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#16 on list of Tampa Bay’s Most Powerful Politicians — Charlie Crist

It’s not often a freshman officeholder whose party is in the minority makes a most-powerful list. Although, politicians like U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist aren’t exactly common, either.

The former Florida governor already had star power to spare when he narrowly defeated Republican incumbent David Jolly in the 2016 race for Florida’s 13th Congressional District seat, which covers most of Pinellas County, save for its northernmost reaches.

The Republican-turned-NPA-turned-Democrat has had a busy year. He was a vocal critic of the GOP tax cut as well as his former party’s attempts to chip away at the Affordable Care Act — his criticisms got the attention of the National Republican Congressional Committee more than once.

Crist, 61, was a highly visible backer of St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman in his uphill battle for re-election.

Whenever his constituents rally for stronger gun laws or a ban on offshore drilling, if he can be there, he will be. Crist is always at home speaking in front of a friendly crowd. That his presence behind the podium usually draws TV news cameras can’t be a bad thing for a cause, either.

He’s also got a knack for constituent service. Take freeFall Theatre in west St. Petersburg. After Hurricane Irma caused extensive damage to the roof of the performance space, Crist helped the theater company land a large Small Business Association loan to cover its repairs.

Although the tendency to try jump to higher office when it’s opportune has earned him criticism more than once, Crist doesn’t appear to be going anywhere soon. Rumors about a possible run for governor were DOA. last year. He started fundraising for re-election as soon as he took office, and with help from the likes of Nancy Pelosi, who recently headlined a fundraiser for him, Crist’s war chest now exceeds $2 million. And despite the two unknown Republicans currently duking it out in a primary for a chance to challenge Crist, CD 13 will more than likely stay blue.

Crist’s ranking fell somewhat this year; he was No. 13 on this list in 2017. That’s understandable, given the limitations of being a first-termer and a member of the underdog party.

Joe Henderson‘s take: “He has a sweet gig, but how until he gets bored with being only one of 435 members of the U.S. House?”

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

Aakash Patel

Kiran Patel endorses Aakash Patel for Hillsborough commission

Republican Aakash Patel picked up an endorsement from respected Tampa cardiologist and philanthropist Kiran Patel (no relation) for his bid to replace retiring Hillsborough County Commissioner Al Higginbotham in the fall.

“It is my pleasure to endorse Aakash in his quest for Hillsborough County Commission. I am a firm believer that the next generation of Indian Americans should make even greater efforts to positively impact our communities and our nation, and Aakash has worked diligently to accomplish much and will do more as he continues his public service,” Kiran Patel said.

“I have seen his successes as he has grown his business and his efforts to make early childhood education accessible to more families in Hillsborough County. I look forward to celebrating Aakash’s success and his future accomplishments.”

The two Patels have known each other for more than 20 years, working together when Dr. Patel lead the International Indian Film Festival events in Tampa and Aakash served on the Host Committee. Both have also been actively involved in the Indo-US Chamber of Commerce.

“I am extremely honored to have the support of Dr. Patel. He has consistently been a role model for me as he demonstrates his compassion by giving back to our community. I sincerely appreciate him for his support as I move forward toward serving on the Hillsborough County Commission,” Aakash Patel said.

Aakash Patel runs a business consulting firm and has also been appointed chair of the Early Learning Coalition of Hillsborough County and to the Florida Early Learning Advisory Council by Gov. Rick Scott.

Before this week’s endorsement, Patel’s Hillsborough Commission campaign has earned the backing of Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, Northwest Florida U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, former House Speaker Will Weatherford, Zephyrhills Rep. Danny Burgess and Sarasota Rep. Joe Gruters, among others.

Patel originally filed to succeed Sandra Murman in the District 1 seat on the Hillsborough County Commission, but her recent decision to serve out the remainder of her term led him to switch his campaign over to the countywide District 7 race.

He had raised more than $450,000 for his campaign before making the jump, setting him up as the fundraising leader in the eight-person field.

Hillsborough elections supervisor played favorites with Susan Valdes

There’s something fishy going on at Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections office, says one Democratic consultant.

As previously reported, Susan Valdes is eyeing a run for the Florida House, for the seat being vacated by Janet Cruz. In preparation for a bid for House District 62, Valdes resigned her seat on the Hillsborough County School Board just before the deadline.

At least that’s what the Supervisor of Elections office says.

“Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer received a resignation letter on Friday, June 8, at 7:30 p.m. from Susan Valdes, who currently serves as District 1 School Board Member,” the office said in a Monday release, which also served to announce the District 1 School Board seat would be on the 2018 ballot.

That press release came after the supervisor’s office told Tampa Bay Times reporter William March that Valdes had not resigned by the deadline. Tom Alte, a consultant working with the Michael Alvarez campaign, got the same answer at first — with the added detail that the resignation letter was rejected — before he found out supervisor’s office was taking the “unprecedented” step of reconsidering that decision.

“This is something that wouldn’t be done for any other candidate,” Alte said. “It very clearly violates the statute.”

Since Monday’s decision, Alte has tried to figure out what exactly happened behind the scenes that made the supervisor’s office to reverse course and accept the resignation letter, but says he’s being stonewalled.

He said a public records request for emails to and from Valdes’ official School Board email address over the past week was almost immediately denied for being “too broad.” An amended request for emails only relating to her resignation letter has not gotten a response.

Grayson Kamm, a communications and media officer for Hillsborough County Public Schools, refutes those claims. In a statement to Florida Politics, he said Alte’s records request was never denied, nor are any public records requests.

“We recognized his request for ‘all communications regarding Susan Valdes from May 1st to today’ would a) take a considerable amount of time to gather, and b) potentially contain student information, which, by law, would need to be reviewed and redacted and may incur costs for the amount of staff time required for that review,” Kamm said.

“Because of those two reasons, we called Mr. Alte to see if we could help more closely figure out what he was looking for and potentially get him the records he was looking for more quickly.

“In the phone conversation, he gave a more detailed description of what he was seeking; we processed that request and have provided it to him — it is certainly not the case where that request ‘has not gotten a response.’

“Our public records process and our staff members follow the law and serve the public,” Kamm said.

What Alte did receive is a timestamped email confirming the resignation letter came in at 7:30 p.m., well after the 5 p.m. closing time at the supervisor’s office. He also received confirmation from Mary Helen Farris, general counsel at Hillsborough County Attorney’s Office, that the Friday email was the first time the office received any paperwork relating to Valdes’ resignation.

Ironically, Alte was also told that supervisor’s office staff were slow to respond because they were getting a refresher course on how to do their jobs without political bias.

If the supervisor’s office has decided to stay open later, as it did Friday, maybe Latimer could let the rest of the county know rather than cater to a constituency of one. Otherwise, it seems another few rounds of training are in order.

Todd Marks

Todd Marks moves Hillsborough Commission campaign to countywide District 7

Tampa attorney Todd Marks announced Tuesday that he’s entering the race for the District 7 seat on the Hillsborough County Commission, to replace retiring Commissioner Al Higginbotham.

“I look forward to sharing my vision of a leaner county government that keeps taxes low and stays out-of-the-way of small business and land owners and holds the bureaucrats accountable,” Marks said. “I am the only consistent conservative candidate with the background and experience required to make tough decisions when it comes to growth, transportation and public safety.”

Marks, who runs Westchase Law and Westchase Title, was previously a candidate for the District 1 seat currently held by Commissioner Sandy Murman. Murman had planned to run for countywide District 7 seat this year but opted to serve out the remainder of her term in District 1.

Included in Marks’ announcement were endorsements from several Republican elected officials in the Tampa area, including Murman, state Sen. Dana Young and state Reps. Jackie Toledo and Lawrence McClure. Also among the 17 endorsements announced Tuesday were former Jeb Bush and Dick Cheney Chief of Staff Kathleen Shanahan and former Tampa Chamber President Mike Griffin.

“I have known Todd Marks for many years and am excited that he has chosen to run for the Hillsborough County Commission, District 7 seat. As a successful businessman, he will add an important voice for economic development and pro-business policies to our County Commission. In addition, Todd Marks shares my commitment to the environment. We can always count on Todd to protect our water, our children and our quality of life. I ask all Republicans to join me in supporting Todd Marks,” Young said.

Marks joins seven other candidates in the District 7 race including fellow Republican Aakash Patel, who was his chief primary rival when both were candidates for the District 1 seat.

Of the other six candidates in the race, only Democrat Kimberly Overman has posted any substantial fundraising numbers. She has raised nearly $35,000 and has about $13,000 in the bank.

