Tampa Bay Archives - Florida Politics

Tommy Gregory looks to erase primary divisions following Melissa Howard’s exit

A nationally-watched credential scandal apparently fast-tracked Republican Tommy Gregory as the winner of his party primary before a single vote gets counted.

Now the Sarasota attorney says he spoke with Melissa Howard, who announced she was dropping out of the primary following the revelation she’d mocked up a fake college degree and distributed pictures on social media, and he’s ready to put party division in the past.

“I just called Melissa Howard a few minutes ago, and we had a great conversation. She apologized for what she did and for the rancor in this campaign and offered her full support for my candidacy,” he said.

He alluded to a contentious primary battle in state House District 73, even before a FLA News Online story last week first called into question whether Howard had graduated from Miami University in Ohio.

“Melissa worked hard in this race. I wish her all the best and I’m sure she will continue to do things in the community through her non-profit work,” Gregory said.

Howard on Monday admitted she had wrongly claimed to have completed her degree—she did attend the university from 1991 to 1994—but initially said she would continue in the race.

““What I did was wrong and set a bad example for someone seeking public service,” she said in a Facebook message on her now-removed Facebook page. “I am staying in the race and intend to win and lead by example from now on.”

Gregory made clear in a statement Monday evening that he considered that a bad move. “Instead of withdrawing gracefully, she is doubling down on her deceit even to the detriment of other Republicans,” he said yesterday.

But today, Gregory’s focus was on party unity. Howard’s name will still appear on the ballot, but once she withdraws with the Division of Elections, votes for her will not count. That means Gregory will advance to the general election contest against Democrat Liv Coleman.

Coleman last night was uncertain who would win the Republican primary and said she was prepared to fight either opponent.

“I offer a strong alternative to what we’ve seen the last few days and I look forward to the general election contest in November,” she said.

Gregory says he’s ready to carry the Republican banner in a deep-red district.

“Now we need to move on, and I will be focused on earning the trust of all the voters of District 73 as I lay out our plan to accelerate job and wage growth, invest in world-class schools, and protect our quality of life.”

David Shapiro owns stock in nine of study’s top 100 greenhouse gas emitters

David Shapiro has made climate change an issue in his campaign for Florida’s 16th Congressional District. Yet despite that focus, it appears Shapiro has invested in several companies pegged as some of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, according to one study.

That study, summarized by The Guardian, shows a numbered list of 100 companies ranked by the percentage of global greenhouse gas contributions. According to Shapiro’s financial disclosure forms filed with the U.S. House, the Democratic candidate is invested in nine of those companies. That includes ownership of stock in ExxonMobil (ranked 5 on the list) and Chevron (12), two of the top 12 emitters.

Shapiro’s financial disclosure shows he owns between $1,001 and $15,000 of stock in each of those companies, along with ConocoPhillips (ranked 21 on the list) and EOG Resources (84).

Shapiro also owns between $1 and $1,000 of Anadarko Petroleum (47), Occidental Petroleum (55), Devon Energy (62), Marathon Oil (64), and Murphy Oil (96).

“Sneaky Shapiro says one thing publicly but privately does another,” said Max Goodman, campaign manager for Republican U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, who occupies the CD 16 seat. “He cannot be trusted.”

But Alex Vuskovic, Shapiro’s campaign manager, told Florida Politics these stocks were purchased as part of a retirement fund, and were not selected by Shapiro individually.

This follows previous reporting by Florida Politics that showed Shapiro owned stock in Walmart, AT&T and Kimberly-Clark. He recently bashed all three companies in an op-ed for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, despite that stock ownership.

Buchanan also released an ad hitting Shapiro for ownership in Halliburton, gun companies and drug companies, calling Shapiro “two-faced.”

Subsequent reporting by ThinkProgress showed Buchanan owns mutual and index funds which also invested in some of those companies.

It turns out those mutual funds also invest in all nine companies on the list of greenhouse gas emitters than Shapiro is invested in as well.

