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Lawrence McClure enters HD 58 special election

And then there were two.

Not less than a day after Gov. Rick Scott set the calendar for a special election to replace retiring Dan Raulerson, self-described conservative Republican Lawrence McClure filed paperwork with the Division of Election for the race.

Raulerson announced Tuesday he is resigning from the House District 58 seat effective Aug. 15. Scott signed an executive order Tuesday setting Oct. 10 for the primary election and Dec. 19 for the general election.

McClure, 30, joins executive and civic activist Yvonne Fry in what many expect to be a bruising Republican primary. Both candidates hail from established Plant City families, and each has deep roots in the bedroom community east of Tampa.

The text of McClure’s release:

“Our state has tremendous opportunities ahead and to fully capitalize on these opportunities we must have conservative leadership in place to foster economic growth, create jobs, secure our state, and provide a world-class education for each and every child.

“As a small-business owner, I understand firsthand just how much government can stifle innovation and make it harder to create jobs in our community. I’m running to make sure the proven, common sense conservative principles we hold dear are implemented so we can continue to grow our economy, create hundreds of thousands of news jobs, balance our budget, and have the best schools in the country.

“My wife and I have deep roots in this district and serving the people of District 58 would be an honor of a lifetime.  I’m going to work day and night to earn the trust and support of voters throughout the community and I’m excited about the challenge and campaign ahead.”

As a businessperson, McClure began his career as a summer intern at the Tampa-based Streamline Environmental. Over a decade, he rose to become a partner at the firm, which works with local companies on environmental mitigation, cleaning oil spills and removing petroleum tanks.

McClure also has a long history of working with local and state elected officials and business owners on environmental policy, water supply and land use.

A Hillsborough County native, McClure played soccer and football for Plant High School. He moved to East Hillsborough County after marrying Courtney Newsome, who works in the agriculture industry as an employee of Astin Farms, a produce ranch in Plant City and Wimauma.

McClure has also been active in agriculture, mostly as a Board Member of the Hillsborough County Farm Bureau for the last two years and a current chair of the Building Committee.

McClure has brought on prominent Republican campaign consultant Tom Piccolo, reports the Tampa Bay Times. Piccolo is the brother of Fred Piccolo, a lead communications aide to House Speaker Richard Corcoran who has also worked with 2021 Speaker-designate Chris Sprowls of Palm Harbor.

Already in the 2018 race for HD 58, which encompasses Northwestern Hillsborough, is no-party affiliated Shawn Mathis Gilliam, also of Plant City. Gilliam filed before Raulerson’s resignation.

Rick Scott names Mike Griffin to Tampa Port Authority, slams agency’s wasteful spending

Gov. Rick Scott has named Mike Griffin, a well-regarded local leader and current chair of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, to the Tampa Port Authority.

While announcing Griffin’s appointment, Scott took a shot at the agency over reports of excessive spending.

“Recently, I was concerned to see media reports detailing wasteful spending by the executives at Port Tampa Bay,” Scott said in a statement Tuesday. “The actions detailed in these reports should serve as a reminder of the importance of the oversight every appointee is charged with providing.

“I look forward to the Tampa Port Authority Governing Board reviewing policies to prevent wasteful spending by employees.”

This summer, WFTS-ABC 28 reported that over the past three years Port Tampa Bay’s CEO Paul Anderson and seven top aides had spent more than $870,000 on Port Tampa Bay credit cards.

Spending included more than $30,000 in golf club memberships as well as on outings at TPC Tampa Bay and Cheval Golf Club.

The report also accused the executives of charging thousands for Tampa Bay Lightning season tickets, with another $44,551.61 in related expenses at Amalie Arena.

Following a public records request, WFTS reported that former executive Ed Miyagishima, who resigned two days after the first investigative report, was forced to reimburse more than $11,000 in unexplained charges on dinners, bar tabs, flowers and more.

Blasting spending at the Port, House Speaker Richard Corcoran is calling for a state investigation, WFTS reported Friday.

Scott has full confidence in Griffin, saying he will do a “great job on the Tampa Port Authority and will work with the entire board to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars.”

“Mike has committed to conducting a full analysis of prior and future expenditures by the Port,” the governor added. “We know that the Board is focused on reviewing policies that concentrate on its core mission of serving as one of the state’s major economic and trade drivers.”

In a statement Tuesday night, Anderson pushed back.

“Although we are currently reviewing all Port Tampa Bay expense policies,” he said, “I believe there is a misperception about the integrity of how we spend Port Tampa Bay dollars.”

