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Is this not my beautiful house? Questions linger on Janet Cruz residency

Critics of state Rep. Janet Cruz are accusing the longtime lawmaker of not living in the urban Tampa district she represents.

An anonymous tipster claiming not to oppose Cruz’s bid for state Senate raised the question in an email pointing to Cruz’s husband, Stephen Rifkin, who owns a waterfront mansion in a different House district — one currently held by Jackie Toledo.

Cruz, the outgoing House Democratic Leader, is running against Republican Sen. Dana Young in Senate District 18, which encompasses both of Cruz’s properties and her husband’s.

An analysis of property records, as well as Cruz’s marriage records and past comments to the media, gives credence to suspicions about where she lays her head at night.

Records show Cruz owns two homes, both in Toledo’s South Tampa HD 60. One is located at 4114 W. Empedrado St., the other at 4428 W. Wisconsin Ave. Cruz’s husband owns another home in HD 60, at 5035 W. San Miguel St.

Cruz and Rifkin were married in 2003.

Despite her husband owning a luxury waterfront home, Cruz lists her address as 4816 N. Fremont Ave in Tampa, within the boundaries of HD 62, which she currently represents.

As proof she lives at that address, Cruz’s campaign provided several documents.

The lawmaker’s Florida driver’s license lists the Fremont address as her home and several bills including a Tampa utility bill, Dillard’s credit card, Home Depot credit card and an insurance statement from Five Brothers Insurance Agency. Cruz is also registered to vote at the Fremont address.

Cruz’s campaign also provided bank statements showing she pays $1,150 in monthly rent at the Fremont home.

“Rep. Cruz resides in the district at the address … where she has been a staunch fighter for Hillsborough’s public schools, a leader in promoting real job opportunities through her annual Job Fair and a strong advocate for her constituents,” said Cruz campaign manager Tim Wagner.

“There is no question that the latest false attacks on Cruz are being fueled by Young and her campaign given the recent revelations reporting (that) Senator Dana Young has profited from her legislative actions and votes.”

Cruz recently accused Young of profiting from her votes on the craft beer industry noting her husband has financial interests in that business, claims Young denies.

While the documentation provided by Cruz’s campaign is more than enough documentation to establish residency, other records raise questions.

Property records for Cruz’s Empedrado Street property list her mailing address as her husband’s home on San Miguel and a car registration for a 2016 BMW 328 also lists the San Miguel residence as her mailing address.

“This is just further example of the dishonesty of Janet Cruz,” Young campaign spokeswoman Sarah Bascom said. “If she has been knowingly not living in her House district, how she can expect her community to send her to the Senate?”

This isn’t the first time Cruz has landed in hot water related to real estate. Earlier this year, she repaid $32,000 (plus fees and penalties) to the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser for claiming two homestead tax exemptions.

Last week, during a Tiger Bay Club of Tampa event with Young, Cruz called it “an oversight” that was corrected as soon as it was brought to her attention. She said the attacks amounted to little more than dirty politics aimed at drawing attention away from her track record in the House.

“Dana should spend less time attacking Janet Cruz and more time explaining to parents why their children are forced to sit in hot classrooms without (air conditioning), due to her continued votes to slash public school funding,” Wagner said. “These false attacks on Janet Cruz are nothing but another attempt by Dana Young to hide from her atrocious voting record.”

Cruz’s battle with Young is considered one of the most significant in the nation, as Democrats look to seize on a so-called “blue wave” unseating conservatives in state and federal races. 

During last week’s Tiger Bay appearance, both candidates fiercely debated each other’s records — Cruz blasting Young for being pro-gun and anti-education.

Young fired back, saying it was Cruz who failed to protect student safety by voting against the now-enacted school safety bill increasing money for school security and raising the age people could purchase certain firearms from 18 to 21. Cruz voted against the bill because it did not include a ban on assault weapons, she said, a priority for many Democrats.

Latest polling puts three points ahead of Cruz, falling well within the margin of error.

Tallahassee who’s-who on Rachel Perrin Rogers’ witness list in Florida Legislature suit

Rachel Perrin Rogers is seeking court testimony from a who’s-who list of Tallahassee powers and insiders in her lawsuit alleging discrimination and retaliation against her from the Florida Legislature regarding the sexual harassment claims she raised last fall against former state Sen. Jack Latvala.

Perrin Rogers, who is pursuing a lawsuit case through the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, informed an administrative law judge Tuesday that the witnesses she intends to call include Latvala, outgoing Senate President Joe Negron, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, other lawmakers, as well as Florida Legislature staff, lawyers, lobbyists and others including Florida Politics Publisher Peter Schorsch.

