Ben Albritton Archives - Florida Politics

Florida Retailers endorse five fresh faces for Florida Senate

The Florida Retail Federation on Tuesday endorsed five non-incumbent Republicans running for Florida Senate seats in November’s elections, including one who is looking to unseat an incumbent Democrat.

Among the five candidates getting the nod was Tommy Wright, the newly anointed nominee for Senate District 14. The New Smyrna Beach businessman was selected for the nomination after longtime lawmaker Dorothy Hukill died earlier this month at the age of 72.

FRF’s Tuesday announcement also reiterated its endorsement for former Clearwater Republican Rep. Ed Hooper, who is competing against former New Port Richey Democratic Rep. Amanda Murphy to take over the vacant SD 16. FRF originally endorsed Hooper, who faced a light challenge in the primary, back in early July.

“We’re excited about the positive impact these new candidates will have as senators in supporting Florida’s retail industry and encouraging business growth in our state,” said FRF president and CEO R. Scott Shalley. “Our team has met with each of these candidates, many of whom we’ve worked with in the past, and we feel confident they’ll have the best interests of our members and business owners at heart during their time in the Florida Senate.”

The other candidates earning an endorsement: Republican Rep. Ben Albritton, who is running to replace Sebring Sen. Denise Grimsley in SD 26; Hialeah Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., who is up against Democrat David Perez, a former firefighter, in SD 36; and Marili Cancio, who is looking to oust first-term Democratic Sen. Annette Taddeo in SD 40.

Of the five candidates, Albritton and Wright are running in two of the friendliest districts for GOP candidates — Trump carried both seats by double digits two years ago.

Hooper, meanwhile, is in a dogfight with Murphy while Diaz is running in a district that has favored down-ballot Republicans but went plus-14 for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Cancio’s bid may be the hardest, however, with Taddeo having the both the benefit of incumbency.

The new batch of FRF Senate endorsements follows the trade group’s bulk endorsement of Senate incumbents last week. Making that list: Republican Sens. Dennis BaxleyAaron BeanGeorge GainerTom LeeKathleen PassidomoKeith PerryWilton SimpsonKelli Stargel, and Dana Young, as well as Democratic Sen. Bobby Powell.

Election Day is Nov. 6.

Kayser Enneking

Kayser Enneking bounces back in SD 8 money race

Gainesville Democrat Kayser Enneking bested Republican Sen. Keith Perry for the second reporting cycle in a row in the race for Alachua County-based Senate District 8.

Enneking, a physician, raked in nearly $51,000 in hard money during the first two weeks of September, replenishing her campaign account after a primary battle that became costly in the final weeks of August.

The weekly reports covering the same stretch for her affiliated political committee, Florida Knows Excellence, saw it tack on another $33,500. Adding in the $84,000 in receipts between Sept. 1 and Sept. 14 brings Enneking’s overall fundraising total to $644,000.

Donors of note include Fort Lauderdale Sen. Gary Farmer, who provided another $25,000 in support via his Floridians for Ethics, Accountability and Responsibility committee and $2,500 from Avera & Smith, the law firm of 2016 SD 8 Democratic nominee Rod Smith, a former state Senator and FDP chair.

Spending far outstripped fundraising, however, with a slate of broadcast, cable and digital media buys eating away $160,000 in campaign funds. Enneking also funneled another $50,000 in committee cash to the Sen. Audrey Gibson-chaired Florida Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee.

The two accounts had a combined $130,000 banked on Sept. 14.

Perry’s early September haul measured in at $53,350, with $29,350 in receipts heading to his campaign account and the remaining $24,000 collected through his political committee, Building a Prosperous Florida.

His donor sheet included a pair of $10,000 checks from a political committee tied to state Rep. Ben Albritton, who is set to cruise in his bid to succeed Sebring Sen. Denise Grimsley in SD 26. Also checking in was Working Together For Florida PAC, the fundraising arm of Naples Sen. Kathleen Passidomo.

Perry spent about $30,000 during the two-week reporting period, with the bulk of those funds paying for campaign staffers and a handful of event sponsorships.

