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Decision time in contentious House District 58 GOP primary

In eastern Hillsborough County, one of the more contentious Republican primaries in quite some time will soon be over.

Tuesday night, a winner will emerge from the hard-fought House District 58 battle between Yvonne Fry and Lawrence McClure.

HD 58 opened up in August after Plant City Republican Dan Raulerson stepped down for health reasons.

Final financial reports in the race, filed Friday night, show McClure,  a 30-year-old Dover businessman, out-fundraising Fry, with more than $23,000 cash on hand for the campaign’s final days. That includes an additional $11,000 raised by Fry’s separate political committee.

McClure’s last report includes several $1,000 contributions from various established lobbying groups based in Tallahassee, including Southern Strategy Group, Florida Beer Wholesaler Association, and the Florida Cow Political Action Committee.

The Tampa Bay Times also noted several contributions made to McClure’s campaign from allies of House Speaker Richard Corcoran. When asked, McClure said he was unaware of that, but then pivoted, saying that as the most conservative candidate in the race, it only follows he’d receive conservative backing.

An automated phone poll on election eve of 358 registered voters in the district gives McClure an 18-point lead, 54 to 36 percent.

McClure has been running hard as the purest conservative in the race, with some mailers from third-party groups going as far as to label Fry a “liberal” – something clearly intended to be a black mark in a staunch GOP primary.

Flyers contained pointed commentary, accusing Fry of once being supportive of light rail, a bugaboo with Tea Party types (although Fry counters that she’s now against that form of transit, she was once quoted as speaking up for the 2016 Go Hillsborough transportation plan, which included a light rail component).

Among the third-party groups behind mailers attacking Fry include Save Southern Heritage and Hillsborough County Conservatism Counts.

There have even been mailers attacking campaign strategists. One attacked Anthony Pedicini, McClure’s campaign strategist, mailed Thursday by a group called The Florida Leadership Fund. The group’s treasurer later told Florida Politics that he had nothing to do with the mailer.

Fry is the more politically connected of the two, working several years as a civic activist involved in Plant City public affairs. Her information technology consulting company, Lines of Communication, performed work orders for the Hillsborough County State Attorney’s Office (led by her paramour, Mark Ober) as well as other government agencies in Hillsborough County and across the state.

“We are excited about tomorrow,” says Fry. “We have been working hard, talking to voters and spreading our conservative message.  I am looking forward to having the opportunity to represent District 58.”

McClure did not immediatley return a call for comment.

The winner of Tuesday night’s GOP primary advances to the general election for HD 58 Dec. 19. They will face Democrat Jose Vazquez, Libertarian Bryan Zemina and non-party-affiliated candidate Ahmad Saadaldin.

The polls will be open Tuesday 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Supervisor of  Elections Craig Latimer announced two last-minute polling place changes Tuesday:

Precinct 753 voters (originally assigned to vote at Plant City Recreation and Parks due to a storm-related closure of the polling place at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center) will instead be voting at the Bruton Memorial Library (302 McClendon St. in Plant City).

Precinct 763 voters, assigned to Hope Lutheran Church, will instead be voting at Faith Temple Assembly of God (4240 N Frontage Road).

The elections office learned Monday of extremely long lines for Food for Florida benefits at the Plant City Stadium that will make sights on Park Road inaccessible for voting. Approximately 800 eligible voters will be affected by these changes.

Rick Kriseman, Kerry Kriseman, GOTV Oct. 9, 2017

Rick Kriseman pounds the pavement as ballots hit the streets

Mail ballots have started to hit the streets in St. Pete cend incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman has started to pound the pavement again ahead of the second round of his re-election battle against former two-term Mayor Rick Baker.

Kriseman and his wife, Kerry, joined their corps of volunteers and staffers kicking off their get-out-the-vote efforts ahead of the Nov. 7 election.

Kriseman and co. knocked on doors across the city and talked one-on-one with voters to plead their case for another four years. The mayor also pitched in at the phone bank to give voters a heads up that the first mail ballots are on the way.