Her witness list was first reported Wednesday by Politico Florida.

Perrin Rogers, chief legislative aide for Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson, alleged late last fall that the once-powerful Senate Budget Committee chair and Republican gubernatorial candidate from Clearwater, Latvala, had repeatedly groped her and made unwelcome comments about her body over a period of four years. A legislative investigation of allegations against Latvala led to a special master’s report finding probable cause to support allegations. Latvala resigned Dec. 19. A separate criminal probe ended in July without any charges being brought.

Perrin Rogers filed a complaint with the EEOC, against the Florida Legislature, alleging she was the victim of discrimination and retaliation after she came forward with her accusations against Latvala. Her case was assigned to EEOC Administrative Law Judge Alexander Fernandez.

The witness list Perrin Rogers’ attorney Tiffany Cruz  filed with Fernandez on Tuesday included Bondi; Latvala; Negron; Simpson; Schorsch; Negron’s Chief of Staff Cheri Vancura; Florida Senate Legal Counsel George Meros; Jean Seawright; former Judge Ronald Swanson, who was the Special Master; state Sens. Lizbeth Benacquisto and Lauren Book; Caitlin Murray; Nancy Black-Stewart; and Florida Senate Sergeant At Arms Tim Hay.

Latest on the legislative staffing merry-go-round

With a tip of the hat to LobbyTools, here are the latest movements — both on and off — of the legislative merry-go-round.

Off: Sandra Stovall is no longer staff directory for the Senate Committee on Health Policy.

Off and on: Reynold Meyer, former Deputy Chief of Staff on Policy, replaces Cheri Vancura as Chief of Staff to Senate President Joe Negron.

Off: Bobby Harris is no longer assistant to the House Clerk.

On: Cameron Pennant went from program support to legislative research assistant in the House Office of the Majority Leader.

Off: Samuel Gilot stepped down as a program analyst in the House Minority Leader office.

On and off: Jeff Armstrong replaced Steve Godwin as acting staff director in the office of the House General Counsel.

Off and on: Jason Welty is no longer a budget specialist with the House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee. Sean Smith moved from budget analyst to budget specialist on the committee’s staff.

On and off: Whitney Hall replaced Tracy Sumner as policy chief for the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee. Hall previously served as an attorney for the House Judiciary Committee.

Off: Matthew MacNamara is no longer an attorney for the House Judiciary Committee.

Off: Tracy Sumner has stepped down as policy chief for the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee.

On and off: Lisa Larson replaces Erin Juszczyk as the new administrative lead in the House Rules & Policy Committee.

Off: Lindsey Locke is no longer administrative support for the House Insurance & Banking Subcommittee in the House Commerce Committee.

Off: Emily Bland is no longer a communications assistant for the House Majority Office.

Off and on: Kevin Hoeft has moved from administrative support to legislative analyst for the House Education Committee.

Off: West Gregory and Ronni Moore has stepped down as attorneys for the House Natural Resources & Public Lands Subcommittee.

Off: Joseph Endicott is no longer legislative assistant to Sen. Aaron Bean.

Off and on: Alexis Mansolo has stepped down as a legislative assistant and Joshua Goergen has become the new district secretary for Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto.

Off: Steven Richardson is no longer legislative assistant to Sen. Rob Bradley.

Off: Karina Pereira is no longer secretary to Sen. Gary Farmer.

On: Jerome Maples has returned as Sen. Audrey Gibson‘s district secretary.

On and off: Cameron Bradley is a new district secretary to Sen. Dorothy HukillMichael Strynkowski has stepped down as Hukill’s legislative assistant.

Off and on: Amelia Johnson Smith is no longer district secretary to Sen. Debbie MayfieldAdrienne Cronebaugh is her new legislative assistant.

On: Nazbi Chowdhury is a new legislative assistant to Sen. Bobby Powell.

On: Ashley Cacicedo and Jessica Celona are new legislative assistants for Sen. Kevin Rader.

On: Chelsea Olivera is a new legislative assistant for Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez.

Off: Matthew Alford has stepped down as a legislative assistant to Sen. Linda Stewart.

On and off: Iman Sandifer has replaced Dan Horton as the new legislative assistant for Sen. Annette Taddeo. Crystal Morales has joined her office as district secretary.

On: Alexis Andres is the new district secretary for Rep. Joseph Abruzzo.

Off: Eired Eddy has stepped down as a legislative assistant for Rep. Larry Ahern.

On and off: Cyrus Calhoun replaced Navael Fontus as district secretary for Rep. Ramon Alexander. He previously was a legislative assistant for Rep. Wengay “Newt” Newton.