SD 8 covers all of Alachua and Putnam counties as well as the northern half of Marion County. It is one of a handful of districts that became more favorable to Democrats after the Senate map was redrawn ahead of the 2016 elections.

Despite Democrats holding an 8-point lead in voter registrations in the redrawn district, Perry scored a comfortable victory two years ago as the seat was narrowly carried by President Donald Trump.

A recent poll of the race found Perry up 49-38 percent over Enneking, though much of that gap was attributable to her comparatively weak showing among the Democratic base, which is expected to improve before the Nov. 6 general election.

That poll also found former Gainesville City Commissioner Charles Goston pulling 5 percent support for his unaffiliated run despite his lack of on-the-ground campaigning for the job.

Airbnb report: Vacation rental home activity surges in rural Florida

Vacation rental home business is surging even in Florida’s rural counties, according to a new report from the vacation rental-home marketing firm Airbnb, which showed its business growth had more than doubled in the past year in small counties across the state.

Released Monday morning, the report states that Airbnb’s business in the Sunshine State’s 32 counties designated as “rural” by the Flordia Department of Economic Opportunity saw $24.7 million in business for the company’s host renters over the past 12 months. The report says those hosts welcomed 125,000 guests, a 110 percent increase in year-over-year growth in business activity.

The report indicated that three counties, Walton, Flagler, and Nassau, dominated the rural county vacation rental business, hosting 94,000 of those guests. Nine other counties had at least 1,000 Airbnb guests during that period.

Airbnb is the largest of several firms marketing independently owned and operated vacation rental homes that provide rooms or full houses or condominiums as alternatives to traditional hotels or bed and breakfasts for Florida visitors. Other vacation rental firms include HomeAway, HomeToGo, and VRBO, as well as organizations being operated by broader lodging companies that have branched into the vacation rental home business. Their business numbers are not included in the Airbnb report.

The vacation rental home business has been under intense scrutiny by the Florida Legislature in years, as traditional hotel and lodging organizations and many local city and county governments have sought new state oversight of the rapidly growing industry and to increase local governments’ ability to regulate it.

In the past three legislative sessions, the vacation rental home business has managed to stop several bills that proposed clamping down, arguing that the emerging business created opportunities for supplemental income for many Floridians and could be operated without harming the hotel industry or cities’ abilities to maintain order.

The new Airbnb report came with a news release that stated that new data demonstrates that the Florida hotel industry also is booming, reporting record rates of hotel development, total hotel rooms available, hotel room nights sold, hotel occupancy rate, and hotel room revenue.

Yet the vast majority of Florida’s hotel inventory is centralized in the state’s large metropolitan areas and well-known beach towns, Airbnb stated, so the new report shows that Florida’s rural areas have, until now, very limited traditional lodging options — and sometimes none at all — and the vacation rental home business is changing that.

For example, Airbnb states that Wakulla County is home to just three hotels according to, yet the local Airbnb host community has seen a 205 percent year-over-year guest growth over the past year as local hosts earned a combined $276,000 in income. Similarly, Gulf County — home to just two hotels according to — saw Airbnb vacation rental homes accommodate 4,700 guests in the past year to the county.

The vacation rental home business’s allies in the Florida Legislature weighed in through the Airbnb news release.

“Delivering tourism — and the revenue that comes with it — to rural Northern Florida has been a long-standing goal,” state Sen. Bill Montford, whose district includes 10 of the rural counties adjacent to Tallahassee, stated in the release. “When that tourism is delivering hundreds of thousands of dollars into the pockets of working-class Floridians in the process, that’s even better.”

“The agricultural communities I represent are hungry for economic development,” stated state Rep. Ben Albritton, whose district includes the heart of DeSoto County and Hardee County. “Opening up these counties to people-powered tourism is putting valuable extra income into pockets of homeowners and hopefully will encourage more small businesses to invest in rural Florida.”

SD 26 candidates ‘debate’ first time face-to-face

Lake Wales Democrat Catherine Price and state Rep. Ben Albritton held the closest thing to a Senate District 28 debate Wednesday before the Tiger Bay Club of Polk County.