“We’ve come a long way in 4 years. Crime is down, big projects are moving forward, and our city is preparing for climate change,” Kriseman said in a Monday press release. “This November’s election is going to come down to conversations between neighbors in their front yards and living rooms. August turnout was record high, and we’re here to earn every vote to keep St. Pete moving forward.”

Despite polls showing him behind by as much as 7 points three days before the election, Kriseman edged out Baker by a hair in the August primary, which saw the field whittled from six candidates down to two. The slim win wasn’t lost on Kriseman, whose campaign acknowledged it was indeed a “come-from-behind” victory.

That doesn’t mean they see it as a meaningless win, either.

Even though both candidates had to turn around and fund raise their hearts out to reload for the what’s become the most expensive mayoral election in city history, the mayor’s campaign said Monday that the primary win brought forth “a surge in grassroots enthusiasm with volunteers from all over the bay area committing their time and energy to re-electing Mayor Kriseman.”

While the St. Petersburg mayor position is officially non-partisan, Kriseman was a Democrat in the Florida House before becoming mayor. He has picked up endorsements from top elected Dems, including U.S. Senator Bill Nelson and Congressman Charlie Crist.

The Florida Democratic Party has also been in his corner and treated the city election as a bellwether for 2018, while multiple left-leaning groups such as the Sierra Club have also flocked to his side.

One of the deciders in the August election was undoubtedly the 11th hour endorsement he received from former President Barack Obama.

Kriseman is historically an underachiever with black voters, who make up 15 percent of the city’s electorate. Baker, on the other hand, is one of the rare Republicans who excells at making inroads with the community. The Obama nod put a thumb on the scales, though, and may have been what shunted Baker’s chances of winning it all in the primary.

The Kriseman camp also pointed out Monday that the mayor bested every pre-primary poll in his 69-vote August win, and he may have to do it again in the general election. A St. Pete Polls survey released last week showed Baker with a 1-point advantage over Kriseman, 46-45 with about 9 percent undecided.

All St. Petersburg voters will get a chance to pick one of the Ricks on Election Day, set for Nov. 7, but voters in City Council District 2 and District 6 will also pick the replacements for Jim Kennedy and Karl Nurse, respectively, while District 4 voters will decide whether to give Darden Rice another term.

Election eve poll gives Lawrence McClure wide lead in HD 58 special election

A barrage of nasty direct mail campaigns in the HD 58 special election may have snookered Yvonne Fry’s chances in the Tuesday Republican Primary, according to a new survey from St. Pete Polls.

An automated phone poll conducted over the weekend surveyed 358 registered HD 58 voters and found the Plant City native trailed Republican businessman Lawrence McClure 54-36 percent, with another 10 percent saying they were unsure which candidate they would choose at the ballot box.

McClure polled 20 points better than Fry among whites, and did similarly well among both men and women. He also dominated among voters over 30 – voters aged 50 to 69 picked McClure over Fry by 32 points, with only 7 percent saying they were unsure.

Fry’s only wins came among the 18-29 crowd, 50-33, and among Hispanics, who preferred her 2-to-1 over McClure.

About 44 percent of those polled also said they had already voted in the special primary,

The prime timers have turned out for the election, too, with more than 55 percent of the 70-and-up crowd having already cast their ballot.

There’s still a day left before the door shuts on the primary, but even Fry’s wins don’t paint a pretty picture in a district where 64 percent of the electorate are non-Hispanic whites, and the median age is hovering around the late-30s.

Fry was the first-in candidate for the special election, which Gov. Rick Scott scheduled after former Rep. Dan Raulerson announced he would leave office due to health issues.

She amassed plenty of support from all levels of GOP leadership, too. In addition to Raulerson coming out in support of her once he became a “private citizen,” she won over all five current Plant City Commissioners as well as neighboring Rep. Ross Spano, Attorney General Pam Bondi and a host of others.

McClure picked up his support, and cash, from allies of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who found himself at odds with Raulerson more often than not.

With those deep pockets backing him, he has led in fundraising through most of the campaign. And his major foible – having never cast a ballot in a primary election until last year– was outshined by the rash of mailers branding Fry as a liberal in cahoots with “Obama, Clinton and Pelosi” when it came to 2nd Amendment rights.

