Tampa Bay – Florida Politics
Vern Buchanan

New ad highlights Vern Buchanan’s record on the opioid epidemic

Sarasota Republican U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan is rolling out another TV ad for his re-election campaign in Florida’s 16th Congressional District.

The 30-second spot, “Fighting Chance,” highlights the sixth-term congressman’s record on the opioid epidemic. The campaign said it will begin airing online immediately and will hit TV next week as part of $200,000-plus ad buy.

The commercial features CD 16 constituents Ruth Lyerly and Cindy Bales, both of whom lost their sons to opioid addition. Like his prior ad, “Independent Leader Fighting for You,” the new commercial steers clear of mentioning Buchanan’s political party other than through the disclosure at the bottom of the screen.

“The pain doesn’t go away, but we’ve made it our life mission to do something about it,” Bales said in the ad, followed by Lyerly saying the pair reached out to Buchanan to help them in that mission. The ad then displays the titles of news articles that ran in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune and Bradenton Herald outlining Buchanan’s action on the opioid epidemic.

“Vern has led the charge to crack down on drug abuse,” they said in the ad.  “It wasn’t popular at the time but he has been with us fighting this fight for the past nine years. With people like Vern on our side, we have a fighting chance.”

The campaign said it plans to release an extended version of the ad where Lyerly and Bales praise the congressman’s “relentless leadership” on an issue that is “destroying so many lives in our community.”

The ad announcement linked to a slew of news articles on Buchanan’s work on the opioid epidemic dating back ot 2011. Among them were articles on a 2011 bill to crack down on “pill mills” that he co-sponsored along with Massachusetts Democratic U.S. Rep. Ed Markey, a 2013 bill to tightening restrictions on some of the most potent opioids that saw him team up with West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, and Buchanan’s successful 2017 push to secure funding for Southwest Florida to address the drug epidemic.

Buchanan is likely to face Democrat David Shapiro in the November general election.

CD 16 has been a safe GOP seat in past elections. Donald Trump won the district by 11 points in 2016, though some onlookers expect those margins could be much closer this year.

Larry J. Sabato’s Crystal Ball changed its assessment of the seat from “Safe Republican” to “Likely Republican” in March, calling it a “deep sleeper Democratic target.”

The ad is below.

Ardian Zika endorsed by former Pasco state Senator

Ardian Zika has added another backer in his bid to replace term-limited House Speaker Richard Corcoran in House District 37.

The Land O’ Lakes Republican announced Wednesday that John Grant, who represented Pasco and Hillsborough counties in the Florida Senate from 1986 to 2000, had endorsed him in the four-way Republican Primary for Pasco County-based seat.

“For fourteen years the voters of Pasco County gave me the honor of representing them in the Florida Senate,” Grant said. “They elected and re-elected me because I shared their values. Ardian Zika shares those same values and that’s why I am supporting his election to the Florida House of Representatives, District 37.”

Grant joins St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes, Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson, former House Speaker Will Weatherford,  Pasco Tax Collector Mike Fasano, Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco, and the Fraternal Order of Police in endorsing Zika.

“I am honored to have former Florida State Senator John Grant’s endorsement,” Zika said. “Senator Grant represented the residents of Pasco County for fourteen years in our state capitol. He fought for lower taxes, less government, more personal responsibility and freedom. I am grateful for Senator Grant’s example and for his support and endorsement of my campaign.”

Zika is running against Ryan BoneyBill Gunter and Elle Rudisill in the primary. Democrats Tammy Garcia and Denise Mestanza-Taylor are also running.

Through April, Zika had raised more than $183,000 for his campaign and had $170,000 in the bank. Rudisill is in a distant second place with $13,500 banked, while Boney and Gunter each have $0 in their campaign accounts.

HD 37 covers the majority of inland Pasco County, including the communities of Land O’ Lakes, Odessa, Heritage Pines, Shady Hills, Meadow Oaks and Moon Lake.

The district is a Republican stronghold. Corocran never faced an Election Day challenger in his three re-election campaigns since HD 37 was redrawn. The seat voted plus-27 for Donald Trump in 2016.

Funeral services scheduled for John Morroni

Funeral services for longtime Pinellas County politician John Morroni have been scheduled for June 1.

From 9:00 am to 10:15 am, a viewing will be held at the David C. Gross Funeral Home in St. Petersburg, 6366 Central Ave, followed by an 11:00 am funeral mass at St. John Vianney Catholic Church in St. Pete Beach, 445 82nd Ave.