While they tried to play nice, it wound up becoming a political junkie’s dream.

The seat, currently held by Republican Sen. Denise Grimsley, a Republican, will be vacant in the November election. Grimsley ran unsuccessfully for Commissioner of Agriculture in the Aug. 28 primary.

Albritton, term-limited from his House seat, is a citrus grower and partner in a grove management company. He is the former chair of the Florida Citrus Commission and served as chairman of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, and vice chair of the House Natural Resources and Public Lands Subcommittee and the Appropriations Committee, among others.

Price, a nurse and public health administrator, is in her first run for office hoping to spur state lawmakers to promote better health care, improved access and more affordable care in the state. She also served abroad in the Peace Corps.

Both seemed to agree there should be no laws allowing recreational use of marijuana or an immediate jump to $15 an hour minimum wage, although Price said it could be done incrementally.

They even started out polite.

Albritton praised her perspective on health care (her premier issue) and her intelligence “instead of a wing nut who just wants to get elected.”

“He is quite charming and a nice guy to run with,” Price said.

Nevertheless, the two took a few definite rhetorical shots at one another.

“I am tired of criticism and over testing. This has been a pretext for stripping money from public schools and giving it to for-profit schools,” she said.

Under a written question on education from the audience, Albritton said, “I support public, charter and home schools and follow the lead of some superintendents and principals that this is not just about money. What about home life? What about the community?”

SD 26 is geographically the largest, most rural, agricultural and Republican districts. Three of four candidates who ran in last month’s GOP primary for Agriculture Commissioner live in or very close to the district.

Beginning in southern Polk County the SD 26 runs south, including all or portions of Highlands, Hardee, DeSoto, Charlotte, Lee, Glades and Okeechobee counties.

What SD 26 is not is among the six current-Republican districts that the Florida Democratic Party has assigned special attention and funding to as “viable.” But Price said her almost continual presence among the eight counties will help her race.

“I am here because of the ‘blue wave.’ We need to have good strong debate on public issues,” Price said. “I have been all over the district and this is the first time I have met Ben … I haven’t seen him out there.”

“If you think I don’t move around in this district, keep thinking that all the way to the election. I have the endorsements and I know what I am doing. I hear a lot of non-specifics from you,” Albritton shot back.

Each insult brought a cheer from the crowd, of course.

By the end of the last reporting period, Albritton raised $241,720; Price listed campaign contributions of $38,010.

Ben Albritton sends backup to embattled GOP state Senators

Wauchula Republican state Rep. Ben Albritton is in good position to ascend to the state Senate in the fall and has started putting some of the cash he’s amassed in his affiliated political committee to the most vulnerable incumbent Republicans in the 40-member chamber.

Albritton’s committee, Advancing Florida Agriculture, has raised nearly $400,000 since he filed for Senate District 26, a Republican stronghold covering all of DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, Highlands and Okeechobee counties as well as parts of Charlotte, Lee and Polk.

SD 26 is open due to Sebring Sen. Denise Grimsley’s ultimately unsuccessful bid for the GOP nomination to succeed Adam Putnam as Agriculture Commissioner. Albritton’s only challenger in the SD 26 contest is Lake Wales Democrat Catherine Price, whom he has outraised eightfold in hard money alone.

With extra cash in the bank, Advancing Florida Agriculture sent $11,000 to SD 8 Sen. Keith Perry, who faces well-funded Democratic challenger Kayser Enneking in November; $11,000 to former Republican Rep. Ed Hooper, who is even with former Democratic Rep. Amanda Murphy in the polls despite his massive fundraising advantage in SD 16; $11,000 to Republican Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., who faces Democratic nominee David Perez in his bid to succeed term-limited Sen. Rene Garcia in South Florida’s SD 36; and $6,000 to SD 18 Sen. Dana Young, who is polling behind House Minority Leader Janet Cruz in spite of her threefold cash advantage.

In each instance, Albritton sent $1,000 to the lawmaker’s campaign account with the balance heading to their affiliated political committees.