However, unlike Shapiro, the Buchanan campaign contends that Buchanan did not decide to invest in these stocks individually. Rather, the stocks inside the funds are pegged to the market’s overall movement and are not selected by Buchanan himself.

“Congressman Buchanan is so desperate to cover up the fact he’s using his position in Washington to line his own pockets, including voting for a tax bill that helped finance his new $3.5 million yacht, that he’s attacking David over stocks he also holds,” Vuskovic added.

“That might be normal for Washington politics, but it does nothing to patch the $1.9 trillion hole in the deficit that Congressman Buchanan created, which will put our social security and Medicare at risks.”

Gwen Graham raising campaign cash Thursday with past Dem. Gov. nominee

Former Congresswoman Gwen Graham will be in Tampa on Thursday to raise some cash to help her finish strong in the closing days of Democratic primary for Governor.

The fundraiser will be held at The Italian Club in Historic Ybor City, 1731 E. 7th St., from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. According to the invite, the suggested contribution is a relatively light $25. For those looking to attend, RSVP’s can be sent to Lark@GwenGraham.com.

Tampa businessman Charlie Brink, whose current project is a medical cannabis company, is serving as chair of the host committee, with a couple of high-profile Democrats listed as “Gwen’s Friends” on the invite.

Top on that list is former U.S. Rep. Jim Davis, who was the Democratic nominee for Florida Governor in 2006. He and Lt. Gov. nominee, former state Sen. Daryl Jones, lost 52-45 percent in the general election to then-Republican Charlie Crist.

Also showing up are St. Petersburg state Rep. Ben Diamond, former state Rep. and state Sen. Pat Frank, former U.S. Undersecretary of Commerce Francisco Sanchez, financial adviser John Few, developer and St. Pete for Good co-founder Jared Meyers, major philanthropists Frank and Carol Morsani, and Tampa attorney Crystal Whitescarver.

Graham is fresh off the release of fundraising reports that showed her campaign and political committee, Gwen Graham for Florida, reeling in nearly $1.5 million for the week of July 28 through Aug. 3. She also recently landed endorsements from musician and environmentalist Jimmy Buffett as well as former state Sen. Arthenia Joyner.

Graham faces Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, Palm Beach billionaire Jeff Greene, Central Florida businessman Chris King and former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine in the Aug. 28 primary election.

After months of polls showing Levine leading the race, the past several weeks have seen Graham rocket to the top in polls of the five-way race, with her lead sometimes hitting double digits. Her late momentum has brought attacks from her rivals, notably Greene, who has hit the airwaves with attacks on her environmental record, the Graham campaign and its surrogates have harshly rebutted.

The winner of the Democratic nomination will move on to face one of two Republicans on the November ballot — U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, who leads most polls on that side of the aisle, or Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

The fundraiser invitation is below.

New poll: Nick DiCeglie trouncing Berny Jacques in HD 66

Two weeks out from the House District 66 primary election and Belleair Bluffs businessman Nick DiCeglie holds an outside-the-margins lead over his Republican primary opponent, Seminole attorney Berny Jacques.

The new survey out of St. Pete Polls found and DiCeglie, also the chair of the Republican Party of Pinellas County, with 44-30 percent lead over Jacques, the first-in candidate in the race to replace term-limited Rep. Larry Ahern.

Of course, mail ballots have already gone out to many voters in the coastal Pinellas district, and quite a few of those polled, 42 percent, say they’ve already sent theirs in. Among that crowd, DiCeglie’s lead inches up to 51-34, with the balance undecided.

The remaining 58 percent of voters — those who plan to vote but haven’t done so yet — still favor DiCeglie, though by a tighter margin. DiCeglie was the pick of 39 percent of the yet-to-vote crowd, compared to a 29 percent share for Jacques, who came a few points behind “undecided” at 32 percent.

The DiCeglie v. Jacques primary has been one of the most contentious contests that managed to steer clear of turning nasty.

