Tampa Bay Times issues endorsements in eight local state races

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Florida lawmakers face a number of challenges, from transportation to the environment. The growing economy may help, but there remains a way to go, from adequate support of public schools and higher education to improving the state’s infrastructure.

The Tampa Bay Times examined the positions of candidates in several local races, and are providing these recommendations:

Republican James Mathieu for House District 36

James Mathieu, chair of the Pasco Republican Executive Committee, is on his third run for the seat covering west Pasco County. His opponent, Chris Gregg, ran unsuccessfully in 2012 for Pasco County Commission and for the Legislature 14 years ago. The winner will face Democratic incumbent state Rep. Amanda Murphy, who had won a 2013 special election.

Mathieu, 61, is a former Port Richey city attorney and interim city manager, and the best choice for Republicans in the Aug. 26 primary. As an attorney, Mathieu possesses greater knowledge of education issues than Gregg, who platform on education matters is the free market, with more vouchers and less Common Core.

Mathieu says he would agree to accept federal Medicaid expansion money; Gregg would not.

Democrat Edwin ‘Ed’ Narain for House District 61

In this race, it is a matter of either local or state connections winning out.

Edwin “Ed” Narain, 37, is a recent law school graduate, regional sales manager for AT&T and a 20-year Tampa resident. His focus would be to bring jobs and training programs to the community. He opposes vouchers for private schools, supports accepting money for the federal Medicaid expansion and seeks to repeal the nuclear cost recovery law.

Narain’s opponent, Sean Shaw, is a 36-year-old lawyer and former insurance consumer activist. Shaw says he would focus on health care, the economy and boost higher education funding. The son of former Florida Supreme Court Justice Leander J. Shaw Jr. moved to Tampa in 2010 as a member of Alex Sink’s run for governor.

Shaw’s support is mostly from power brokers outside the district, where his Tallahassee experience would benefit Tampa. Narain’s supporters are local, many who spent decades in public service inside the district. Shaw continues to acquaint himself with Tampa, talking more about Tallahassee than HD 61 and its distinctive needs. Narain’s grasp of local concerns, volunteerism and community roots reflect his commitment to the region, which could also play well in Tallahassee.

Republican Miriam Steinberg for House District 64

To the Times, incumbent Republican Rep. Jamie Grant takes his small-government concept to the extreme. From road and school funding to health care and consumer protections, those ideas do not serve either his district or the state’s future.

Miriam Steinberg offers a more pragmatic view, as well as the personal skills to be effective in Tallahassee.

Although Steinberg, 54, favors small government, school choice and conservative fiscal policies, she is practical in her approach. Steinberg would accept federal Medicaid expansion money to cover the uninsured. A background in science also allows her to appreciate the importance of growth management.

Grant is a 31-year-old lawyer first elected in 2010 to the House. He speaks in broad terms about innovations in transit, education and other issues, but the Times editorial board consider it dogmatic. Steinberg appreciates better the real problems facing the district and the challenges ahead.

Republican Chris Sprowls for House District 65

In the GOP primary for the North Pinellas district, two Palm Harbor attorneys seek the Republican nomination against Democratic Rep. Carl Zimmermann.

Chris Sprowls and Debbie Faulkner each has roots in the area and share views, such as support for school vouchers and opposition to Medicaid expansion funds. Both seek to repeal the nuclear cost recovery fee.

The Times gives the edge to Sprowls his nuanced understanding of state policy and extensive public service experience.

Sprowls, 30, serves as Pinellas-Pasco assistant state attorney in the Gang unit. In the past year, he helped launch the 6th Judicial Circuit’s Veterans Treatment Court, with the goal of intervening in the lives of veterans who are charged with certain crimes arising from mental health issues or substance abuse.

Sprowls calls for fully funding the state’s prescription drug database, knowing the role it plays in curbing prescription drug abuse. Not only does Sprowls oppose private prisons, and advocates for strong public school standards, but he also wants to focus on improving Florida’s appeal to manufacturers.