Though Sarasota Rep. Joe Gruters is likely to cruise in his bid for SD 23 and Ocala Sen. Dennis Baxley only faces nominal opposition in his re-election bid in SD 12, both Republicans picked up $3,500 in contributions to their campaign and committee accounts during the Aug. 25 through Aug. 31 reporting period.

Also on the ledger was an $11,000 transfer to Marili Cancio, who is challenging Democratic Sen. Annette Taddeo in SD 40. Again, $1,000 of those funds headed to Cancio’s campaign account and another $10,000 went to her affiliated political committee.

In all, Advancing Florida Agriculture shelled out $57,000 in contributions to Republican state Senate candidates and finished August with nearly $138,000 left in the tank.

When it comes to his campaign account, Albritton had cleared more than $240,000 in total fundraising for his Senate bid as of Aug. 31, with about $149,000 banked. Price had raised $31,312 as of Aug. 23 with $5,155 on hand.

More local officials endorse Denise Grimsley for Agriculture Commissioner

Sebring Sen. Denise Grimsely piled on more than 30 endorsements from local officials Monday as she sprints toward the finish line in the four-way Republican primary to succeed Adam Putnam as Agriculture Commissioner.

Monday’s list included state Rep. Ben Albritton, Highlands County Tax Collector Eric Zwayer, Lawtey Chief of Police Shane Bennett, nine county school superintendents, two school board members, eight county clerks of the court, five county commissioners and another two former state lawmakers.

The new volley of local endorsements follows another bulk endorsement rolled out by Grimsley’s campaign a little over a week ago that saw her add three dozen local elected officials to her roster of backers. Her extensive list endorsements includes 36 current county sheriffs, the Fraternal Order of Police, the Florida Professional Firefighters, the Florida Realtors, the Florida Medical Association as well as Senate President Joe Negron and six of his predecessors.

“While on the campaign trail, we have traveled from the Panhandle to the Keys, hearing from many state and local elected officials along the way about what is affecting their communities. I am inspired by their dedication to public service and I am pleased that so many have chosen to give our campaign their support after hearing how as the next Commissioner of Agriculture I will assist them in overcoming obstacles,” Grimsley said in a press release.

“As the primary election quickly approaches, I look forward to continuing to meet with these leaders and sharing with them my vision for the future of the Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services.”

Grimsley faces Lehigh Acres Rep. Matt Caldwell, retired U.S. Army Col. Mike McCalister and former Winter Haven Rep. Baxter Troutman in the Aug. 28 primary race.

To date, Grimsley leads the GOP field in true fundraising with about $2.68 million raised between her campaign and political committees, Saving Florida’s Heartland and Let’s Grow Florida, since declaring for the race in February 2017. She had $850,000 banked as of Aug. 10.

Caldwell, meanwhile, has cleared well over $2 million himself and had more than $900,000 banked on Aug. 10. He’s also landed his fair share of endorsements throughout his time on the campaign trail.

Troutman has pumped $3.25 million into his campaign fund and raised about $500,000, though his high burn rate has left him with just $86,500 on hand heading into the final days of the campaign. McCalister, for his part, has yet to hit $25,000 raised for his effort, even with nearly $19,000 in candidate loans.

The eventual GOP nominee will go up against the winner of the three-way Democratic primary between Nikki FriedJeff Porter and David Walker in November.

The full list of Grimsley’s new endorsements is below:

—Jefferson County Superintendent of Schools Marianne Arbulu

—Lafayette County Superintendent of Schools Robby Edwards

—Bay County Superintendent of Schools Bill Husfelt

—Holmes County Superintendent of Schools Terry Mears

—Jackson County Superintendent of Schools Larry Moore

—Franklin County Superintendent of Schools Traci Moses

—Madison County Superintendent of Schools Karen Pickles

—Washington County Superintendent of Schools Joe Taylor

—Dixie County Superintendent of Schools Mike Thomas

—Highlands County Tax Collector Eric Zwayer

—Osceola County School Board Member Ricky Booth

—Taylor County School Board Member Jeannie Mathis

—Polk County Clerk of Court Stacy Butterfield

—Union County Clerk of Court Kellie Connell

—Charlotte County Clerk of Court Roger Eaton

—Marion County Clerk of Court David Ellspermann

—Highlands County Clerk of Court Bob Germaine

—Okeechobee County Clerk of Court Sharon Robertson

—Hardee County Clerk of Court Victoria Rogers

—Sarasota County Clerk of Court Karen Rushing

—Glades County Commissioner John Ahern

—Okeechobee County Commissioner Terry Burroughs

—Highlands County Commissioner Ron Handley

—Osceola County Commissioner Fred Hawkins

—Wakulla County Commissioner Ralph Thomas

—Lawtey Chief of Police Shane Bennett

—State Representative Ben Albritton

—Former State Senator J.D. Alexander

—Former State Representative Sharon Merchant

Police union endorses Jeff Mann for HD 56

Bartow Republican Jeff Mann has been endorsed by The Florida Police Benevolent Association in the race to succeed term-limited Rep. Ben Albritton in House District 56.

“It is a true honor to be endorsed by the PBA” Mann said. “The PBA is responsible for protecting us and it is an honor to know they trust me to protect them.”

The Florida PBA, founded 1972, is a labor union that bills itself as “The Voice of Florida’s Law Enforcement.” Their endorsement comes a couple weeks after Mann got the nod from the National Rifle Association.

Mann is competing against Melony Bell for the Republican nomination in HD 56, which covers DeSoto and Hardee counties as well as part of Polk County.

HD 56 is one of five contests, including three in the Tampa Bay area, to have its primary election locked down by a write-in candidate, meaning only Republican voters will be able to participate in the primary race despite no other party affiliated candidate making the ballot.

Bell currently leads the money race with more than $165,000 raised and more than $105,000 banked as of June 22. Mann has raised $51,615 and has $39,075 on hand in his campaign account.

HD 56 is a Republican stronghold that voted plus-26 for President Donald Trump two years ago. It has been held by Albritton since it was redrawn in 2012.


Florida Realtors make endorsements in 87 legislative races

The political arm of the Florida Realtors rolled out endorsements Monday for nearly every state legislative election slated for the 2018 ballot.

“As Realtors, we pride ourselves on our long-standing efforts to defend private property rights, promote community prosperity and preserve a professional climate that ensures the economic growth of Florida,” said Ann DeFries, chair of Florida Realtors PAC Trustees. “Our continued success in these efforts requires legislators who share these beliefs and will work with our 180,000+ members to help Floridians and their communities thrive.”

Of the 142 Senate and House seats up for grabs this year — that includes special elections to replace Senate President Joe Negron and Sarasota Republican Sen. Greg Steube27 were decided at the close of candidate qualifying deadline.

The Florida Realtors weighed in on 87 of the remaining set to go before voters in some form or fashion.

Four of those picks are virtually assured victory as their only challenge is coming from unaffiliated, third-party or write-in candidates. Those include HD 46 Democratic Rep. Bruce Antone, HD 38 Republican Rep. Danny Burgess, HD 17 Republican Rep. Cyndi Stevenson and HD 6 Republican Rep. Jay Trumbull.

Many of the other races feature an incumbent who’ll likely cruise toward re-election, such as District 2 Republican Sen. George Gainer and HD 39 Republican Rep. Josie Tomkow, though the trade association also weighed in on nearly every competitive race.

In the upper chamber, incumbent Republican Sen. Keith Perry of Gainesville got the nod in his bid for another term in Senate District 8, where he faces well-funded Democratic challenger Kayser Enneking.

In the Bay area’s premier battleground, Tampa Republican Sen. Dana Young earned the Realtor’s support for re-election over House Minority Leader Janet Cruz. St. Pete Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes also earned an endorsement, though he’s looking set for re-election after his Democratic challenger, Carrie Pilon, bowed out of the race for family reasons.

Brandes will still face a challenger of the Florida Democratic Party’s choosing, but whoever picks up the baton isn’t likely to have the same local clout as Pilon.