Both men hit the airwaves with TV ads touting their experience, without dinging their rival.

DiCeglie, the owner of waste management company Solar Sanitation, said he was ready to “clean things up in Tallahassee” in his TV spot. Jacques, a former prosecutor, touted his record of putting criminals behind bars in his ad.

Both men have also raised well into the six-figures for their campaigns.

DiCeglie has raised more than $140,000 from donors and chipped in $30,000 of his own money, with about $41,000 left over as of Aug. 3. Jacques has raised more than $127,000 in hard dollars and another $81,100 through his affiliated political committee, Protect Pinellas. He had more than $58,000 banked on Aug. 3.

The winner of the Aug. 28 Republican primary will go up against schoolteacher Alex Heeren, who locked up the Democratic nomination without opposition.

HD 66 is a coastal Pinellas seat that covers part of Clearwater and numerous other communities, including Belleair Bluffs, Indian Rocks Beach, Indian Shores and Seminole.

The district has a Republican lean — Ahern has held the seat since it was redrawn in 2012, when he won re-election by 6 points. His next two re-election bids ended in double-digit wins, and President Donald Trump had similar success in 2016, when he carried the district 55-41.

The automated phone poll was conducted Aug. 13 and took responses from 347 registered Republicans who indicated they planned to vote in the primary election for HD 66. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 5.3 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence level.

Six candidates qualify for two seats on Seminole City Council

A half-dozen candidates have made the ballot to run for a pair of  seats on the Seminole City Council.

At the end of the Aug. 13 qualifying deadline, incumbents Chris Burke and Trish Springer had made the cut, as had former council member Dan Hester, perennial candidate Thom Christy and first-time candidates Thomas Marrah and Kelly Wissing.

The six candidates will all appear next to each other on the ballot and the top two vote-getters when all ballots are counted will be elected to a three-year term on the Seminole City Council. Councilmembers are paid $8,200 a year.

Burke has been on the council since 2012, and is currently serving as Vice Mayor. Springer, an insurance professional and owner of Springer Electric, has been on the council since 2015.

Hester, who served on the council from 2005 through 2010, is the founder of Meow Now, an organization that traps and humanely neuters and vaccinates feral cats in an effort to bring down the areas feral cat population.

The Seminole seats will be up for grabs on the November ballot. Along with Dunedin, which has two commission seats on the ballot, Seminole is one of two municipalities that will have candidates on the general election ballot.

The six candidates will all appear next to each other on the ballot and the top two vote-getters when all ballots are counted will be elected to a three-year term on the Seminole City Council. Council members are paid $8,200 a year.

House candidate Terry Power lives in $500K home but applied for food stamps

The Republican who’s challenging state Rep. Jamie Grant for his House District 64 seat lives in a $500,000 home but applied for food stamps, according to recent tweets.

The account known as Enforce Current Laws (@FirstWivesFirst) revealed the information.

For his part, Terry Power said he had been blocked by the same account.

“If it’s anything related to my ex-wife re-opening my divorce two days after I filed for the Florida House, I’ll be litigating the matter in court, not in the media,” Power told one of our reporters.

Here’s another:

Other tweets questioned his finances.

We previously reported that Power owes nearly $88,000 in alimony. A document in the case from Pinellas County shows a “payoff amount” of $87,904. It also lists a “balance due” of only $4,668.

In a previous statement to Florida Politics, however, Power says he doesn’t legally owe any of that money: “I am 100 percent current on all of my court-ordered alimony obligations.”

Power, an Oldsmar retirement plan consultant, is challenging Grant in the Republican primary for the seat, which covers northwest Hillsborough County and a slice of eastern Pinellas County. The area leans heavily Republican.

The primary is Aug. 28; the general election is Nov. 6.

Updated 9 p.m. — Power’s ex-wife has moved for contempt proceedings against him, according to court documents filed last month and provided to Florida Politics.

Warning: The documents are uncensored and contain strong language.