The winner of the McClure-Fry battle is the odds-on favorite for the seat, but still must face Democrat Jose Vazquez, Libertarian Bryan Zemina and non-party-affiliated Ahmad Saadaldin in a Dec. 19 general election.

Justin Bean says opponent Gina Driscoll should stick to the issues

Justin Bean is finished talking about his past.

Less than one day after opponent Gina Driscoll called on the 30-year-old businessman to apologize to St. Petersburg voters and release his full criminal record, the St. Pete City Council District 6 candidate blasted her for focusing excessively on his background and not the issues facing the city.

“I want to issue a brief statement in response to my opponent’s continued false attacks,” Bean said Monday. “I have been open about my background and it has been covered, extensively, by numerous media outlets. I will no longer be devoting any time on the campaign trail to this issue.”

Bean then pointed out that Driscoll “sought and failed” to receive endorsements from the Tampa Bay Times, the Pinellas Realtors Organization, and the Suncoast Police Benevolent Association.

“She has only secured the endorsements of partisan organizations and elected officials with partisan political motives,” he added.

In an interview with the Tampa Bay Times after launching his campaign this spring, Bean admitted he had been arrested on a DUI charge.

What he did not acknowledge at the time was his involvement in a 2010 charge of resisting arrest.

Bean and Driscoll are in an intense race to succeed term-limited Karl Nurse. Bean received the most votes in the eight-person primary. His finish was aided, in part, by the Times’ recommendation.

Driscoll narrowly edged Robert Blackmon to finish second, advancing to the Nov. 7 runoff.

“Would Bean have advanced if voters knew he’d hidden his resisting arrest charge?” Driscoll asked in a story reported Sunday by Florida Politics. “Why hasn’t Bean apologized to the voters he wants to represent?”

Apparently, that apology is not going to happen.

“I have, and will continue to be focused on the issues that affect the residents of St. Pete,” Bean said. “Instead of mudslinging, perhaps my opponent and her team would be better served forming a plan to revitalize Midtown.

“Instead of talking about me, she should share her ideas for addressing our affordable housing crisis,” he added. “Instead of sending news releases, maybe she should visit with some residents who are out of work and let them know she has no plan for economic development.”

The Driscoll campaign says Bean is failing to take responsibility for his actions.

“So now Justin thinks that calls for honesty and transparency are partisan and negative? Even worse, his reaction is to insult four City Council members? I think that says a lot about how he would behave on Council,” said Megan Salisbury, Driscoll’s campaign manager. “Once again, Justin Bean refuses to take responsibility for his actions. Between conflicting stories from Justin and his campaign, excuses that insult the voters’ intelligence, and even claiming he forgot about being charged with resisting arrest – no amount of spin is going to earn back the voters trust.

“It’s time for Justin to apologize for his deception and own up to his mistakes,” Salisbury continued.

The Councilmembers Salisbury referred to are Nurse, Darden Rice, Charlie Gerdes and Lisa Wheeler-Bowman, all had endorsed Driscoll.

Both candidates will next face off Tuesday night at 7 p.m. for a candidate’s forum hosted by the Disston Heights Civic Association.

(Photo credit: Kim DeFalco).

Joe Henderson: Yvonne Fry in tough HD 58 fight

In a different reality, Yvonne Fry would enter Tuesday’s special HD 58 election without concern.

Her neighbors in Plant City know her as smart, personable, connected and dedicated. She is one of them, having been born and raised there. In addition to being well-liked and respected, she is a successful businesswoman and making her first run for public office.

She has the support of former state Rep. Dan Raulerson, who resigned for health reasons in August. Raulerson was easily elected twice in the district Fry now wants to represent.

Her opponent, Lawrence McClure, was embarrassed when Mitch Perry reported voting records show he has never cast a ballot in a non-presidential primary — and yet he is asking for support in the same type of race in which he has never voted.

Slam dunk, right?

Not exactly. And the support she has received from Raulerson could be one reason why.