“I look forward to the opportunity to provide a detailed explanation of our budget and illustrate how our investments have vastly improved the economic landscape in the Tampa Bay area,” Anderson added. “We are excited to work with Mr. Griffin and welcome him to the Port Tampa Bay family.”

Griffin, 36, has also served as a senior managing director for Savills Study Occupier Services, a real estate services corporation.

A 2003 graduate of the University of South Florida, Griffin served two-terms as its student body president. He is a charter member of the USF board of trustees and a member of its Hall of Fame.

Griffin will continue to serve as chair of the Tampa Chamber until December; he is also rumored to be considering a run for the Hillsborough County Commission in 2018.

Griffin fills a vacant seat at the Port and is subject to Florida Senate confirmation.

Election dates set for Dan Raulerson’s House seat

Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday set the dates for elections to fill House District 58, recently vacated by GOP state Rep. Dan Raulerson, who stepped down for health reasons.

Scott signed an executive order setting Oct. 10 for the primary election and Dec. 19 for the general election.

Raulerson’s resignation is effective Aug. 15, meaning the seat will be empty during the committee weeks leading up to the 2018 Legislative Session, which begins Jan. 9.

Raulerson, a CPA and former Plant City mayor, has been in the House since 2012, representing the northeast Hillsborough County district. He cited serious, ongoing back problems as the reason for his leaving the office.

Vazquez (via Facebook)

An appeal still is pending from Raulerson’s Democratic challenger in the last election. 

Jose N. Vazquez Figueroa claimed Raulerson’s candidacy was invalid because his notary had incorrectly used “correction fluid” on his filing paperwork, which is prohibited by the state’s notary manual.

A Tallahassee judge ruled against him in January, agreeing with Raulerson’s lawyer that the courts couldn’t decide the case because the House of Representatives is the sole judge of its membership under the state constitution.

On Tuesday, Vazquez said in a phone interview he had not yet decided whether he will run again for the seat.

Pasco businessman Ardian Zika to run for House District 37 seat

Land O’ Lakes business owner and banker Ardian Zika is the latest Republican to file to run for the Pasco County state House seat being vacated by term-limited Richard Corcoran.

The 37-year-old Zika was born in the former Yugoslavia and emigrated to the U.S. from Kosovo in 1997.

“I’m the product of American exceptionalism and I, like you, am working tirelessly in pursuit of the American Dream,” said Zika in a statement released Tuesday.

“Our campaign puts Floridians First so each one has an opportunity to reach the American Dream through upward economic mobility,” he says. “I’ll champion bold and visionary ideas to unleash the American entrepreneurial spirit of innovation and transform our community. As your State Representative, I’ll fight for lower taxes, less regulation and more personal responsibility and to protect our constitutional rights.’

Zika has spent the past 14 years in the banking industry before starting up his own business advisory company, Guardian & Company I, earlier this year.

He’s a known quantity in GOP circles, having been appointed by Governor Rick Scott to the Florida Council on Homelessness, the Pasco Hernando State College Board of Trustees and the CareerSource Florida Board of Directors in recent years.

In 2015, Zika was named by the Tampa Bay Business Journal as a “40 under 40 Up and Comer.”

After immigrating to the U.S. twenty years ago, Zika moved to Louisiana and attended Louisiana Tech University, where he received a B.S. in marketing. He also became very involved politically there, as he was elected to the student senate, served as student government executive vice-president, student senate president, student government supreme Court chief Justice and Vice President of the College Republican Club.

He later received a Masters Degree in Business Administration from Saint Leo University.

Zika and his wife, Tasha, have five children and are active members of Idlewild Baptist Church.

He is now the fourth Republican to enter the race, along with George Agovino, Bill Gunter and Elle Rudisill. Pasco County Commissioner Kathryn Starkey is also reportedly contemplating a run in HD 37.

Rick Kriseman, Rick Baker continue to raise record amounts for St. Pete mayoral race

Incumbent Rick Kriseman and challenger Rick Baker both enjoyed strong fundraising efforts over the last two weeks, the latest campaign finance reports show.

Candidates for St. Petersburg Mayor and City Council faced a July 28 deadline for filing reports showing finance activity from July 8 through July 21.

Kriseman’s report showed that he raised $25,401 in that period, while Baker raised $30,919.

Baker has finally nosed ahead of Kriseman in terms of how much money each candidates has raised for their campaign. Overall, Baker is at $355,490, while Kriseman is at 352,124.

With the primary election less than four weeks away, both men spent heavily over the last two weeks.

