody’s college-bound,” he said. “I wasn’t a college-bound guy, but still was very blessed and very successful.”
The general election to replace Ford is scheduled for June 11.