Morroni died Sunday evening at Suncoast Hospice in the company of his family and loved ones, ending his decade-long battle against a rare form of cancer. He was 63.

The veteran politician served in the Florida House in the 1990s and was elected to the Pinellas County Commission in 2000, serving as its chair in 2005, 2012 and 2015.

Last March, he announced he would not seek a fifth term on the Commission, ending a 25-year career in elective office. It’s unclear at this point when Governor Rick Scott will appoint someone to fill out the remaining portion of Morroni’s term.

Hitting the ground collecting in CD 15

Kristen Carlson of Lakeland entered the Democratic Primary for Florida’s 15th Congressional District just over two weeks ago and has reported campaign donations of more than $100,000 already.

Her staff said most of it came in during the first 13 days.

Carlson, a former General Counsel for the Florida Department of Citrus, current counsel for the Florida Juice Producers Association and lawyer in the Tampa firm of MacFarlane Ferguson & McMullen, didn’t enter the race until May 2, Two days before the deadline to qualify for federal office.

The primaries for both parties in the district that includes portions of Hillsborough, Polk and Lake counties gained more candidates and more early activity after the incumbent, Republican Congressman Dennis Ross of Lakeland announced he would not seek re-election.

Carlson faces two others in the Democratic Primary, Navy veteran and school owner Andrew Learned of Valrico and retired California detective and aviation group owner Raymond Pena of Winter Haven, both of whom have been running for a year or more.

Almost everyone in the Republican Primary race for the seat has been running for less than a month in the traditionally Republican district. Ross announced his retirement just weeks before federal qualifying to get on the ballot ended.

“I am humbled by the outpouring of support we have received in this early stage,” Carlson said in an emailed quote. “Voters know that we need a Representative who will work for the people of the 15th District to lower health care costs, create good paying jobs, and cut taxes for the middle class, and I am honored so many believe I am that person.”

Harry Cohen - Tampa City Council

Harry Cohen launching mayoral campaign June 6

Tampa City Councilman Harry Cohen will officially kick off his campaign for Tampa Mayor with a June 6 fundraising reception.

The kickoff event will be held at the Tampa Museum of Art, 120 Gasparilla Plaza, from 5:30 pm to 7:00 pm. Supporters interested in attending can send an RSVP to Harry@Harry2019.com.

Cohen filed for the race to replace exiting Mayor Bob Buckhorn on the last day of March. He faces former Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor, Michael Hazard, Topher Morrison, philanthropist David Straz, fellow Tampa Councilman Mike Suarez and former County Commissioner Ed Turanchik.

Cohen, a two-term city councilman, has earned a reputation for being a prolific fundraiser, and it looks to be well-deserved given his first full-month campaign finance report. As of April 30, he had raised $190,000 for his campaign and had $187,930 cash on hand.

That puts him behind only Castor in the crowded mayoral race. She had raised about $225,000 through the same date and had $218,537 in the bank, though a large portion of that money was raised in the months leading up to her announcing for the race. Turanchik has raised about the same amount as Cohen, but over 100 days instead of 30.

The mayoral election will be held March 5, 2019, when Tampa holds its municipal elections. Also slated for the ballot are several city council seats. The new mayor and councilmembers will take office on April 1, 2019.

The invitation to Cohen’s fundraiser is below.

Lone Democrat drops out of HD 64 race

Democrat Heather Kenyon Stahl announced Tuesday that she is ending her campaign for House District 64, the Tampa-based seat held by Republican Rep. James Grant.

In her announcement, posted on Facebook, Stahl thanked her supporters before citing a new job and her husband’s ongoing health problems as reasons for her exit.

“Over the past month, I have obtained a new job which provides great health benefits and allows me to work from home. I have not spoken about this a great deal but my husband had a health scare last year that has left him with cognitive issues (he is on full disability). Being able to work from home allows me the ability to be there if he needs me,” she wrote.

“The unfortunate part of all of this is that my new job (understandably) needs me full time and taking off three months in the early part of the year is not part of their overall plan. For now, I need to focus on my new position and my family. This will mean I will have to back out of the race for this campaign cycle.”

She closed by pledging to remain involved in Democratic causes and to help other 2018 Democratic candidates in their races this election cycle.

With encouragement from Alex Sink and inspiration from The Women’s March in 2017, Stahl filed for HD 64 shortly after New Year’s. She said she thought Grant had “done a fair job,” but said the district could use “someone who’s hungry and motivated to do great things for our state.”