Kriseman spent $54,073, leaving him with approximately $71,000 in his account. Baker spent $50,347, giving him almost $152,000 cash-on-hand.

These numbers reflect only what the candidate’s campaigns raised; details about what their political committees brought in are reported on a separate timeline.

Among the notables donating to Kriseman’s campaign are Will Jordan, Roy Glass, Suzanne and Roger Perry, Dale Swope, and TECO Energy.

The campaign’s largest check was to CounterPoint LLC, which handles media placement.

Noteworthy checks to Baker came from Tom Boland, Al Bonati, Charles Rivers Properties, Lucas Higman, John Stoner, and Dick Tobias.

Also running for mayor are Paul Congemi, Jesse Nevel, Anthony Cates and Theresa Lassiter.

With $3,345 raised over the last two weeks, Nevel enjoyed one of his best fundraising efforts and is now over $10K raised for his insurgent campaign.

The primary election is August 29.

Charlie Crist says missile defense might be necessary to stop a North Korean missile

With diplomacy a seemingly lost cause for addressing North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, Charlie Crist says it’s time to put our trust in the military to protect the country from a possible attack from Kim Jong Un‘s regime.

“The time for talk is over,” U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said Sunday in dismissing a question about whether America should go back to the United Nations and ramp up sanctions on the North Korean government after they tested a long-range missile last week that could potentially hit American cities beyond the West Coast.

The test has been called more advanced than the intercontinental ballistic missile launched July 4 and marks a significant step forward from a country once thought incapable of putting forward a serious ICBM program.

With China not wanting to use its influence to control the North Korean government, U.S. options seem limited. But Crist says he’d been reading a lot about the U.S. missile defense systems and thinks it may need to come down to that.

“Because of technology, we’ve become much better at being able to take care of missiles like that, if need be in the air before they get to the ground,” Crist said Monday.

Ronald Reagan called for the development of a missile-defense system in a 1983 speech when he discussed what was known as the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), but was mocked as a “Star Wars ” defense in the media. Reagan’s speech laid out a vision for long-term investment in technological development, possibly involving everything from satellites to lasers.

SDI ultimately morphed into what is now known as the Missile Defense Agency, which asked for proposals last month to build a high-altitude long-endurance unmanned aircraft capable of flying higher than 63,000 feet and carrying a laser to shoot down ballistic missiles as they arc upward.

The U.S. military announced over the weekend that it had tested the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in Alaska by launching a ballistic missile over the Pacific Ocean.

“In addition to successfully intercepting the target, the data collected will allow the Missile Defense Agency to enhance the THAAD weapon system,” U.S. Missile Defense Agency director Lt. Gen. Sam Greaves told CNNMilitary officials told CNN this was the 15th such test for the THAAD weapon system.

“They called it ‘Star Wars,'” Crist said of the missile defense developed in the 1980s. “Thank God they developed that thing, because if we have a rogue nation like North Korea get more serious about this, God forbid, it’s good to have a good defense system in place so that we can protect our people.”

The MDA has said that they hope to have their technology ready by 2023.

Crist leaves Tuesday for an eight-day trip congressional visit to Israel, where he last visited as Florida’s governor in 2007.

“Things change, as we all know, and I’m sure that things have changed significantly, so I’m anxious to see it up close and get educated again by people in the government in Israel,” Crist said.

Sponsoring the trip is the American Israel Education Foundation, a charitable organization affiliated with AIPAC.

Why visual artist Margaret Juul is one of the Best of the Bay

Voting is now open in one of most significant elections in St. Petersburg for 2017.

No, not that one; this ballot has nothing to do with City Hall or the “two Ricks.”

Creative Loafing is celebrating Tampa Bay’s finest for 2017 Best of the Bay — its annual local list of the “tastiest restaurants … baddest local bands … politicians who inspire and infuriate you.”

(OK, maybe it does have something to do with the two Ricks, if only indirectly.)

While there are several very worthy nominees — including many, many close friends and colleagues — one individual is most deserving in her category: Margaret Juul, for Best Local Visual Artist.

Yes, I am asking for your vote. And yes, you can call this a “shameless plug.”

Before dismissing it out of hand, however, please hear me out as to why Margaret is so worthy.

For as long as I have known Margaret, she has been a working artist — operative word “working” — as she has been for decades before that; as a painter, textile and interior designer years before St. Pete’s newfound recognition as a trendy “arts” destination and began attracting artists and performers of all types (which is a very, very good thing). Over her career, she has operated galleries and studios on St. Pete’s fashionable Beach Drive (across from the MFA) as well as in the newly revived Warehouse Arts District.

