Kate Bradshaw, Author at Florida Politics

Kate Bradshaw

Kate Bradshaw is a Florida-based journalist, writer and editor. She is a former staff writer at the Tampa Tribune news/politics editor at Creative Loafing Tampa Bay.

Dianne “Ms. Dee” Hart wins Democratic primary in HD 61

Business owner and activist Dianne “Ms. Dee” Hart has won the Democratic primary for Florida’s House District 61.

As a safely Democratic district, which comprises parts of eastern, central and northern Tampa, HD 61 had no incumbent seeking re-election — as state Rep. Sean Shaw vacated the seat to run for Attorney General.

That meant the primary drew several serious contenders. Hart took the race with 44 percent of the vote.

Other Democrats in the race included teacher Sharon Carter, attorney Norman Harris and attorney Karen Skyers.

The clear fundraising winner, Skyers raised more than $70,000 in support of her run and scored endorsements from Shaw, Ruth’s List Florida and the Hillsborough County LGBTA Democratic Caucus.

Hart, who touts decades of civic engagement and neighborhood activism, lost the 2016 primary for the seat to Shaw by just 101 votes. With $51,000, she was the fundraising runner-up. Her years of experience as a civic leader won her a nod from the Tampa Bay Times editorial board.

As relative newcomers, Harris and Carter trailed in fundraising, pulling in around $22,000 and $4,000, respectively.

All four candidates demonstrated the drive to make a change in Tallahassee, namely on public education, health care and transportation.

Hart will face write-in candidate and FSU student Valion Joyce in November, though it’s unlikely to be much of a contest.

Had Joyce not filed, the race would have been on the November general ballot, which would have allowed thousands more voters to weigh in, not just the district’s Democrats, as was the case Tuesday. Roughly 35,000 of the district’s 95,000 registered voters are not registered as Democrats.

GOP conflict plays out, as Kathleen Peters wins Pinellas Commission primary

If there were a local proxy for the national GOP’s intraparty conflict, it would be Pinellas County Commission District 6.

This three-way race pitted Larry Ahern, a Trump Republican legislator from Seminole, against a St. Petersburg activist with Tea Party roots (Barbara Haselden) and a moderate Republican lawmaker, state Rep. Kathleen Peters of Treasure Island.

In the end, moderation won out: With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Peters has 48 percent of the vote; Ahern is in second place with 36 percent, while Haselden managed to get 16 percent.

The District 6 seat became open upon the passing of Commissioner John Morroni, a moderate Republican who held the seat since 2000.

Although she had yet to term out, Peters eschewed re-election to the House District 69 seat and voiced frustration over the legislature’s efforts to stifle local governments in their ability to pass local regulations on a variety of matters. She was an early and passionate supporter of investing in mental health and addiction and vowed to do so at the county level.

Polling suggested Peters was ahead of her opponents, and she won the recommendation of the Tampa Bay Times.

Ahern, meanwhile, is termed out of his seat.

Arguably the most conservative lawmaker in the Pinellas Legislative Delegation, Ahern was an early supporter of then-candidate Donald Trump. He has generally sided with ultraconservative House leadership, and as a Pinellas County Commission candidate has promised to lower taxes and promote limited government as well as public safety.

A first-time commission candidate, Haselden cited as one of her biggest accomplishments her role in fighting the Greenlight Pinellas initiative, which would have funded expanded transit in Pinellas County via a sales tax increase. A Tea Party activist since around the time President Barack Obama took office, she has also expressed a desire to limit the power of government and impose term limits on commissioners.

Newcomer Amy Kedron, a Democrat who did not face a primary challenge, will also be on the ballot for this seat in November.

Wengay Newton proves incumbency has advantages in HD 70

Incumbency has distinct advantages, as Wengay “Newt” Newton won another term in House District 70 – despite a serious challenge from aggrieved St. Petersburg Democrats.

Given that there are no contenders from any other party, the primary decided who will serve the heavily Democratic district seat.

Yet, if there was a primary for St. Petersburg politicos to watch, it was this.

With echoes of the bitter 2017 mayoral contest, a big question was whether Newton, a Democrat, had a liability on his hands after vocally supporting former Mayor Rick Baker, a Republican, over current Mayor Rick Kriseman, a Democrat.