Dana Young

Dana Young announces Aug. 22 fundraiser for SD 18 re-election bid

Tampa Republican Sen. Dana Young is holding a fundraiser for her re-election campaign next week alongside former House Speaker Will Weatherford, his brother and former FSU quarterback Drew Weatherford and attorney Ron Christaldi.

The Aug. 22 event will run from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at 1601 S. MacDill Ave. in Tampa. Those looking to attend can direct their RSVPs to Kristin Lamb via Kristin@FLFStrategies.com or 850-339-5354.

Young was elected to Senate District 18 in 2016, but due to the shakeup caused by redistricting she and other state Senators in even-numbered districts must run for re-election after only two years.

She is facing a tough challenge from House Minority Leader Janet Cruz, who entered the race in mid-April. The most recent poll of the race shows Cruz with a slim advantage in the northwestern Hillsborough district, which covers much of Tampa.

SD 18 sits atop the Florida Democratic Party’s wish list this fall. Other than South Florida’s SD 36, where the party wasn’t able to recruit their first pick to challenge Republican Rep. Manny Diaz, SD 18 is the only district Democrats are after that voted for Hillary Clinton two years ago.

Young has landed several endorsements, most recently from the Florida Professional Firefighters, and she’s started revving up her ground game with canvassing drives. But her biggest advantage this cycle is in the money race.

As of Aug. 3, Young had more than $334,000 banked in her campaign account at the last reporting checkpoint. Her political committee, Friends of Dana Young, has nearly $1.18 million at the ready.

By comparison, Cruz had $169,500 in hard money and another $273,200 in her political committee, Building the Bay PC, as of July 20.

Neither Cruz nor Young faces a primary opponent. The pair will go head-to-head in the Nov. 6 general election.

The fundraiser invitation is below.


Karen Skyers

LGBTA group endorses Karen Skyers for HD 61

The Hillsborough County LGBTA Democratic Caucus announced over the weekend that it was endorsing attorney Karen Skyers in the crowded Democratic primary to fill Tampa-based House District 61, which is open due to current Rep. Sean Shaw’s Attorney General bid.

“We are proud to support your efforts toward full equality for LGBTA Floridians and look forward to working with you toward that goal,” the caucus said.

The caucus’ mission is to “foster good will between gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and allied members of the Democratic Party and the community at large; continue to work with other GLBT and like-minded organizations united with a common purpose; seek individual freedom in the framework of a just society; and seek political freedom in the framework of meaningful participation by all citizens.”

The endorsement sees Skyers join some elite company — so far this cycle, only incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and Valrico Democrat Andrew Learned, who is running for Florida’s 15th Congressional District have earned the caucus’ endorsement. The new backer adds to a list that already includes Shaw and Ruth’s List Florida, a Democratic Party-aligned group that supports female candidates for public office.

“I am thankful to the Hillsborough County LGBTA Caucus for their endorsement. Once again, we are reminded that #lovewins. I will champion for equality and laws that protect all of the people, not some of the people,” Skyers said.

Skyers is up against Dianne HartNorman Harris and Sharon Carter in the Democratic primary. The winner of that contest will be Shaw’s de facto replacement in the Tampa-based Democratic stronghold, though they will be nominally opposed by write-in candidate Valion Joyce in November.

Florida law allows all voters to participate in primary elections if all candidates are members of the same party, however Joyce’s entry into the race nullifies that rule. HD 61 is one of five state legislative districts this cycle that had its primary locked down by a write-in candidate.

As of Aug. 3, Skyers led in overall fundraising with more than $70,000 raised, though her $13,290 cash on hand puts her behind Hart, who was the second-place finisher in the 2016 Democratic primary for the seat, losing to Shaw by 101 votes.

She’s raised about $33,000 and kicked in $15,000 in candidate loans for an on-hand tally of nearly $31,000 on Aug. 3. Through the same date, Harris had raised $20,435 and had $3,067 at the ready while Carter had raised $5,345, half of it loans, and had $439 in her campaign account.

