The actions of two Bay-area men last week saved drivers from a potential financial headache.
WTSP investigative journalist Noah Pransky uncovered a system maintenance issue with Florida’s tolling system, or SunPass. The estimated time to complete the toll maintenance project took longer than expected, and Pransky pointed out that Floridians could not see older transactions dating back to the beginning of June.
That got St. Petersburg state Senator Jeff Brandes involved. Fearing that drivers, including tourists with rental cars, would be hit with an excessive amount of tolls to pay in a short period, Brandes spoke to FDOT “about their delays in getting toll system upgrades completed, as well as the lack of communication with account-holders,” according to WTSP.
Then late last Thursday, FDOT announced it would waive all late fees and penalties on tolls incurred during the maintenance period. Thus, a statewide issue was highlighted and solved in Tampa Bay during the legislative offseason.
“We are committed to holding our vendor accountable and ensuring that our new system ultimately provides a premier customer service experience,” FDOT Secretary Mike Dew said in a prepared statement. “I share the frustrations with our customers over the rollout of CCSC and find it unacceptable.”
Write-ins lock Tampa Bay primaries
No write-in candidate has ever won elected office in the Sunshine State, but they have been effective in denying tens of thousands of voters from getting a say in who will represent them in the Florida Legislature.
Florida law allows all voters, no matter their political affiliation, to cast a ballot in a primary race if all candidates for the office are members of the same political party. That rule gets cast aside if a write-in candidate qualifies for the ballot. That’s the case in three state House races in the Tampa Bay region this year.
In HD 56, which covers parts of DeSoto, Hardee and Polk, only Republican primary voters will get a say in whether Melony Bell or Jeff Mann will succeed term-limited Rep. Ben Albritton. The same situation will play out in East Tampa’s HD 61, where four Democrats are vying to succeed Attorney General candidate Sean Shaw, as well as the three-way Democratic primary to replace term-limited Minority Leader Janet Cruz in West Tampa’s HD 62.
Combined, those three races will see more than 125,000 registered voters unable to cast a ballot in a primary race that will, in all but name, decide who represents them.
Sink backs Jack in HD 36
Former CFO Alex Sink endorsed fellow Democrat Linda Jack, who is challenging incumbent Republican Rep. Amber Mariano in House District 36.
“We need Linda fighting for us in Tallahassee,” Sink said. “She’s committed to full funding of our public education system, equality for all our friends and neighbors and common-sense reforms to reduce gun violence, making her an ideal candidate for State Representative. We can’t let this opportunity for new leadership slip by — that’s why I’m encouraging all my friends and supporters to join me and work to elect Linda Jack.”
HD 36 has a Republican advantage — Trump carried the seat by 21 points in the 2016 election — though Democrats have had some success there in the recent past. Before Mariano became the youngest person ever elected to the Florida House two years ago, HD 36 was held by Democratic Rep. Amanda Murphy for three years.
Jack and Mariano are the only two candidates running for the seat in 2018.
Verghese endorses Zika in HD 37
House District 37 hopeful Ardian Zika announced the endorsement of former Florida Department of Elder Affairs Secretary Sam Verghese.
“I first met Ardian when I served as Florida’s Secretary of Elder Affairs,” Verghese said in a statement. “Time and time again, I have seen firsthand, Ardian’s strong advocacy for policies which help Florida families prosper. In addition, Ardian will work tirelessly to defend and protect our seniors. In this election, Ardian Zika has my unwavering support and I hope he can count on your support too!”
Zika responded: “Secretary Verghese worked tirelessly to protect Florida’s seniors. His commitment to helping Florida families prosper has been demonstrated over and over again.”
Republican Zika is running against Ryan Boney and Elle Rudisill in the primary. Democrats Tammy Garcia is also running for the seat currently held by termed-out House Speaker Corcoran.
Katt kicking off HD 57 campaign
Valrico Democrat Debbie Katt will officially launch her campaign for House District 57 this week with a Wednesday evening kickoff event at Joia Fabulous Pizza & Martini Bar, 10475 Gibsonton Dr., in Riverview.
Katt was the only Democrat to qualify for the ballot in the Hillsborough District currently held by Republican Rep. Jake Raburn. Raburn announced last week that he would not run for re-election despite having another two years of eligibility.
After that announcement, Republicans Sean McCoy and Mike Beltran filed and qualified for the race. Republicans have a 7-point lead in voter registrations within the district, and Raburn had no trouble holding the seat for three terms — he beat Democrat Bruce Barnett by 17 points to win his first term in 2012 and went unopposed in the 2014 and 2016 election cycles.
The seat also voted plus-12 for Donald Trump two years ago.
Bellanti raising money for HD 60
Tampa Democrat Debra Bellanti is holding a fundraiser this week for his bid to unseat Republican Rep. Jackie Toledo in House District 60.
Bellanti’s bash is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday at Pane Rustica, 3225 South MacDill Ave., in Tampa.
Bellanti and Toledo are the only candidates running for HD 60. The Hillsborough County-based seat voted narrowly for Trump in the 2016 race, while Toledo easily bested Democratic attorney David Singer on Election Day.
As of May 31, Toledo had raised more than $175,000 for her re-election bid and had $123,000 banked. Bellanti, who filed in January, has raised about $25,000 and has $4,500 in the bank.