Connect the dots.

William March of the Tampa Bay Times reported Monday that campaign finance records show House leaders close to Speaker Richard Corcoran are donating heavily to McClure’s campaign. That has helped give McClure $135,485 for his campaign compared to $112,790 for Fry.

Raulerson was increasingly at odds with Corcoran before leaving the House. One interesting tidbit is that Raulerson received an “A” grade and a 100 percent score in a legislative report card by the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

Corcoran scored a “C” in the same survey, with the notation that the “grade was decreased because Speaker Corcoran presided over a regular Session that saw Legislature unable to finish on time, operate in the sunshine or meaningfully address certain important business issues.”

Corcoran also bucked the Chamber position on economic and marketing efforts, which could explain why political committees tied to that group have poured $785,000 this year into Adam Putnam’s campaign for governor.

Corcoran, of course, is contemplating a run for governor as well. He has also been known to administer a little payback for anyone who steps out of line with his agenda, and Raulerson certainly did that.

Raulerson also has been highly critical of the process which gives the House Speaker vast power during the Legislative Session.

“I wouldn’t discount that entirely,” he told me. “I don’t think it’s the only reason for the support though. I think the overriding reason is that (Corcoran) wants control of everything. The fact I didn’t always go along with leadership and went rogue possibly contributed to this.

“I voted the way I felt the way my vote needed to be. Obviously, I did not play the puppet role. What’s interesting is that (House) leadership never got involved in primaries before. I see that culture has changed.”

Fry has been the target of a slew of attack mailers in recent weeks that have played loose with the facts. She has been labeled a “Lie’n liberal” in some of the fliers and, in one particularly scary appeal to the Republican base, was said to have “joined the ranks of Obama, Clinton and Pelosi in declaring war on the Second Amendment” because she opposes open-carry and campus carry.

Will it work?

Maybe.

Mailers tend to target so-called super voters — those who cast ballots in every election. As of Monday morning, there were 5,050 ballots cast either by mail or early voters so far. That is likely about half of the turnout that might reasonably be expected in an off-peak race like this, and the Republican base tends to get nervous when the subject is the Second Amendment.

And while Fry will likely enjoy strong support from Plant City, that may not be enough to carry the day. Only about 35 percent of the voters in this election are expected to come from Plant City. The remainder will likely come from the Temple Terrace and USF area, where Fry isn’t as well known.

“I will say this — Yvonne is a tough cookie,” Raulerson said.

Given Corcoran’s apparent influence and interest in this race, it’s worth pondering what awaits the winner.

Would McClure become a rubber stamp for the Speaker’s agenda? Would Fry find herself relegated to insignificant committees and given little to no voice in trying to accomplish things for her district?

Good questions in a race increasingly rife with palace intrigue.

Will Weatherford endorses Ardian Zika for HD 37 seat in 2018

Former House Speaker Will Weatherford is endorsing Ardian Zika for the Pasco County-based House District 37 seat.

“I’ve known Ardian Zika for the past decade, and he is absolutely the best person to represent District 37 as our State Representative,” said Weatherford in a statement. “Ardian’s story is one of hard work and dedication. He is proof that if you have a dream and work hard, you can achieve success.”

The 37-year-old Zika was born in the former Yugoslavia and emigrated to the U.S. from Kosovo in 1997. He spent the past 14 years in the banking industry before starting up his own business advisory company, Guardian & Company I, earlier this year.

“His passion for our country and for Pasco County is evident from the moment you first meet him,” Weatherford added. “His strong financial background will help him fight for our shared values of lower taxes while growing and strengthening our economy for all us.”

“I am honored and humbled to have the endorsement of Speaker Will Weatherford,” said Zika.

Weatherford had previously contributed $1,000 to Zika’s campaign, as he and the rest of the Pasco County GOP establishment have shown that they are firmly behind his candidacy to succeed current House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who is term-limited out of his seat next year.

Florida Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson endorsed Zika last week.