Challenging Newton were first-time candidate Keisha Bell and Vito Sheeley, who had served as an aide to Democratic U.S. Reps. Cathy Castor of Tampa and Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg, as well as Crist’s predecessor, former Republican U.S. Rep. David Jolly of Indian Shores.

In the end, incumbency won out: Newton took 51 percent of the vote, compared to 34 percent for Bell and 15 percent for Sheeley.

When it comes to core Democratic issues, the candidates weren’t exactly on opposite ends of the spectrum. All were in support of boosting education as well as public housing funding, expanding Medicaid and challenging pro-gun legislation like “Stand Your Ground.” A lawyer and St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce member, Bell added reproductive rights to the list and vowed to make anti-discrimination legislation a priority if elected.

Still, Kriseman allies appeared to go all-in for Sheeley. He landed endorsements from Kriseman as well as Pinellas County Commission Chair Ken Welch, St. Petersburg City Council Chair Lisa Wheeler-Bowman and School Board Member René Flowers.

Newton, meanwhile, scored a recommendation from the Tampa Bay Times.

Newton ended up with around $79,000 in the bank, while Sheeley and Bell raised about $27,000 and $13,300, respectively.

Newton was elected to his seat in 2016. HD 70 comprises parts of Hillsborough, Manatee, Pinellas and Sarasota counties.

It’s a predominantly African-American district that votes overwhelmingly Democratic (Newton beat out a Republican opponent for the seat in 2016 with more than 75 percent of the vote). The lack of an opponent from any other party opened up the District 70 primary to all voters within its boundaries, though it’s unclear whether that would have had much impact on the outcome of this particular race.

Raymond Blacklidge easily takes the HD 69 GOP nod

Raymond Blacklidge has won the Republican nod for House District 69, formerly held by state Rep. Kathleen Peters, who gave up the seat to run for Pinellas County Commission.

As of 7:25 p.m., with 85 percent of vote counted, the 58-year-old Madeira Beach insurance executive was leading his lone challenger 58-42 percent.

The two-candidate primary was a largely low-key affair pitting an experienced establishment favorite against a younger newcomer with a fresh perspective.

Blacklidge also led in fundraising with a haul of $177,000 and scored the Tampa Bay Times’ recommendation as well as endorsements from South Pasadena Mayor Max Elson and former State Rep. Jim Frishe.

His opponent, St. Petersburg lawyer Jeremy Bailie, 27, took in more than $78,000 and landed endorsements from Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri and the Florida Chamber of Commerce — not bad for a newcomer.

The two candidates shared common views on immigration, taxes, offshore drilling and Medicaid expansion (the latter two of which they oppose) — but the race was not without its quirks.

A mid-August poll suggested such a clobbering, with Blacklidge leading Bailie 48-23 percent.

The contest took a bizarre turn when Bailie was caught on camera stealing fliers promoting Blacklidge from area homes and replacing them with his own.

The district covers parts of West St. Petersburg, South Pasadena, Gulfport, Madeira Beach, Treasure Island and St. Pete Beach. It’s a swing district ­— a rare thing in the Florida House these days — that now-St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman held before Peters winning the seat. Democrat Jennifer Webb, who ran and lost to Peters in 2016, is her party’s hope for swinging the seat.

To some, the HD 69 general election this year will be something of a litmus for the magnitude of the “blue wave” in Florida.

#1 on list of Tampa Bay’s Most Powerful Politicians — Chris Sprowls

As any observer of Florida politics will tell you, this 34-year-old Palm Harbor Republican is on the move.

First elected to House District 65 over Democratic incumbent Carl Zimmerman in 2014, Chris Sprowls had little difficulty getting re-elected in 2016 against Democrat Bernie Fensterwald. At this point, 2018 appears to be shaping up the same way. Sprowls currently serves as chair of the House Judiciary Committee, and he’s eyeing the top spot in the House.

The former Pinellas-Pasco prosecutor is a likely (and favored) contender for the 2021-2022 House speakership.

That would be a huge deal for Pinellas, which hasn’t seen a representative ascend to the speakership since Democrat Peter Rudy Wallace held it in 1995.

Insiders say it’s not just his intelligence and savvy that got him here.

“Chris’s rise to leadership so quickly is a testament to the respect that members of both parties have in his unique ability to understand complex issues and forge a solution that is fair,” said Southern Strategy Group’s Chris Dudley.