HD 61 covers downtown Tampa, Ybor City, and Seminole Heights. Democrats hold an overwhelming advantage at the polls.

Brandes up big in first SD 24 poll since Lindsay Cross tagged in

Knocking off St. Pete Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes was always a long shot, and the first measure of the race since Lindsay Cross subbed in for Carrie Pilon shows those slim chances dwindling further.

According to a new survey from St. Pete Polls, Brandes has the support of nearly 39 percent of Senate District 24 voters, giving him a better than 2-to-1 lead over Cross, who was the pick for an even 19 percent of those polled. With 42 percent of voters undecided, there’s room for growth for both candidates.

Cross entered the race at the end of last month, a few weeks after the prior Democratic nominee, trial lawyer Carrie Pilon, withdrew from the contest due to the unexpected health problems of a close family member.

During her brief tenure in the race, Pilon worked up from a 9-point deficit in late May to within striking distance by early July. Cross will certainly see major gains in her poll numbers as Election Day approaches, though her poor showing in this inaugural measure is a bitter reminder that just because one candidate made headway by putting in some elbow grease, doesn’t mean another can swoop in and reap the benefits.

When it comes to name ID, she’s got a lot of work to do.

Brandes is a known quantity to 59 percent of SD 24 voters, and they find him favorable by a margin of 39-20. Cross, meanwhile, is known by just 27 percent of the district and those who offered their opinion gave her a somewhat lukewarm 21-16 favorability rating.

In addition to playing catchup on the name ID front, Cross needs to bring in some cold hard cash, pronto. Brandes, through Aug. 3, had nearly $863,000 in the bank between his campaign and political committee, Liberty Florida, and that’s after more than $807,000 in spending since the 2018 campaign cycle began.

As it stands, it’s unclear whether Cross is hunkering down to put in the work needed to put SD 24 in play.

According to her first campaign finance report, which to be fair only covered a partial week, she’s brought in just $3,000 in monetary contributions. One would expect Cross and her family, close friends, longtime co-workers and acquaintances to pitch in and jumpstart the campaign to build some buzz.

A typical candidate would have made the calls and had the checks ready for day 1 — Pilon did as much when she pulled together $100K for her inaugural reports.

The problem may be a bit deeper, however, as sources familiar with the Cross campaign say she is fresh off a European vacation and hasn’t quite returned to the day-to-day grind — If true, she better return from the clouds tout suite, or the conversation will quickly shift to the degree of electoral embarrassment she can expect come Election Day.

Of the cash she did bring in, two-thirds came from the Florida Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, stretched-thin pot of money overseen by Senate Minority Leader Audrey Gibson. The other $1,000 came from self-employed property manager Sidney Smith Wilson.

Gibson’s fund also threw in another $25,000 to kickstart research efforts, as well as buy a campaign computer and cell phone. While fronting that cash would be a no-brainer for the ever-flush Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, it is a much more significant investment for the FDLCC, which had $400,000 in the bank at last check in.

SD 24 covers most of southern Pinellas County except for the tip of the peninsula, which is included in neighboring SD 19. According to the most recent bookclosing report published by the Florida Division of Elections, Republicans hold a 4-point advantage in voter registrations within the district, which voted in favor of Barack Obama twice before going plus-7 for Donald Trump in 2016.

The St. Pete Polls survey was conducted Aug. 11-12 and received responses from 757 likely general election voters. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence level.

Neil Combee takes lead in CD 15 Republican primary, poll shows

Former Auburndale state Rep. Neil Combee isn’t leading by double digits, as indicated by a recent poll commissioned by his campaign, but he does have an outside the margins lead in the Republican primary for Florida’s 15th Congressional District.