Weatherford has stayed out of electoral politics since leaving the House of Representatives in 2014. He announced shortly before Christmas last year that he would not run for governor in 2018. He currently works as a managing partner of Weatherford Partners, a capital investment and strategist advisory firm that is based in Tampa.

George Agovino, Elle Rudisell and Bill Gunter have also entered the HD 37 primary.

In St. Pete Council race, Gina Driscoll calls on Justin Bean to ‘stop lying’ about criminal past

While the past may be prologue, in the race for St. Petersburg City Council, Justin Bean’s history is something he just cannot shake.

On Monday, the 30-year-old St. Petersburg entrepreneur is again facing calls to “come clean” with voters on a 2010 run-in with the law, which first came to light last month, as well as a previously disclosed 2013 misdemeanor DUI charge.

Gina Driscoll, Bean’s opponent in the District 6 race, is arguing that his initial explanation simply doesn’t add up. With that, the 46-year-old sales manager accuses Bean of lying to both voters and reporters.

Driscoll is most bothered most by the “confusing and conflicting” accounts coming from Bean and his campaign team, which she said has been working overtime to conceal the candidate’s past.

After initially vowing to stick to the issues on the campaign trail, Driscoll is now pushing for the race to be more “transparent and honest.” Also, she demands Bean apologize to voters.

While Tampa Bay Times learned in April of Bean’s arrest on a misdemeanor DUI charge, the paper found no account of the 2010 incident in three Florida Department of Law Enforcement criminal databases.

Lakeland Police Department records show officers responding to a complaint of trespassing On Oct. 8, 2010, in a parking lot of Florida Southern College. When an officer asked Bean several times to give identification, the 23-year-old future candidate refused, arguing that he was not a student.

Campus security then asked the police to order Bean to leave.

Bean was neither arrested nor booked; he did, though, receive a citation order to appear in court. Bean’s campaign said the since the charge was later “expunged,” it was not in FDLE records, although it was found in Polk County court archives.

According to the county, on Dec. 14, 2010, Bean entered a plea of no contest. The judge withheld adjudication and assessed a fine of $320.50. By March 2011, the Times notes Bean paid $385.50 in all, including court costs.

Bean, who said he was in town that night to attend a concert, admitted he should have obeyed the officer.

“I was young, and I made a mistake and should have just given him my identification, and I chose to question why and that was the wrong decision,” he told the Times.

However, after the 2010 incident became public – as well as a backlash on the 2013 DUI arrest – Bean and his campaign have been in damage-control mode.

In an interview with FloridaPolitics.com last month, Bean admitted he did not reveal the resisting arrest charge because “it wasn’t something [he] was thinking about.” Despite that, he refused to apologize.

Driscoll is not buying that excuse. She said Bean’s campaign team immediately contradicted that account when they said the very next day the candidate didn’t bring it up because the charge was “expunged.”

“That turned out to be a lie,” Driscoll said. “I understand why Justin doesn’t want to talk about this issue – but the voters deserve honesty and transparency.”

Driscoll also does not accept Bean’s claim of forgetfulness over the resisting arrest charge: “Justin can’t really expect people to believe an explanation like that; give the voters some credit.”

As proof, Driscoll’s campaign gave a timeline of so-called inconsistencies:

On April 12, Bean acknowledged the 2013 DUI, without a full disclosure of the other charge, something voters were unaware of when he advanced through the Aug. 29 primary when he became the top vote-getter.

“Would Bean have advanced if voters knew he’d hidden his resisting arrest charge?” Driscoll asked. “Why hasn’t Bean apologized to the voters he wants to represent?”

On Sept. 26, Tampa Bay Beat first reports on the resisting arrest charge.

Why did Bean not come clean at once to voters, Driscoll wondered.

After Bean explained to FloridaPolitics.com on Sept. 28 that he didn’t disclose resisting arrest because “it wasn’t something that I was thinking about,” a senior member of Bean’s campaign team said that day didn’t disclose resisting arrest charge because the record was “expunged.”

But using the term “expunged” is disingenuous, according to Driscoll.

If the trespassing incident was truly expunged – a court-ordered process by which a legal record is erased in the eyes of the law – it would have also been removed from Polk County records. It wasn’t since the records were later discovered by the Times.