Tampa businessman Akash Patel, a Republican running for Hillsborough County Commission District 7 said: “Chris has been a strong leader since I served with him on the Senate at Boy’s State when we were young.  He will continue to grow his leadership skills and will be one of the strongest House Speakers of our day.”

As a lawmaker, Sprowls has shown considerable muscle.

During the 2017 Session, he and Rep. James Grant shepherded a bill through the legislature that created a uniform statewide policy for ride-share companies like Uber and Lyft. In 2018, Sprowls was a driving force behind an effort to secure funding for SPC and USF St. Petersburg, namely as a way to help students graduating with associate degrees from the former transition into higher degree programs at the latter — the aim being to help ensure local students will continue to have access to four-year and advanced degrees despite USF’s growing prestige. Conversely, he also backed the locally unpopular bill to pull all USF campuses under the same umbrella.

Outside Tallahassee, Sprowls earned praise earlier this year by convincing Citizens CEO Barry Gilway to personally visit a condominium complex in Sprowls’ district that had seen extensive sinkhole damage. The state insurer had previously refused to pay out on condo owners’ claims. As a result of Gilway’s visit, Citizens paid out at least $12.7 million to the affected homeowners.

Of course, whether Sprowls will hang on to all the clout hinges on the November election. Newcomer Alex Toth, a Palm Harbor entrepreneur and Air Force veteran, became Sprowls’ Democratic opponent in March. Sally Laufer, another Democrat, then filed in late May. Neither has shown significant fundraising, while Sprowls’ campaign has amassed nearly $151,000. A PAC that backs Sprowls, Floridians for Economic Freedom, has meanwhile taken in more than $1.1 million in contributions so far this election cycle.

Sprowls tops this year’s list after coming in ninth last year and No. 14 in 2016. He replaces former Sen. Jack Latvala, the Clearwater Republican who dropped his bid for governor and resigned in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations, suggesting what a difference a year (and a powerful movement like #MeToo) can make.

Joe Henderson‘s take: “A young man on a fast track. House Speaker in 2020, and after that opportunities could abound.”

For a complete explanation of how this list was created and who made up the panel that amassed it, please read here.

#2 on list of Tampa Bay’s Most Powerful Politicians — Bob Buckhorn

The last time anyone asked, Tampanians overwhelmingly said they approve of the job Bob Buckhorn has done as Mayor of Tampa. Back in November, some three-quarters of 350 Tampa residents surveyed said they approve of his performance, and most said the city is headed in the right direction — that was before Raybor was a thing.

In his more than seven years as mayor, Buckhorn has been a vocal proponent of downtown Tampa’s transformation from a gritty spot with little activity to a vibrant hub with a true sense of place. The same goes for recently-reimagined neighborhoods like Ybor City and Tampa Heights.

“Tampa’s Mayor gets stuff done,” said Southern Strategy Group’s Seth McKeel. “He’ll leave Tampa way better than he found it and has ensured a significant and long-lasting legacy.”

Buckhorn’s office likely selected Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park for his final State of the City address in May for more than its pretty backdrop. The newly revamped park, which sits on the Hillsborough River’s long-ignored western bank, is emblematic of the progress the city has seen under Buckhorn’s direction.

Buckhorn has been getting plenty of time on camera as part of Hillsborough County leaders’ efforts to build a stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays in Ybor City.

But construction cranes, food halls, a lovely riverfront and the possibility of pro baseball in Tampa proper only tell part of the story. In the past year, Buckhorn was front-and-center as national news outlets depicted a region that sat squarely in the crosshairs of Hurricane Irma. Months later, he was the face of the effort to find the Seminole Heights killer, which ultimately led to the suspect’s arrest in December.

While Buckhorn’s been an effective mayor, he is not without his foils. Pre-emption policies Republican lawmakers have passed at the state level have blocked Buckhorn and other Democratic Florida mayors from enacting local regulations on a range of matters, including guns and raising the minimum wage. And while Buckhorn has long been a vocal advocate of overhauling Tampa’s sorely-lacking transit infrastructure, his calls for boosting gridlock-easing public transportation are often met with little enthusiasm at the county and state level.

It’s unclear what Buckhorn will be up to a year from now. He leaves office in spring of 2019. It’s been over a year since he turned down a run for governor, but he appears to be up for serving as lieutenant governor under the right person. He could also do what many former electeds do: transition back into private life as a well-paid consultant, at least for the time being.

In the meantime, he probably won’t be slowing down anytime soon.

