In 2016, Democrats targeted a handful of Florida House districts they believed they could flip from red to blue.
One of them was Hillsborough County’s House District 63, where the Florida Democratic Party put some money behind Lisa Montelione in her bid to oust Republican incumbent Shawn Harrison.
After a close race, Harrison ultimately prevailed, 51 to 49 percent.
Although off-year elections are traditionally harder for Democrats, there is hope that an energetic resistance to Donald Trump could make 2018 a year of opportunity.
But as Harrison already begins looking forward to getting re-elected next year, he’s getting assistance from one of the biggest Democrats in the region, Bob Buckhorn. The Tampa mayor is listed as a special guest at Harrison’s June 29 campaign kickoff fundraiser at the Tampa Theatre.
“I support people who support the City of Tampa and our legislative issues,” Buckhorn told FloridaPolitics.com in a text message. “Shawn has consistently been willing to advocate on behalf of issues that were important to the City, even if it meant going against their leadership of his own party. He never forgot what it was like to be a local elected official and has been a voice of reason in a political party that has made local government a target. It seems to me that we are all better served when our elected officials care more about their community that their political issues.”
Harrison has voted against the majority of his party in a few notable cases, such as when he supported a hybrid version of Medicaid expansion a few years ago. He also supported economic incentives for Enterprise Florida, a position Buckhorn backed and which earned him the public rebuke of Governor Rick Scott at an appearance at MOSI early this year.
As House Minority Leader, Tampa state Rep. Janet Cruz was charged with attempting to get as many Democrats elected to the House last fall. She’s also close with Buckhorn and had no issue with him backing Harrison.
“Nothing new,” Cruz told FloridaPolitics.com. “Buckhorn served for many years with Harrison on Council. I believe they became good friends then.”
With Americans saying that they’re tired of partisan bickering, some would say the Buckhorn-Harrison connection should be celebrated. However, that’s not the way some Tampa Democrats see it.
“Flabbergasted” was the term used by Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Committee Chair Ione Townsend after learning of the Mayor’s efforts.
“I’m disappointed because the mayor claims he’s a good Democrat,” said Hillsborough County Democratic Committeeman Russ Patterson, adding that he’s aware that Buckhorn and Harrison are friends. “Friendships are allowed to cross party,” he added.
“I’m not surprised,” said public relations executive Tom Hall, who teamed up with former Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink and others last year to form The Hillsborough Society, which raised over $40,000 to support local Democrats in Hillsborough County in 2016 and is actively recruiting candidates for 2018.
Hall cited Buckhorn’s support for Republican Pam Bondi against Democrat George Sheldon in the 2014 attorney general’s race, and his refusal to back Democrat Charlie Crist in the gubernatorial race that same year as moves that Democrats haven’t forgotten about.
“I think that those two were big mistakes, and the Democrats that I know and talk to have not forgiven him for that,” said Hall, adding that his group is looking for a good Democrat to challenge Harrison in 2018.
Buckhorn won’t be the only elected Democrat from Tampa at the Harrison fundraiser. City Councilman Frank Reddick is also listed on the fundraising announcement. Reddick endorsed Harrison over Montelione last year.
Montelione did not return a request for comment.