Driscoll also notes that as of Monday morning, Bean still has not expressed regret for not promptly admitting to his past indiscretions.

“St. Pete needs a leader,” Driscoll said. “To me, that means transparency, honesty, and owning up to your mistakes. I’m calling on Justin to apologize to voters and release his full criminal record.”

Gov. Scott schedules execution in Hillsborough murders

Less than 24 hours after the state executed Death Row inmate Cary Michael Lambrix, Gov. Rick Scott on Friday signed a death warrant for a man convicted in two 1991 murders in Hillsborough County.

Scott scheduled the execution of Patrick C. Hannon, 52, for Nov. 8 at Florida State Prison.

Hannon was sentenced to death in the murders of Brandon Snider and Robert Carter. Hannon and two other men went to the apartment where Snider and Carter lived on Jan. 10, 1991. After one of the other men attacked and stabbed Snider, Hannon was accused of cutting Snider’s throat, according to a court document and a summary of the case provided by Scott’s office. Hannon was then accused of fatally shooting Carter, who had tried to hide under a bed.

Hannon would be the third man executed since the end of a 19-month hiatus for the state’s death penalty. That hiatus stemmed from a January 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that found Florida’s death-penalty sentencing system unconstitutional, forcing lawmakers to revamp the system.

Death Row inmate Mark James Asay was executed Aug. 24 for killing two men in the 1980s in Jacksonville. Lambrix, 57, was put to death by lethal injection at 10:10 p.m. Thursday for the 1983 murders of two people near LaBelle.

Rick Baker, Rick Kriseman reload campaign coffers for St. Pete mayoral race

If there was any doubt about the interest level in the ‘battle of the two Ricks,’ check the latest campaign finance reports for Rick Kriseman and Rick Baker, both of whom raised substantial money during the last two weeks of September.

Baker, the former mayor seeking a third term in City Hall, added $66,853 to his campaign account. He’s now raised more than $516,000.

That amount would easily set the record for the most money raised by a candidate running in St. Petersburg. However, Rick Kriseman continues to break his own fundraising record.

The incumbent raised $59,527 during the most recent reporting period, pushing his overall total to $534,617.

These totals do not reflect what either Baker or Kriseman have raised for their individual political committees whose reports were not available Saturday morning.

Baker spent $29,611 during the most recent reporting period, including $9,250 to Skyway Media Solutions for a new website and social media consulting. Since not meeting the expectation of winning the mayoral race outright during the primary election, Baker has retooled his brand, pushing what some have described as a “hipster” vibe.

Baker’s campaign currently has more than $67,000 cash-on-hand heading into the final month of the campaign.

Kriseman has nearly the same amount (about $62K) left in his account after spending $22,497 during the final two weeks of September. The campaign’s largest expense was for polling.

St. Petersburg’s mayoral race concludes November 7.

 

Lawrence McClure with cash on hand lead in final days of HD 58 GOP primary

Dover businessman Lawrence McClure has more cash-on-hand than Plant City businesswoman and civic activist Yvonne Fry in the final days of their contentious House District 58 Republican primary campaign.

With the latest financial figures coming in late Friday, McClure has raised a total of $135,485 versus Fry’s $112,790 through October 5. .

Fry has spent $96,813.30 however, while McClure has spent $85,992.70. That gives him a total of $49,492 cash on hand against Fry’s $15,976.

In addition, the political committee raising money for Fry brought in another $11,000 last month, boosting her overall dollars to spend up to $26,976.

Fry’s political committee, Florida Leadership Fund, has raised a total of $46,500, with all but $500 of that coming from two men — Plant City Mayor Rick Lott ($25,000) and former Crystals International CEO William Carr, who made the only two contributions to the PAC in September.

August was the first full month of the special election necessitated by the sudden resignation of former Republican incumbent Dan Raulerson. McClure raised $107, 205 in August; Fry raised $68,765 in late July and all of August.

The Republican primary election is this Tuesday, October 10. The winner advances to the general election on December 19.

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