Despite his term ending next year and an uncertain future after that, Buckhorn climbed to the No. 2 spot from his third-place ranking in 2017.

Joe Henderson‘s take: “He is term-limited as Tampa’s mayor next year, but he likes the action too much to stay on the sideline.”

For a complete explanation of how this list was created and who made up the panel that amassed it, please read here.

#3 on list of Tampa Bay’s Most Powerful Politicians — Bill Galvano

Given that he’s the incoming Senate President, there’s no way Bill Galvano wouldn’t have landed at or near the top of the list.

The Bradenton Republican representing Senate District 21, will lead his chamber over the 2019 and 2020 legislative sessions by determining legislative priorities and setting the tone of the conversations it has with the House and the governor. He replaces outgoing Senate President Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican. Galvano is a veteran in the legislature. He was elected to the House in 2002, where he served until terming out in 2010. Two years later, voters sent him to the Senate, where he served as Majority Leader from 2014 to 2016.

When his status as incoming Senate President became official in October 2017, his colleagues commended him for his thoughtfulness and ability to take a long view. During his own remarks, he promised to be an inclusive leader and to tighten the reins on the state budget.

“The President-Designate is a thoughtful conservative and a leader’s leader. He listens to all concerned then charts a decisive path,” said Seth McKeel of Southern Strategy Group.

Galvano currently chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee on Higher Education and serves on a host of other committees, including Appropriations. He represented the state Senate in talks with the Seminole Tribe that were intended to result in a deal that would have expanded gambling in the state — talks that were ultimately a non-starter. In 2017, he championed the ouster of state Sen. Frank Artiles, a Miami Republican who made racist remarks in front of his colleagues at a Tallahassee restaurant.

There’s one (pretty big) caveat that precedes Galvano’s assumption to the Senate’s top seat: if Democrats manage to take enough seats in November, they will get to choose one of their own for the role. It’s unclear whether the blue wave and other factors will provide them enough momentum to win the five seats they need to flip the Senate, or if the impressive volumes of cash Galvano and his allies control can dispense of such a threat.

His PAC, Innovate Florida, as more than $7.4 million on hand now.

Galvano moves up one slot from 2017 — from fourth place to third. Barring any earth-shattering event affecting the makeup of the Florida Senate Galvano could easily sit anywhere in the top three again in 2019.

For a complete explanation of how this list was created and who made up the panel that amassed it, please read here.

#4 on list of Tampa Bay’s Most Powerful Politicians — Rick Kriseman

As the 2017 mayoral race ramped up last year, re-election was never a sure thing for incumbent St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman. It was far from it at times.

Yet despite a significant challenge from former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker, who was often ahead in the polls, he and his allies pulled it off.

Whether it was a sign of a blue wave or the result of constant door-knocking or one of many other potential factors, we’ll never know. But Kriseman’s re-election helped solidify the city’s status as a (mostly) progressive haven.

A former state Representative who’s a lawyer by trade, observers say Kriseman is as likable as he is serious about policymaking.

“It’s not often you meet an elected official you want to go to a Jimmy Buffett concert with and also work with on major policy issues. Mayor Kriseman is that guy. Faced with many challenges, Rick has shown that he is not only extremely well-liked but is leaving behind a legacy of progressive leadership,” said Southern Strategy Group’s Laura Boehmer.

Since sworn in for his second time, Kriseman has championed a proposed ban on offshore drilling, joined a lawsuit against Governor Rick Scott over a 2011 barring cities and counties from passing local gun laws and renamed the main branch of the city’s library after former President Barack Obama. While he and other mayors’ hands are tied on gun laws per se, he’s also vowed to divest city dollars from gun manufacturers and vendors.

The city (downtown in particular) is seeing an influx of development under Kriseman’s watch. While Chamber of Commerce types herald these projects for their economic development potential, some are concerned that the diverse population that made downtown appealing are being priced out of their neighborhoods and Central Avenue storefronts.

Remaining to be seen is whether the Pier will finish on time. There’s also that little thing that almost cost him his re-election: whether the city’s wastewater system overhaul will be completed in time to prevent any more sewage dumps.

What significantly boosts Kriseman’s power factor is the fact that the majority of St. Petersburg City Council members support his agenda. It can’t hurt to have the bulk of the Pinellas County Commission generally on his side, either.