Diamond re-elected without opposition
St. Petersburg Democratic Rep. Ben Diamond was re-elected without opposition last week after no other candidates filed to challenge his re-election bid in House District 68.
“I am so thankful to have the opportunity to continue my service in the Florida House! I just learned I was re-elected without opposition. I am blessed to keep doing the work I love with the support and love of my family and friends. Thank you for this privilege of serving you,” Diamond said on Twitter Friday evening.
Diamond, first elected in 2016, was one of 25 incumbent lawmakers re-elected without opposition after the noon Friday deadline to qualify for state races.
Seminole Firefighters back Jacques
The Seminole Professional Firefighters Association announced Monday that they were backing Republican attorney Berny Jacques in the race to replace term-limited Rep. Larry Ahern in House District 66.
“It is with immense pride that we announce our support for Berny Jacques for State Representative in the 2018 election. Mr. Jacques has expressed a love for District 66 that has our membership excited to stand behind his election campaign,” said association President Jeremy Newton.
The firefighter association joins retired Air Force Col. EJ Otero Seminole City Councilmember Roger Edelman, former Pinellas County School Board Member Glen Gilzean and Largo Commissioner and former police chief John Carroll, among others, in endorsing the Seminole attorney.
Jacques, the first-in candidate for the western Pinellas-based House seat, faces Belleair Bluffs businessman Nick DiCeglie in the Republican primary. Also running for the seat is Seminole Democrat Alex Heeren.
Patel reels in big-name backers
Tampa businessman Aakash Patel has never held elected office, but his campaign for the Hillsborough County Commission continues to rack up endorsements that even some seasoned pros would struggle to snag.
The latest string, all announced over the course of a week: Attorney General Pam Bondi, House Speaker Richard Corcoran and former state Rep. Trey Traviesa.
“I am happy to offer my support and endorsement to Aakash Patel as he makes his initial run for Hillsborough County Commission,” Bondi said. “I have known Aakash since he returned to Tampa after graduating from Florida State University. I know he will put forth every effort to apply his conservative beliefs and principles in all that he does.”
Patel, who runs business consulting firm Elevate, Inc., is one of 10 candidates running for the countywide District 7 seat currently held by retiring Commissioner Al Higginbotham. Patel has raised more than $450,000 for his 2018 run and had more than $270,000 in the bank May 31.
Cona hits $32K raised for School Board race
Tampa businessman Steve Cona is off to a fast start in the days since he launched his bid for the open District 1 seat on the Hillsborough School Board.
In his first campaign finance report, which will include transactions through June 22, sources close Cona’s campaign says he will report more than $32,000 raised. Assuming that money was raised and not loaned, that’s quite a tally for an 11-day stretch.
Cona was the first candidate to enter the School Board race, which opened up due to the resignation of Susan Valdes, now a candidate for House District 62. He faces retired county social services administrator Gil Machin and retired school district administrator William Person in the race.
Person ran for the District 1 seat two years ago and came within 267 votes of defeating Valdes.
Eggers, Gerard re-elected
Incumbent Pinellas County Commissioners Dave Eggers and Pat Gerard were re-elected Friday after no opponents qualified for the ballot ahead of the noon Friday deadline.
Gerard, a Democrat, was elected to the District 2 commission seat in 2014. At one point, she faced a challenge from Clearwater Vice Mayor Doreen Caudell, but she ended her campaign in May so she could serve out the remainder of her term on the Clearwater City Council.
Eggers, a Republican, was also first elected in 2014. He never faced a challenger in 2018 bid for a second term as District 4’s commissioner.
Though District 2 and District 4 won’t be on the 2018 ballot, the District 6 seat will. In that race, Republicans Kathleen Peters, Larry Ahern and Barb Haselden, as well as Democrat Amy Kedron, have qualified for the ballot.
Teachers back Larsen for School Board
The Pinellas County Teachers Association is supporting Jeff Larsen in his run for Pinellas School Board.
“Jeff’s experience as a father, husband, educator, coach, and Vice Mayor have prepared him to lead and give our children the best opportunity for a lifetime of success,” said PCTA President Mike Gandolfo.
Larsen responded: “Having the endorsement of our Pinellas teachers is truly humbling because I know how hard they work for our kids. I look forward to working with our teachers and our whole community to make that vision a reality.”
Larsen, a reading teacher at Gulf Middle School, served as Commissioner and Vice Mayor of Tarpon Springs for the last six years and volunteered his time on the Tarpon Springs Planning and Zoning Board before that. He faces two opponents in the countywide District 2 seat: Lisa Cane and Terry Krassner.
Fasano endorses Moore for Pasco Commission
Pasco County Commissioner Mike Moore‘s re-election campaign announced the endorsement of Pasco County Tax Collector Mike Fasano.
“Mike Moore has been an effective County Commissioner, standing up for the people of Pasco County,” Fasano said. “He’s supported our Sheriff, law enforcement professionals and first responders, by making sure they have the resources they need to keep us safe and secure. That’s why, this election, Mike Moore has my strong support to continue serving as our County Commissioner. I hope you’ll join me in supporting Mike Moore too!”
Moore said: “I am grateful for Mike Fasano’s endorsement, I am thankful for his servant leadership and his example of hard work and tireless commitment on behalf of Pasco residents.”
Democrat Kelly Smith is currently the only candidate challenging Moore in his re-election bid.