According to a new survey from St. Pete Polls, Combee has the support of nearly 36 percent of likely primary voters followed by Dover state Rep. Ross Spano at 30 percent. Another 22 percent of those polled are undecided, while the other three candidates vying for the GOP nom — Sean Harper, Danny Kushmer and Ed Shoemaker — poll in the low single digits.

The new results are the first time Combee has led in a public poll of the race. The last measure from St. Pete Polls, released July 9, showed Spano with a 32-20 percent lead over Combee, which itself was a breakaway for the one-time Attorney General candidate compared to a late May survey from the same pollster, when he led 29-23 percent.

Combee’s current 6-point lead mainly comes from running up the score among the two-thirds of Republicans who said they plan to vote in the primary but haven’t cast their ballot yet. Among the third who have already sent in their mail ballots, his lead over Spano tightens to 36-35 percent followed by Shoemaker at 9 percent, Kushmer at 7 percent and Harper at 3 percent.

Among the other subset, where there’s still two weeks left to duke it out, Combee leads Spano 37-26 with 28 percent undecided and none of the other three breaching 5 percent support.

Standouts in the date include Combee’s large lead among women, who prefer him over Spano by a margin of 36-27 percent. Among men, however, that 9-point gap is halved. Similarly, Combee holds a large lead among voters over 70, while Spano leads by 8 points among middle-aged voters and ties with Combee in the 30-49 crowd. Young Republicans, a very small subset in the poll, prefer Spano by a margin of 3-to-1.

Spano’s slippage in the polls can likely be partially attributed to the “mild cardiac event” he suffered late last month — the health scare followed an intense workout and the campaign said at the time that the 52-year-old lawmaker was “expected to make a full and complete recovery.”

Still, that kept him grounded from campaigning for at least a week during the critical leadup to primary Election Day, and but according to a new interview with Florida Daily, Spano is back on the campaign trail. He also had some positive words for President Donald Trump, who carried CD 15 by 10 points two years ago, saying the Commander in Chief has exceeded his expectations since taking over as President and expressing support for some of Trump’s cornerstone politicies.

“People want a wall built,” Spano said. “They want to be safe in their communities. They want to know that certainly criminal illegal aliens that they are picked up by local authorities that they are turned over to the federal government to be deported. That is an important thing.”

Combee’s lead appears to have grown during Spano’s downtime, which came just a few days after Combee released his first TV ad touting his connections to Trump — he resigned from House District 39 last year to accept a presidential appointment at the USDA.

But, as of Monday, Federal Communications Commission filings don’t list any media buys to back up Combee’s ad and it’s unclear when or if he plans to get it on the air. Spano, the fundraising leader on the Republican side, announced his first 30-second spot on Friday and already has media buys in place throughout the district, making him the first of the five GOP contenders to truly hit the airwaves.

CD 15 is split between Hillsborough and Polk counties, with about 10 percent of the district’s voters living in Lake County.

Though the seat had been considered a Republican lock, the retirement of current U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross combined with strong fundraising from Democratic candidates caused the political handicappers at the Cook Political Report to shift their assessment from of the seat from “Likely Republican” to “Lean Republican.”

CD 15 is still rated “likely Republican” by Sabato’s Crystal Ball, the prediction newsletter from University of Virginia political science professor Larry Sabato.

The winner of the Republican primary will face whomever emerges from the three-way contest for the Democratic nomination between former Citrus Commission general counsel Kristin Carlson of Lakeland, Navy veteran Andrew Learned of Valrico and aviation instructor and retired police detective Ray Pena of Lakeland.

Carlson leads the overall field in fundraising and started hitting TV on July 26. Learned has nearly matched her in fundraising, though he’s been in the race a good deal longer. He announced a TV ad on Aug. 6, though no media buy has been made by his campaign according to FCC records.

Both primary elections are Aug. 28. The general election is Nov. 6.

The St. Pete Polls survey was conducted Aug. 11 and Aug. 12 and polled 360 registered Republicans who said they planned to vote in the CD 15 primary election. The results has a margin of error of plus or minus 5.2 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence level.

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