When Patel and Marks bring over the funds from the scrubbed District 1 campaign they are set to take the No. 1 and No. 2 spots in fundraising, respectively. Patel had raised $450,000 as of May 31, while Marks had raised nearly $85,000.

#17 on list of Tampa Bay’s Most Powerful Politicians — Dana Young

Ranking for Tampa’s Republican state Senator on this list somewhat hinges on a key decision: whether or not Dana Young plans on running for Senate President for 2022-24.

Citing time constraints stemming from more immediate commitments (i.e., the 2018 Legislative Session), she dropped that bid earlier this year.

Young did, however, manage to get a good number of bills heard in 2018, including, perhaps surprisingly for a Republican, a fracking ban. Though it died in committee, as did another bill she sponsored that would have dedicated money for innovative transit projects in Tampa Bay, Young’s backing of such bills helped solidify her reputation as a lawmaker who’s unafraid to reach across the aisle. Her bill holding telemarketers accountable for ignoring do-not-call lists unanimously passed the House and Senate. So did her bill requiring doctors and midwives to report all “adverse” incidents relating to out-of-hospital births to the state. That bill passed unanimously in both chambers.

“Dana Young is hands down one of the most effective and hardest working members of the legislature,” said Southern Strategy Group’s Sydney Ridley. “She is a master at building coalitions and getting things done for her community.”

On the flip side, she co-introduced a controversial bill that brought USF’s St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee campus under control of the USF system’s main campus in Tampa, a piece of legislation that left the Democratic wing of Tampa Bay’s Legislative Delegation more than a little peeved.

Young won her seat over her opponent, Democrat Bob Buesing, by about seven points in 2016 after serving three terms in the House. At the time, Senate District 18 was a freshly drawn swing district. She won it rather easily then, in part because Joe Redner took about 9 percent of the vote in his nonparty bid for the seat. Young could have a tough time this year, given the possible blue wave and a formidable challenge in House Minority Leader Janet Cruz-Rifkin, who has shown some fundraising prowess (Buesing had initially challenged Young for a second time, but dropped his bid when Cruz jumped in). A boon for Young, though, is that she’s a particularly astute fundraiser. Young’s campaign has taken in nearly $426,000 as of late May. Her PAC, Friends of Dana Young, has meanwhile amassed a total north of $2.3 million.

Jack Latvala’s unexpected departure from the Senate due to allegations of sexual misconduct left a huge representation void for Tampa Bay in the state Legislature. Young might not have managed to completely fill it — Latvala was appropriations chair, after all. But Young in many ways embodies the largely moderate spirit of Tampa Bay politics. The big question is whether the war chest she’s amassed will be enough to convince voters, come November, that she’s a far cry from Donald Trump.

“Her strong position on protecting our environment shows true strength and dedication to important Florida issues others often overlook,” says Tampa businessman Akash Patel, a Republican candidate for Hillsborough County Commission District 7.

She came in No. 12 in 2017.

Joe Henderson‘s take: “Facing her toughest election fight yet, but she has lots of money and endorsements.”

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

#18 on list of Tampa Bay’s Most Powerful Politicians — Bob Gualtieri

As sheriff of the most densely populated county in the state, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri’s role goes well beyond overseeing the department’s day-to-day. He’s often caught in the middle when hot-button national issues and law enforcement collide — and that’s a responsibility he appears to embrace.

Gualtieri first took office in 2011. He successfully fended off a tough re-election challenge from former Sheriff Everett Rice the following year and easily won another term four years later.

Though he’s sheriff in a county with an incredibly diverse constituency, he’s never shied away from his espousal of Republican politics. He’s often a presence at campaign rallies for Republican candidates.

A top cop being a card-carrying member of the GOP certainly doesn’t make Gualtieri unique.

What does make him stand out is his willingness to have a dialogue with those who don’t agree with him.

Take immigration.

Earlier this year, Gualtieri took a ton of flak for spearheading a controversial agreement between 17 Florida county sheriffs and Immigration and Customs Enforcement that critics. It stipulated that the 17 agencies would hold undocumented immigrants arrested and released on unrelated charges for 48 hours to give ICE a chance to pick them up and, likely, deport them.

He could have ignored the people who disagree with him, but he chose dialogue. In April, he participated in a debate with members of the Florida Immigration Coalition at Allendale Methodist Church, a hub of progressive activity in St. Petersburg. It’s highly doubtful any minds were changed, but in an ultra-polarized political climate like this one, to even participate in a conversation with ideological opposites is brave.