Unlike Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who terms out in early 2019 with an uncertain, Kriseman has more than three-and-a-half years to go as mayor. That gives him room to step up as a regional figure. We saw that potential in his willingness to let the Rays look at potential stadium sites in Tampa (even though he seemed to think team officials would ultimately stay in St. Pete) and in his ability to get Pinellas and Hillsborough counties to pitch in for a ferry service pilot in 2016.

Kriseman ranked seventh in 2017.

For a complete explanation of how this list was created and who made up the panel that amassed it, please read here.

#5 on list of Tampa Bay’s Most Powerful Politicians — Wilton Simpson

An egg farmer by trade, Wilton Simpson currently serves as Senate Majority Leader. The Trilby Republican’s prestige doesn’t end there, though. Simpson, 51, is slated to become Senate President in 2020, on the heels of incoming Senate President Bill Galvano. (Both presidencies, of course, hinge on GOP dominance in that chamber following the 2018 and 2020 elections.)

Voted to represent Senate District 10 in 2012 with no prior political experience (unless you count the million or so chickens under his watch), Simpson has established himself as a strong conservative, albeit one that gets along with many members of the environmental community. In 2016, he filed a bill that would have allowed guns in airport terminals. That same year he also sponsored a measure that would have banned “certain refugees and immigrants” from entering the state.

On the flip side, this year he co-sponsored a bipartisan resolution encouraging the feds to extend a moratorium on oil and gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico east of the Military Mission Line.

“It is rare in politics to have a leader who has proved himself successful in so many ways in the business world. It is even rarer to have a leader who connects with people, who is humble, and who genuinely acts on principle. Wilton manages to do both and will undoubtedly be a powerful and productive leader for the state in the next four years,” said David Browning of Southern Strategy Group.

While Republican control of the Senate might not be a definite thing, Simpson will probably have an easy time getting re-elected. His district covers Citrus, Hernando and part of Pasco counties, which are all reliably red. So far, his campaign has raised nearly $421,000 — not that he’d need it all. While state records suggest former Sen. John Legg as a primary challenger to Simpson, Legg has confirmed he’s not actually running. Simpson has not drawn a Democratic challenger, either.

Simpson’s PAC, Jobs for Florida, has raised more than ten times the money his campaign has; as of this writing that committee has amassed more than $4.3 million.

Simpson ranked sixth in last year’s survey.

For a complete explanation of how this list was created and who made up the panel that amassed it, please read here.

#6 on list of Tampa Bay’s Most Powerful Politicians — Kathy Castor

Whether it’s a string of good decisions — or that she has had an impossibly charmed life in politics thus far — Congresswoman Kathy Castor doesn’t really seem capable of having a bad year. Yet the Tampa Democrat has certainly been an underdog more than once; first, as a Hillsborough County Commissioner in the Ronda Storms era, then as a member of Congress starting her third term amid the tea party wave.

Her Tampa district, which voters first sent her to represent in 2006, is safely blue. And even though lawmakers added thousands of Republicans to it because of the gerrymandering lawsuit, she easily won re-election in 2016 against Trump-supporting Republican Christine Quinn, whom she beat by an astonishing 24 points.

This year, she won re-election by default when not one person filed to challenge her.

Castor hasn’t been afraid to espouse progressive causes. She’s passionately opposed to offshore drilling and will speak out against any Trump administration attempt to roll back environmental protections. She’s been an outspoken advocate for protecting — and enhancing — the Affordable Care Act. In the wake of recent mass shootings, she’s taken to the House floor — and the airwaves — to express her frustration with her GOP colleagues’ unwillingness to consider what she sees as preventive measures.

In 2014, Castor helped the Obama administration develop its plan to re-establish diplomacy with Cuba.

In other words, she and her district are part of the reason Florida is a purple state.

Last year, there was speculation that, given how little power Congressional Democrats presently have, she may step down and run for mayor of Tampa, but she since declined to jump in.

The possibility that a blue wave will have enough might to flip the House could prove a boon to Castor, who would finally, after eight years in the minority, have Congressional leadership that listens to her. Important committee assignments wouldn’t be out of the question, either.

Whatever happens in November, Castor probably won’t be slowing down anytime soon.

Castor was No. 8 on this list in 2017.

Joe Henderson‘s take: “She has one of the safest seats in the U.S. House and could emerge as a major power if ‘Blue Wave’ happens this fall.”

For a complete explanation of how this list was created and who made up the panel that amassed it, please read here.

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