In Senate District 22, a stretch goal for Democrats, the Florida Realtors endorsed Lakeland Republican Sen. Kelli Stargel over Democratic challengers Bob Doyel and former Rep. Ricardo Rangel. It was the same deal for Senate District 36, where Hialeah Republican Rep. Manny Diaz Jr. faces a pair of Democrats in his bid to ascend to the Senate.

In the Democratic contest for Senate District 38, Florida Realtors picked incumbent Sen. Daphne Campbell who is facing a tough challenge from Miami attorney Jason Pizzo, the second-place finisher in the 2016 Democratic primary.

Curiously, the Florida Realtors didn’t weigh in on Senate District 16, the Pinellas and Pasco-based battleground where former Clearwater Republican Rep. Ed Hooper and former New Port Richey Democratic Rep. Amanda Murphy are in a tight race for a return trip to Tallahassee.

There was also no endorsement issued for the Treasure Coast’s Senate District 25, where Stuart Republican Rep. Gayle Harrell is facing a primary challenge from Belinda Keiser, who has already put down $700,000 of her own money in her quest to succeed Negron.

In the House, another 69 candidates received an endorsement.

Notable among those was an endorsement for Republican Rep. Shawn Harrison, who faces a challenge from Democratic attorney Fentrice Driskell in HD 63, a perennial swing seat. Also making the announcement was a long list of non-incumbents who face primary or Election Day challenges.

Those included Gonzalez Republican Rebekah Bydlak, who faces former Rep. Mike Hill in HD 1; Gulf Breeze Republican Alex Andrade, who faces Greg Merk in the HD 2 primary; Lake City Republican Marc Vann in the three-way primary to succeed Rep. Elizabeth Porter in HD 10; Winter Springs Republican David Smith, who faces Democrat Lee Mangold in HD 28; Merritt Island Republican Tyler Sirois in the three-way race for HD 51; Bartow Republican Melony Bell over Jeff Mann in HD 56; Belleair Bluffs Republican Nick DiCeglie over Berny Jacques in HD 66; St. Petersburg Republican Jeremy Bailie over Ray Blacklidge in the primary for HD 69; Bradenton Republican Will Robinson over Bradenton Democrat Tracy Pratt in HD 71; Sarasota Republican Tommy Gregory over Melissa Howard in HD 73; and Doral Republican Ana Maria Rodriguez over Democrats Javier Estevez and Ross Hancock in HD 105.

Every other candidate endorsed by the Florida Realtors was an incumbent, and most of them are safe for re-election. The full list is below.