He also wasn’t afraid to take part in the complex policy debate that took shape in the wake of the Parkland massacre.

In March, Gualtieri was tapped to lead a commission that included state Sen. Lauren Book, a South Florida Democrat, and two fathers of murdered Parkland students on the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, which aims to examine the shooting and what could have been done differently to save lives.

He’s also been a large part of the local conversation about how to fund the upcoming batch of armed school resource officers the state now mandates. That, of course, requires a dialogue with the majority-Democrat Pinellas County Commission, an entity with which he enjoys a positive relationship despite political differences.

“Mutually respected by both Republicans and Democrats statewide, Sheriff Gualtieri has one of the best relationships in history with his County Commission and has also been a powerful policy advocate in Tallahassee,” Southern Strategy Group’s Laura Boehmer said.

Given his passion, media presence and talent, one might be inclined to wonder whether he has any sights on a run for the legislature, Congress or something else in 2020. Stay tuned.

Gualtieri was No. 14 on last year’s list.

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

#19 on list of Tampa Bay’s Most Powerful Politicians — Janet Long

Since taking office after her 2012 election, Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long has been a potent force at the dais.

She’s never been afraid to speak her mind or temper her criticisms when she thinks someone is full of B.S. That said, she’s also been a key proponent of collaboration among all of Tampa Bay’s local governments in the spirit of regionalism.

“Commissioner Long has an unparalleled passion for regional solutions and isn’t afraid to fight for what she believes in. She also has the unique ability to build coalitions to get things done,” Southern Strategy Group’s Laura Boehmer said.

Though a staunch Democrat, she’s not afraid to reach across the aisle in ways that might at times vex her party. Ahead of the 2016 election, she gave $100 to state Rep. Chris Latvala, a Largo Republican (also on this list) who was facing a challenge from Democrat David Vogel. She said she contributed to Latvala because he had supported her efforts to rethink transit as a regional issue by consolidating multiple local transit agencies into one.

“Do I agree with everything he does? No, I do not,” she said at the time.

Long, 73, took office after defeating then-Commissioner Neil Brickfield, one of the Republicans who notoriously voted in favor of removing fluoride from the county’s water supply. Before that, she served in the Florida House from 2006 to 2012.

Long came in at No. 15 last year. A likely reason for her sliding down several notches? She was Pinellas County Commission chair in 2017.

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

Ashey Moody

Grady Judd gives thumbs up to Ashley Moody for AG

Polk County Sheriff  Grady Judd is endorsing former Circuit Judge Ashley Moody for Attorney General.

Judd made the announcement at an early Tuesday morning news conference in Bartow.

Moody campaign says now there are 40 Florida sheriffs have now endorsed her for the office.

“For more than forty-five years, Grady Judd has served the citizens of Polk County and sought to keep them safe,” Moody said in a statement. “As Sheriff, he has implemented innovative approaches and programs to deal with evolving threats from human trafficking to the opioid epidemic. I am honored to add his support and his voice to my campaign.”

On Monday, Judd also endorsed Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam (also a Polk County native) in his gubernatorial campaign, and the Sheriff was prominently featured in a new 30-second Putnam ad on immigration. The ad was produced by Putnam’s political committee, Florida Grown.

Moody, who once served the 13th Judicial Circuit Court, is running for the Republican nomination for Attorney General against state Reps. Frank White and Jay Fant.

Also in the race are Democrats Ryan Torrens and state Rep. Sean Shaw of Tampa.

#20 on list of Tampa Bay’s Most Powerful Politicians — Vern Buchanan

First elected in 2006, Republican U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan of Longboat Key) has a name that’s recognizable to Floridians well outside his Sarasota County Florida’s 16th Congressional District.

His auto dealership empire and tenure as chair of the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce and the Florida Chamber of Commerce preceded his political career. A prolific philanthropist, he lists the Boys and Girls Club, Mote Marine Laboratory and Ringling Museum of Art among the entities to which he’s donated.

As the only member of Florida’s Congressional Delegation to serve on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee and chairman of the Tax Policy Subcommittee, Buchanan has been on the front lines of tax policy reform. He touts his having played a role in the controversial tax overhaul Congress passed in December 2017 as a major accomplishment. It was certainly music to the ears of Sarasota Republicans, many of whom (likely) held their noses as they voted for Donald Trump in the hope that their tax bills would shrink.

