A lot could change in Florida after today’s midterm election. We could be staring down the face of a Republican super-majority in the Legislature. We could see our former Republican governor back in Tallahassee as a Democrat. We could be celebrating with a big fat doobie as the state prepares to implement medical marijuana.
The race for the governor’s mansion is expected to be a close one with some even speculating a clear winner won’t emerge until after tonight. Amendment 2 has drawn millions of dollars from Las Vegas conservative billionaire Sheldon Adelson in an effort to squash attorney John Morgan’s medical pot ballot measure. Locally, Pinellas residents will grapple with whether to tack on an extra penny sales tax to fund transit improvements. There are also two close county commission races on both sides of the bay between Ed Hooper and Pat Gerard in Pinellas and Pat Kemp and Al Higginbotham in Hillsborough.
Here’s a rundown of what to expect:
A battle of two governors
Incumbent Rick Scott loves to bash his opponent for being a political flip-flopper. Crist was a Republican as governor from 2006 until 2010. His unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate against Marco Rubio pitted him as an independent. And now he’s a Democrat. Can’t keep up? Don’t worry, Rick Scott’s campaign will remind you no fewer than 75 times, the same amount Scott pleaded the 5th in a deposition about fraud charges on the health-care company he ran.
You might have also heard that Charlie’s reign as head of the Sunshine State led to more than 800,000 job losses. If you’ve heard that, you’ve probably also heard Crist fire back that it’s not his fault the global economy tanked.
On the other side of the spectrum, Crist throws his own zingers at Scott accusing him of cutting too much from education spending, derailing high speed rail, siding with special interests over the common family and just having an overall top-down approach to leading the state.
Scott labels himself the “Jobs Governor” while Crist calls himself the “People’s Governor.”
This amendment is rumored to be driving younger voters to the polls. Democrats hope that will swing in their favor. Amendment 2 boils down to one thing: should Floridians be able to get a prescription for pot?
Proponents, led by prominent Florida attorney John Morgan, say it’s a matter of compassion. Marijuana is documented to have therapeutic properties to ease pain and symptoms associated with chemotherapy, some neurological disorders, Parkinson’s, seizures and a whole host of other possible ailments. They point to successful medical marijuana establishments in other states like California and Colorado.
Opponents, mostly the politically conservative, worry the amendment, if successful, could lead to pot shops on every corner, easier access for kids and turn into an otherwise slippery slope toward all out legalization. They argue the amendment would allow kids to get pot prescriptions without parental consent. While that is a possibility, don’t be fooled. Actual regulations won’t be determined until the amendment passes, if it passes. State lawmakers would then be charged with implementing procedures. With a conservative-controlled Legislature, those are likely to be strict.
On the argument that supporters are just taking a baby step toward all out legalization, well, they’re just saying what most Amendment 2 supporters are probably thinking.
The amendment was originally expected to pass with broad support, but the battle has become a close one with the little game changer called $4 million from Adelson to defeat the measure. People United for Care, the PAC supporting medical marijuana, hasn’t raised anything close to that.
Planes, trains and automobiles
OK, so really just trains. This is Pinellas County’s long anticipated referendum asking voters to approve a one-penny sales tax hike. It would fund increased bus service, bus rapid transit, a passenger rail line connecting downtown St. Pete to Clearwater and boost ancillary services to support the rail line and bus routes. It would nix the portion of property taxes currently paid into public transportation. Under the new funding structure, total revenue would go from about $30 million a year to somewhere in the vicinity of $130 million.
That’s a problem for critics. See, supporters call it a tax swap because, you know, it gets rid of one tax and replaces it with another. Opponents call it a tax hike. What else would you call an increase in revenue of $100 million? The back and forth between Greenlight Pinellas and No Tax for Tracks has been nothing short of entertaining.
No Tax for Tracks and its cohort of Tea Partiers have come out with some doozies. There’s a country music ditty recorded by a Nashville recording artist blasting the plan. Brain surgeon blogger Dr. David McKalip taped an ear-shattering attempt at humor with a karaoke parody of children’s songs called “Working on the Greed Line” and “Someone’s in My Pocket.” His latest “Friday Funny” is a Halloween audio tale of “GreenFright” Pinellas.
The outcome of the vote could re-shape regional transportation throughout the Tampa Bay area.
Ed Hooper and Pat Gerard’s ethics accusation swap
These two candidates for Pinellas County Commissioner Norm Roche’s lost seat have taken turns pointing the ethical finger at one another. Hooper, who beat out Roche for his district 2 seat, alleges that Gerard used a city of Largo funded trip to Tallahassee to solicit campaign contributions from statewide donors instead of doing official business for her current gig as mayor. Gerard claims Hooper pedaled his influence as a state lawmaker to rake in profits for his private consulting firm.
Both deny the allegations. Naturally.
This race pits two experienced politicians against one another in a partisan match up. If Gerard wins, the Pinellas County Commission would regain a Democratic majority.
Pat Kemp takes on longtime Hillsborough County Commissioner Al Higginbotham
In what has become a typical story of special interest funding verses grassroots campaigning, Democrat Pat Kemp is being grossly outspent by Al Higginbotham. Higginbotham has pulled in more than $375,000 with nearly $30,000 coming in during the final financial reporting period of the campaign. Kemp, who entered the race late, managed to pull in a little more than $100,000.
Kemp is the former chair of the Hillsborough Democratic Party and worked as an aide for Congresswoman Kathy Castor when she was a county commissioner. Higginbotham is term-limited out of his current single member district and is trying to seat-hop to the at-large district currently occupied by term-limited Mark Sharp.