Through four months on the trail, she had raised more than $16,000 for her campaign, though she faced long odds in the reliably Republican district even if a large “blue wave” hit Tampa Bay.

At one point she special needs teacher Christopher Smutko in the Democratic Primary, though he withdrew from the race and offered his support to Stahl, whose exit now leaves unaffiliated candidate Andy Warrener as the only non-GOP candidate in the race.

Grant’s Republican Primary opponent is Terry Power, an Oldsmar retirement plan consultant who has been had been outspoken in his criticism of Grant and his eligibility for another term in the House, going as far as to file a lawsuit aimed at disqualifying the incumbent from running for re-election.

HD 64 covers a piece of northwestern Hillsborough County and some of eastern Pinellas County.

Greg Steube - CD 17 Campaign Photo

Veterans group picks Greg Steube for CD 17

Sarasota Republican Sen. Greg Steube has earned the backing of veterans group With Honor in his bid to succeed retiring U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney in Florida’s 17th Congressional District.

With Honor’s mission is to “help elect principled next-generation veterans to office who will work in a cross-partisan way to create a more effective and less polarized government.” Candidates endorsed by the group must make a three-point pledge to always speak the truth, always respect their colleagues and to defend the rights of all Americans – even if that means reaching across the aisle.

Steube is a former U.S. Army Captain who is a veteran of the Iraq War.

“I am honored to be supported by those who have served our country. Congress needs leaders who will fix the dysfunction and act on principle. I look forward to giving our veterans another voice in Congress and am thrilled to receive the backing of such a worthy organization,” he said.

Steube was elected to the Florida House in 2010 and moved up to the Florida Senate in 2016. He was the first major candidate to announce a run for CD 17 after Rooney’s said he would not seek re-election in the fall.

He started his campaign with dozens of backers, including Senate President Joe Negron, Senate President Designate Bill Galvano, Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson, Naples Republican Sen. Kathleen Passidomo and Lakeland Republican Sen. Kelli Stargel.

Sarasota state Rep. Julio Gonzalez joined him in the Republican Primary shortly after the 2018 Legislative Session wrapped, while Port Charlotte Republican Bill Akins filed well before Rooney’s announcement.

All three will be on the Aug. 28 Republican Primary ballot.

Through March 31, Gonzalez led the money race with nearly $234,000 in contributions during the first few weeks of his campaign compared to $63,550 for Steube. Gonzalez’ total includes $150,000 in candidate loans, while Steube’s includes $15,000.

CD 17 sprawls across parts of Sarasota, Lee and Polk counties as well as the whole of Charlotte, DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, Highlands and Okeechobee counties. It is rated “safe Republican” by Sabato’s Crystal Ball, the prediction newsletter from University of Virginia political science professor Larry Sabato.

Ross Spano

Ross Spano lands Pam Bondi’s support in CD 15 primary

State Rep. Ross Spano landed a big endorsement for his congressional campaign Monday: Attorney General Pam Bondi.

“Today, I am proud to endorse my friend Ross Spano to be the next Congressman in Florida’s 15th District. Along with being a fighter for the people of Florida, Ross is a tried and true rock solid Conservative who will go to Washington, defend our Conservative values and partner with President [Donald] Trump in advancing his America First agenda. I hope the people of Hillsborough, Polk and Lake counties will join me in supporting Ross Spano,” Bondi said.

The announcement dropped shortly after Republican Primary rival Neil Combee announced another wave of local endorsements, this time within Spano’s home turf in Hillsborough. Bondi’s endorsement is the biggest thus far among the dozen candidates, including six Republicans, running to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross.

“I am extremely humbled to receive Attorney General Pam Bondi’s endorsement. She is a Conservative leader whom I have been able to work alongside for the last six years to protect Floridians and our shared Conservative values,” Spano said. “The Attorney General and I have worked tirelessly to eradicate human trafficking from Florida and although there is much more to do, we have made huge strides. I look forward to continuing our collaborative efforts once I am elected to Congress.”

The one-time Attorney General candidate – Bondi opted to support former circuit court judge Ashley Moody in that contest – has now been endorsed by more than a dozen current and former elected officials.

Past endorsements include state Reps. Sam Killebrew, Jake Raburn, former state Rep. Rich Glorioso, Hillsborough Tax Collector Doug Belden, Hillsborough Commissioner Al Higginbotham, Polk Commissioners George Lindsey and John Hall, Plant City Mayor Rick Lott, Plant City Commissioner Bill Dodson, former Plant City Mayor Randy Larson, and former Plant City Commissioner Billy Keel.