Just as St. Pete took years to become an “overnight success” in arts, Margaret’s achievements have also been a long time in the making, during which she established her well-earned reputation and talent.

Long before our beautiful city began featuring murals on what is seemingly every available flat surface, Margaret developed her unique vision with oil, acrylic and canvas, as has been her passion.

And — like many of our greatest artists — she fostered a skill over years, beginning in Chicago’s Columbia art college before relocating to St. Pete in the 1990s, where she has since been tireless in transforming her experiences into something spectacular.

If that alone doesn’t warrant being counted among the “Best of the Bay,” I do not know what does.

As for Margaret’s most recent works (viewable at margaretjuul.com), I contend that they fit perfectly into what we are working to achieve as an arts community — a distinct and unique creative voice to the rest of the world.

Her specialty, abstract representations of coastal and other bodies of water, comes alive in subtle shades of blues and greens, offering a sense of motion of an ocean flow — which is one of the defining themes of St. Pete, the Tampa Bay region, and Florida in general.

Indeed, few can deny that water, rivers, lakes and the ocean play a key role in our region’s identity. It is known as Tampa “Bay” area, after all.

Don’t just take it from me; over the years, individuals and groups have also recognized her special ability to bring two-dimensional images of water alive; in addition to collectors worldwide, Margaret’s works are featured in the new UF Health Jacksonville hospital, Orlando’s Grand Bohemian Hotel, by the conservation group Tampa Bay Watch, and her charity work has helped organizations such as Equality Florida, Innisbrook Educational Fund, the local chapter of the ASPCA and the Children’s AIDS Foundation in Tampa.

The aim of “Best of the Bay” is to highlight the people, places and things that make our region truly special; with visual artists, few embody that idea more than Margaret Juul.

And for that, she deserves your support and your vote. Best of the Bay polling will be open through August 23.

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Charlie Crist to travel to Israel as part of congressional delegation

Rep. Charlie Crist is headed to Israel.

Crist is part of a congressional delegation traveling to Israel from Aug. 1 through Aug. 9, his office said Friday. Crist and other members of the House are expected to get a firsthand look at the regional challenges and learn more about the nation’s strategic relationship with Israel during the trip.

The weeklong trip is sponsored by the American Israel Education Foundation, a charitable organization affiliated with AIPAC. The foundation, according to Crist’s office, works to inform the public about Israel, the importance of the U.S.-Israel relationship, and other issues impacting the Middle East.

Crist, a St. Petersburg Democrat, and other House members are expected to have a schedule filled with meetings with key Israeli and Palestinian leaders, including government officials, Knesset members, military leaders, defense experts, journalists and entrepreneurs.

The delegation is also expected to visit several key strategic sites, including defense and technology projects; the Gaza, Syrian, and Lebanon borders; the Golan Heights; Jewish, Christian and Islamic Holy sites; and the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial and Museum.

Yvonne Fry gets early endorsements from Plant City Commission

One day into her candidacy for Florida House District 58, Yvonne Fry received the endorsement of all five current Plant City Commissioners, including Mayor Rick Lott as well as another former member.

The longtime Hillsborough County activist is entering the race to succeed soon-to-retire state Rep. Dan Raulerson.

“I am proud to endorse Yvonne Fry as our next State Representative,” Lott said in a statement. “Yvonne is the personification of what Plant City is all about. Her involvement and leadership in causes and projects benefiting Plant City are extensive. The people of Plant City will be well-served in Tallahassee by Yvonne, and I urge them to join me in supporting her.”

Official endorsers from Fry’s hometown include Lott, Vice Mayor William Dodson; Commissioners Nate Kilton, Mary Mathis, Mike Sparkman and former Commissioner Billy Keel.

“Mayor Lott is a good friend and a terrific leader for Plant City,” Fry responded. “I am thrilled to have his support as well as that of the other esteemed members of our Plant City Commission. I thoroughly enjoy working with all of them on a daily basis to make our city better, and I look forward to continuing to work with them as State Representative.”

 A native Floridian, Fry grew up a farmer’s daughter in Plant City who emerged as one of Hillsborough County’s leading activists for women in leadership positions, as former chair of both the Hillsborough Commission on the Status of Women and the Florida Commission on the Status of Women.

“I’m ready to get started,” Fry told FloridaPolitics.com Wednesday. “I’m ready to give back to the community that’s given so much to me and my family.”

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