This race has been all about transportation. Kemp points out her opponent bragged about speaking against a 2010 referendum dozens of times that would have increased funding for public transportation. That plan was similar to Greenlight Pinellas, but lacked details. Kemp is an astute proponent of mass transit and is painting Higginbotham as a barrier. She’s also criticized him for supporting a $6 million tax incentive for Bass Pro Shops. Higginbotham says he’s a champ when it comes to bringing businesses to the county, but Kemp argues many of those provide low-paying jobs the county doesn’t need.
All in all, the two have run clean campaigns and have avoided any negative campaigning.
Obamacare-lovin’ prof takes on seasoned State Sen. Jeff Brandes
These two have really given it to each other in one of the state’s most expensive House races. Brandes, who is trying to hold onto his St. Pete Senate seat, has painted his Democratic opponent Judithanne McLauchlan as a leftist, tax and spend liberal. In mailers, the Brandes campaign highlighted her support for the health-care law Republicans loathe. In another the USFSP professor is labeled “Taxzilla.”
McLauchlan throws punches at Brandes over his insistence that the state not accept federal funding for Medicaid expansion. She’s also jumped on the “hating Duke Energy bandwagon,” accusing her opponent of taking campaign contributions from the utility that is currently robbing customers of $3.2 billion for two nuclear projects that were cancelled. Brandes, along with other Republicans, have softened their stance on the Duke Energy debacle and now say ratepayers should get at least some of that money back.
Brandes is a respected veteran lawmaker and will be difficult to unseat. McLauchlan is giving him a run for his money though, literally. Brandes has raised more than $800,000 to keep his job compared to the just over $300,000 McLauchlan raked in.
Cancer survivor vs. Teacher
Democrat and high school teacher Carl Zimmerman is in the fight of his life to remain the district 65 representative. Zimmerman nabbed the seat from Republicans in 2012. After two unsuccessful bids, Zimmerman was finally able to eek out a victory against Peter Nehr. His reign could be short though if his young Republican challenger has his way.
Chris Sprowls is a handsome attorney in his early 30s who just so happens to also be a childhood cancer survivor and a poster child of conservative ideals. Sprowls is polling ahead of Zimmerman, but the race is expected to be tight.
In what has otherwise been a fairly uneventful race, Zimmerman callously attacked Sprowls in a campaign mailer in which he pointed out that Sprowls didn’t make enough money to live in a more than $300,000 home. Sprowls quickly pointed out that his wife contributes to the mortgage. It may have been the low blow Sprowls needs to kick Zimmerman out of Tallahassee.
Zimmerman has run on a number of educational issues, claiming that Republicans in Tallahassee are gutting public school funding while too aggressively pushing school choice programs most Democrats argue funnel public funding into privately run charter schools and private schools through the tax credit scholarship.
Like other Republicans running this election, Sprowls has raised more money than Zimmerman. He brought in $272,000 compared to Zimmerman’s $125,000.
Give me back my super majority!
Republicans need to win back five seats in the Florida House to regain a super majority. Bill Young is fighting to be one of those five. He is taking on incumbent Democrat Dwight Dudley by shamelessly using his father’s name to get there.
Young has been criticized for using Bill Young as his name on both the ballot and campaign swag. Prior to his House bid, most knew him as Billy and there was a Jr. at the end. He’s now dropped the “y” and the “Jr.” in what Democrats see as an attempt to make uninformed voters color the bubble for a familiar name. Congressman Bill Young passed away about a year ago after serving Pinellas County in Washington for more than four decades.
Dudley has run on his unwavering efforts to kill what he calls the “nuclear tax.” That’s the advanced nuclear cost recovery fees energy companies are allowed to collect from ratepayers. Duke Energy customers, including many in Pinellas, are on the hook for $3.2 billion in fees for two projects that were cancelled. Dudley says changing that policy is his No. 1 priority.
Republican seat up for grabs
Rep. Ed Hooper is leaving the Legislature (and hoping to join the Pinellas County Commission) due to term limits. This leaves the son of state Senator Jack Latvala, arguably one of Pinellas County’s most powerful conservatives, pitted against a relatively unknown union leader Steve Sarnoff.
Not much has been heard from this campaign, but expect Chris Latvala to enjoy strong name recognition. This one won’t be much of a contest if money is any indicator. Latvala has raked in more than $386,000 compared to Sarnoff’s meager $30,000.
Another precious blue seat threatened by the GOP
District 63 Representative Mark Danish, like Carl Zimmerman, grabbed a Republican seat in 2012 and is now fighting to keep it. Danish is polling way behind Shawn Harrison in their campaign re-match. As of earlier this month, a St. Pete Polls survey showed Danish down 13 points in the race against the man he beat just two years ago.
This showdown could come down to money, but the funding deficit Danish is running is not as bad as some other Democrats who are polling better. Danish has raised $143,000 compared to Harrison’s $217,000.
Two Republican House incumbents face weak opposition
Kathleen Peters and Larry Ahern are poised to breeze through their re-election bids for the Florida House. Ahern is being challenged by former teacher and Democratic newcomer Lorena Grizzle. He’s polling in the double digits ahead of her.
Peters has gobs of cash and party backing in her re-election bid against attorney Scott Orsini. Her campaign may have taken a slight hit recently though after voters up and down the I-4 corridor, most of them outside her House district, received early morning robo-calls advocating for Peters in an entirely different race. The robo-call asked voters to support her bid for Congress. Both Orsini and Peters denied responsibility for the calls, but Peters definitely was the one coming out with egg on her face.