Spano faces Combee, Sean HarperDanny KushmerCurt Rogers and Ed Shoemaker in the Republican Primary. Also running are Democrats Kristen CarlsonAndrew Learned and Ray Pena as well as three write-in candidates.

About half of CD 15’s Republican voters live in Hillsborough County and another two-fifths live in Polk while a small slice lives in Lake County. The district is rated “likely Republican” by Sabato’s Crystal Ball, the prediction newsletter from University of Virginia political science professor Larry Sabato.

The primary election is Aug. 28.

Kathleen Peters

Kathleen Peters holding Pinellas Commission fundraiser Tuesday

Republican Rep. Kathleen Peters is holding a reception benefitting her Pinellas County Commission campaign Tuesday evening in South Pasadena.

The fundraiser will be held at Pasadena Liquors & Fine Wines, 1100 Pasadena Avenue South, from 5:30 pm to 7 pm. Supporters interested in attending the reception can let the campaign know by emailing Ashley@KathleenPeters.com or calling 727-434-0221.

Now a resident of Treasure Island, Peters called South Pasadena home for many years and even served as its mayor for a term before she was elected to the Florida House in 2012. Current Mayor Max Elson and City Commissioner Gail Neidinger are hosting Peters’ fundraiser.

The third-term lawmaker is one of four candidates running for the District 6 seat once held by the late John Morroni. The district includes the communities of Indian Shores, Redington Beach, Redington Shores, Madeira Beach, Pinellas Park, Seminole, Treasure Island and St. Pete Beach.

Also running are fellow Republican Rep. Larry Ahern and Republican businesswoman Barb Haselden. Democrat Amy Kedron jumped into the race at the beginning of the month.

As of April 30, Peters held the financial advantage in the race with more than $100,000 raised for her campaign with $76,000 at the ready. She has another $60,000 or so in “Florida Speaks,” an affiliated political committee.

The District 6 race will be on the November ballot alongside District 2 and District 4. Incumbent Commissioners Dave Eggers, a Republican, and Pat Gerard, a Democrat, are currently unopposed in their re-election campaigns.

Peters’ invite is below.

Neil Combee’s congressional campaign adds Hillsborough support

The endorsements keep rolling in for former state Rep. Neil Combee, who is running to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross in Florida’s 15th Congressional District.

With the addition of Dover state Rep. Lawrence McClure, former state Reps. Rachel Burgin and Carl Carpenter as well as Temple Terrace Mayor Mel Jurado, Combee’s list of backers now includes 20 current and former elected officials within the three-county Congressional district.

“Neil is a proven conservative who has worked tirelessly to see our country and President Trump succeed. As a rancher, Neil is uniquely qualified to advocate for our agricultural industry. I am proud to endorse Neil Combee to represent us in Washington,” McClure said.

Carpenter added that he’s “seen a lot of Congressmen come and go but “Combee is the real deal and is the only candidate that can keep the liberals at bay.” Burgin said Combee was “a man with true grit” and that his “proven track record in public service, and his strong agricultural background” make him her pick in the crowded CD 15 primary.

Jurado’s endorsement was more on the light-hearted side and even included an acronym for the Auburndale Republican’s name.

“I have been privileged to work alongside Neil Combee on policy and governance issues.  What I know about N.E.I.L.: N.o-nonsense — not about ‘yaption’, but about ‘action.’ E.xcellence — high standards, with an expectation of results. I.ntegrity — character-driven. L.eadership — specifically, Neil is a servant-leader, focused on delivering what benefits others, not self. This is why I support Neil Combee to be our next Congressman,” said Jurado, who is also a former director of the Florida Office of Early Learning.

The four endorsements announced Monday all came from the Hillsborough portion of CD 15, and follow a dozen backers from Polk County and a quartet of Lake County nods announced last week. His campaign claims yet again that “there will be many more to come.”

“The momentum is continuing to build, and I am so excited to have these great folks in Hillsborough give their endorsements. They will go a long way to helping us win this Primary,” Combee said.

Combee faces Dover state Rep. Ross SpanoSean HarperDanny KushmerCurt Rogers and Ed Shoemaker in the Republican Primary. Also running for the seat are Democrats Kristen CarlsonAndrew Learned and Ray Pena as well as three write-in candidates.

About half of CD 15’s Republican voters live in Hillsborough County and another two-fifths live in Polk, while a small slice live in Lake County. The district is rated “likely Republican” by Sabato’s Crystal Ball, the prediction newsletter from University of Virginia political science professor Larry Sabato.

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