Faulkner, 28, spent around a year in the state attorney’s office; her law firm specializes in tax and estate law. Her focus would be to improve the state’s infrastructure and water conservation.

Democrat Steve Sarnoff for House District 67

Of the three Democrats running in the open district covering most of Clearwater and Largo, the longtime city of Clearwater employee and union leader Steve Sarnoff is the Times’ clear choice.

Working for the city for nearly 25 years, Sarnoff, 61, served in a variety of jobs, most recently in code enforcement. As president of the Communication Workers of America Local 3179, Sarnoff’s decision to run comes after the Legislature’s attempts to change the pension plans for state and local employees. He seeks to build coalitions, invest more in public education and transit, expand the sales tax to include Internet sales, and accept federal money for Medicaid expansion.

Sarnoff opposes both private school tuition vouchers and the state’s “stand your ground” law.

Shawna Vercher, 37, is an author, activist and professional speaker with similar views on state issues. However, her motivation stems from negative court system experiences, which critics say she embellishes. In addition, Vercher is appealing a $1.5 million court judgment for breach of contract over a book about a former NBA referee, prompting her to file for bankruptcy.

Republican Chris Latvala for House District 67

Chris Latvala learned the importance of constituent service as an aide to Rep. Ed Hooper, the lawmaker he hopes to succeed. Passion and hard work he also learned from his father, Sen. Jack Latvala.

The experience in state politics makes Latvala the obvious choice for Republicans in HD67.

Latvala, 32, is a Dunedin native who grew up in Jacksonville, returning to Pinellas after college. He supports expanding sales tax to cover Internet sales, as well as offering in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants graduating from Florida high schools. Latvala opposes taking federal money for Medicaid expansion and favors tuition vouchers for low-income students.

Although he wants to generate jobs and improve the economy, Latvala is vague about how to accomplish it, other than reducing regulation.

Tea Party activist Christopher Shepard is a 26-year-old Iraq war veteran defeated by Hooper in the 2012 primary. He opposes the Affordable Care Act as well as extending sales tax to Internet sales.

Latvala knows the Legislature, the issues and the district.

Republican Bill Young for House District 68

Young,30, shares the name of his father, the former longtime U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, and has experience in business development with the National Forensic Science Technology Center in Largo. He seeks to reduce government regulation and vows never to support tax increases. He does advocate Florida collecting sales tax on online sales — but only if the result is a net lower overall sales tax rate, with the state collecting no additional money.

Young advocates generally for school choice, as well as tuition vouchers, but is not explicit about holding private schools accountable, or replacement for the state’s Common Core standards, which he opposes. He would not have the state accept Medicaid expansion money.

Taxi driver Joshua Black, 31, sees two roles for government: border security and criminal prosecution. Months after he made inflammatory remarks about President Barack Obama, prompting interviews from the Secret Service, he remains unrepentant. To the Times, Black is not viable.

Young is a better reflection of the Republican sensibilities in this district covering downtown St. Petersburg to Pinellas Park.

Republican Jack Latvala for Senate District 20

As Tampa Bay’s most effective state senator, Latvala, 62, could become one of the state’s most influential politicians if he secures the Senate presidency in 2016. November’s elections could settle the issue, and the Clearwater Republican’s moderate leadership would be good for the region and Florida.

Latvala is masterful in getting votes to pass suitable legislation and eradicate dangerous ideas. He led the effort to provide in-state tuition at colleges and universities for undocumented immigrants who graduate from Florida high schools. He helped ensure greater independence for state inspector generals.

The veteran legislator supports gun rights, but he also helped defeat a dangerous bill allowing gun owners without concealed weapons permits to carry guns during declared emergencies. Last year, Latvala was a key player in blocking unneeded changes in the state pension system.

Clearwater auto body shop owner Zahid Roy, 47, ran against Latvala once before, in 2012. He remains a doubtful candidate.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.