— SD 2: Sen. George Gainer
— SD 4: Sen. Aaron Bean
— SD 8: Sen. Keith Perry
— SD 10: Sen. Wilton Simpson
— SD 12: Sen. Dennis Baxley
— SD 14: Sen. Dorothy Hukill
— SD 18: Sen. Dana Young
— SD 20: Sen. Tom Lee
— SD 22: Sen. Kelli Stargel
— SD 23: Rep. Joe Gruters
— SD 24: Sen. Jeff Brandes
— SD 26: Rep. Ben Albritton
— SD 28: Sen. Kathleen Passidomo
— SD 30: Sen. Bobby Powell
— SD 34: Sen. Gary Farmer Jr.
— SD 36: Rep. Manny Diaz Jr.
— SD 38: Sen. Daphne Campbell
— SD 40: Sen. Annette Taddeo
— HD 1: Rebekah Bydlak
— HD 2: Alex Andrade
— HD 3: Rep. Jayer Williamson
— HD 4: Rep. Mel Ponder
— HD 6: Rep. Jay Trumbull
— HD 10: Marc Vann
— HD 11: Rep. Cord Byrd
— HD 12: Rep. Clay Yarborough
— HD 16: Rep. Jason Fischer
— HD 17: Rep. Cyndi Stevenson
— HD 19: Rep. Bobby Payne
— HD 21: Rep. Chuck Clemons
— HD 22: Rep. Charlie Stone
— HD 23: Rep. Stan McClain
— HD 24: Rep. Paul Renner
— HD 25: Rep. Tom Leek
— HD 27: Rep. David Santiago
— HD 28: David Smith
— HD 29: Rep. Scott Plakon
— HD 30: Rep. Bob Cortes
— HD 31: Rep. Jennifer Sullivan
— HD 34: Rep. Ralph Massullo Jr.
— HD 35: Rep. Blaise Ingoglia
— HD 36: Rep. Amber Mariano
— HD 38: Rep. Danny Burgess
— HD 39: Rep. Josie Tomkow
— HD 40: Rep. Colleen Burton
— HD 42: Rep. Mike LaRosa
— HD 44: Rep. Robert “Bobby O” Olszewski
— HD 46: Rep. Bruce H. Antone
— HD 48: Rep. Amy Mercado
— HD 49: Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith
— HD 50: Rep. Rene “Coach P” Plasencia
— HD 51: Tyler Sirois
— HD 52: Rep. Thad Altman
— HD 53: Rep. Randy Fine
— HD 54: Rep. Erin Grall
— HD 55: Rep. Cary Pigman
— HD 56: Melony Bell
— HD 58: Rep. Lawrence McClure
— HD 60: Rep. Jackie Toledo
— HD 63: Rep. Shawn Harrison
— HD 64: Rep. James Grant
— HD 65: Rep. Chris Sprowls
— HD 66: Nick DiCeglie
— HD 67: Rep. Chris Latvala
— HD 69: Jeremy Bailie
— HD 70: Rep. Wengay “Newt” Newton
— HD 71: Will Robinson
— HD 73: Tommy Gregory
— HD 76: Rep. Ray Rodrigues
— HD 77: Rep. Dane Eagle
— HD 78: Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen
— HD 80: Rep. Byron Donalds
— HD 82: Rep. Mary Lynn Magar
— HD 85: Rep. Rick Roth
— HD 86: Rep. Matt Willhite
— HD 87: Rep. David Silvers
— HD 92: Rep. Patricia Hawkins-Williams
— HD 96: Rep. Kristin Jacobs
— HD 97: Rep. Jared Moskowitz
— HD 105: Ana Maria Rodriguez
— HD 106: Rep. Bob Rommel
— HD 108: Rep. Roy Hardemon
— HD 111: Rep. Bryan Avila
— HD 112: Rep. Nicholas Duran
— HD 114: Rep. Javier Fernandez
— HD 116: Rep. Danny Perez
— HD 120: Rep. Holly Raschein

Write-ins lock down five state legislative primary races

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.

Political parties and others have been known to abuse the so-called “write-in loophole” to close partisan primary races, a tactic that nearly always benefits the incumbent.

That’s the case in five state legislative races this year, two in South Florida and three in the greater Tampa Bay region.

In Palm Beach County’s Senate District 30, more than 189,000 registered voters will be locked out of the primary race between incumbent Democratic Sen. Bobby Powell and challenger Rubin Anderson due to the candidacy of Josh Santos.

Nearly 108,000 more won’t get to exercise their franchise in the Senate District 34 rematch between incumbent Democratic Sen. Gary Farmer and former Rep. Jim Waldman thanks to Richard Hal Sturm qualifying for the ballot.

In House District 56, Republican primary voters will decide whether Melony Bell or Jeff Mann will succeed term-limited Rep. Ben Albritton. The same situation will play out in House District 61’s four-way Democratic primary to succeed exiting Attorney General candidate Sean Shaw as well as the three-way Democratic primary to replace term-limited Minority Leader Janet Cruz in HD 62.

More than 125,000 voters across those three districts will be unable to cast a ballot in the primary race that will, in all but name, decide who represents them.

In 2016, Senate District 16 write-in candidate Katherine Perkins received 452 votes out of 190,361 ballots cast. Hers was the best Election Day total of the 26 write-ins who qualified for the ballot in that election cycle. In all, those candidates received just 2,255 votes — an average of 87 votes apiece.

Last year, a Constitution Revision Commission’s Ethics and Elections Committee considered an amendment that would fix the loophole — created by an amendment put forward by the 1998 CRC — but the provision was not among the eight amendments the commission recommended for the 2018 ballot.

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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