“The only Florida member on the Ways & Means Committee, Buchanan’s dedication to reform of tax policy and support of international trade are vital to our economy,” says Tampa businessman Akash Patel, a Republican candidate for Hillsborough County Commission District 7.

Although Buchanan is passionate about his fiscal conservatism, he’s also no fan of going against policies objectively popular to Floridians. His willingness to reach across the aisle on key matters has earned him praise from political observers.

Like most of Florida’s Congressional Delegation, he’s been vocally in favor of extending a moratorium on offshore drilling in federal waters off Florida’s coast.

When it faced potential expiration last year, Buchanan said he would back renewal for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). He reiterated his support of the program in May, when the Trump administration announced plans to cut the popular program.

His mixed record on guns has made him a target of gun safety advocates ahead of the 2018 midterms, including an organization helmed by Gabrielle Giffords. A beneficiary of NRA donations, he has backed multiple laws expanding gun rights, including concealed carry reciprocity. On the other hand, he supported regulating bump stocks in the wake of the Las Vegas shooting in October 2017.

In any other year, re-election would be a breeze for the well-liked incumbent. His son James Buchanan’s loss to Democrat Margaret Good in the race for the open Florida House District 72 seat earlier this year may have served as an omen that having an R behind one’s name — and name recognition itself — may not do the trick.

He faces Democrat David Shapiro, assuming Shapiro wins the Democratic primary against Jan Schneider, in November.

Buchanan did not make the 2017 list.

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

Ed Hooper edges out Amanda Murphy in May fundraising

Clearwater Republican Ed Hooper narrowly outraised New Port Richey Democrat Amanda Murphy in her first month running for Senate District 16.

Hooper raised $43,575 in hard money and tacked on another $24,590 through his committee, Friends of Ed Hooper, for a total of $68,165 raised in May.

After about $12,000 in spending, Hooper’s accounts ended the month with a combined $412,760 in the bank.

As previously reported, Murphy brought in $50,000 last month through a political committee established during her time in the Florida House. She has since reported $11,240 in campaign fundraising and another $5,000 raised through a newly formed political committee, Working Towards Florida’s Future.

Those three reports combined show $66,240 raised in May. None of the accounts reported any spending, so that entire balance was in the bank on June 1.

Both candidates showed several recognizable donors on their reports, including some substantial contributions from current lawmakers.

The Friends of Ed Hooper ledger showed a $10,000 check from a committee tied to Wauchula Republican Rep. Ben Albritton, who is running for SD 26 in the fall. Anheuser-Busch distributor Great Bay Distributors chipped in $5,000, followed by a $2,000 check from red-light camera company American Traffic Solutions.

Hooper’s campaign account received 30 checks for $1,000, the maximum donation for a state legislative race. Disney and its subsidiaries were the sources of four, while Florida East Coast Industries and Great Bay Distributors each gave twice via the main company and an affiliated group. The Sembler family showed up with three checks, one apiece from Brent Sembler, Debbie Sembler and Mel Sembler.

The report for Murphy’s new committee only showed one contribution, a $5,000 check from auto dealer and philanthropist Frank Morsani. He also showed up on the campaign report with a $1,000 contribution, as did political committees tied to newly elected Sen. Lori Berman, Plantation Sen. Lauren Book, Miami Gardens Sen. Oscar Braynon and Ft. Lauderdale Sen. Gary Farmer.

Further down the list was a $250 check from Tampa Democrat Bob Buesing, the 2016 Democratic nominee in neighboring Senate District 18. He recently ended his 2018 bid in that battleground district to clear the way for House Minority Leader Janet Cruz in the primary.

Hooper, who was a member of the Florida House from 2006 through 2014, faces Palm Harbor restaurateur Leo Karruli in the primary. Karruli filed for the seat in February and had pulled in about $18,000 in campaign funds through May 31, including $14,025 in candidate loans. He has $2,660 in the bank.

Murphy, who served in the House from 2013 through 2016, doesn’t have a primary challenger.

SD 16 covers northern Pinellas and southwestern Pasco counties. The seat has a Republican edge — it voted plus-12 for Trump in 2016 — but Florida Democrats are hoping Murphy, who has a history of outperforming expectations in red-leaning seats, can turn it into a “swing seat.”

A recent poll of the November contest backs that up. It found Murphy with a slim lead over Hooper, partly due to nearly a fifth of Republicans saying they would cast a vote for her.

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