On: James Befanis is has gone from executive secretary to district secretary for Rep. Thad Altman.

On: Katelyn Norman has joined Rep. Loranne Ausley‘s office as district secretary.

Off: Silvia Castellanos has stepped down as a legislative assistant to Rep. Bryan Avila.

Off: Jack Harrington has stepped down as a legislative assistant for Rep. Michael Bileca.

Off: Sydnie Tiseo has stepped down as a legislative assistant to Rep. Jason Brodeur.

On: Daniel Leon is a new legislative assistant in Rep. Danny Burgess‘ office.

Off and on: Sarah Goldman has left Rep. Kathleen Peters’ office to join Rep. Ben Diamond‘s office as district secretary. Mariah McQueen and Amanda McNichols are no longer Diamond’s district secretaries.

Off: Maddie Dawson has stepped down as executive secretary to Rep. Byron Donalds.

Off: Robert Bogle has stepped down as a legislative assistant to Rep. Bobby DuBose.

Off: Justin Gendler has stepped down as executive secretary to Rep. Katie Edwards.

Off and on: Chesten Goodman has stepped down as a legislative assistant to Rep. Jay Fant, becoming a new legislative assistant to Sen. Bean.

On and off: Melissa Thompson replaced Charles Smith as a legislative assistant to Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen.

Off and on: Bryan Vallejo has stepped down as a legislative assistant to Rep. Joe Geller. Joel Ramos moved from senior executive secretary to legislative assistant.

Off: Joshua Aman has stepped down as district secretary for Rep. James Grant.

Off: Derick Tabertshofer is no longer legislative assistant to Rep. Shawn Harrison.

On: Melissa Thomas is a new district secretary for Rep. Lawrence McClure.

Off: Kassie Satterly has stepped down as a legislative assistant to Rep. George Moraitis.

On: Michelle Grimsley is the new legislative assistant to Rep. Newton.

Off and on: Christina Castillo is no longer legislative assistant to Rep. Jeanette Nunez. Maria L. Evora moved from executive secretary to legislative assistant. Denise Irvine is the new district secretary.

Off: Samuel Wagoner has stepped down as a legislative assistant to Rep. Bobby Payne.

Off: Daniel Leon is no longer legislative assistant to Rep. Daniel Perez.

Off: Kathy Gilland has stepped down as senior executive secretary to Rep. Scott Plakon.

Off and on: Kristie Johnson has replaced Doniel Wolfe as district secretary for Rep. Mel Ponder.

Off: Taylor Ferguson is no longer legislative assistant to Rep. Jake Raburn.

Off: Anna DeCerchio has stepped down as a legislative assistant to Rep. Paul Renner.

Off: Sarah Johnson is no longer legislative assistant to Rep. Emily Slosberg.

Off: Josh Barnhill is no longer legislative assistant to Rep. Charlie Stone.

On and off: Sara Lynn Ard is a new legislative assistant and Aline Guy is district secretary for Rep. Jennifer Sullivan. Morgan Hatfield is no longer Sullivan’s executive secretary.

Off: Colton Curry is no longer legislative assistant to Rep. Jackie Toledo.

On and off: Rachel Witbrach is a new district secretary for Rep. Frank White. Charles Withers has stepped down as White’s executive secretary.

On: Sabrina McLaughlin is the new district secretary for Rep. Jayer Williamson.

Lindsay Cross, Jennifer Webb team up to raise campaign cash

Lindsay Cross and Jennifer Webb are raising campaign funds together Wednesday evening during in Indian Rocks Beach. The two Democrats are running for seats in the Florida Senate and House, respectively.

Cross is running against Incumbent Republican Jeff Brandes for the Senate District 24 race in St. Petersburg. Webb is running for the open House District 69 seat against Republican Ray BlacklidgeKathleen Peters is vacating the seat to run for Pinellas County Commission.

The fundraiser is important to both candidates. Cross is lagging behind Brandes in campaign funding by nearly $800,000. Brandes has raised $866,000. Cross has pulled in less than $90,000.

Webb had a commanding lead in campaign cash over her opponent up until this month. Blacklidge has now out-raised Webb by about $47,000. Webb does have more cash on hand though. She did not have to wage a primary battle. Blacklidge spent more than $70,000 during his primary campaign against Jeremy Bailie.

Indian Rocks Beach Mayor Cookie Kennedy and Belleair Beach City Council member Wanda Schwerer are hosting the fundraiser at the Beach Art Center in Indian Rocks Beach from 6-8 Wednesday.

A flyer announcing the event asks if voters love the state’s waters, beaches, bays, springs and rivers and then asks whether voters think “your Legislators in Tallahassee really care.”

“Come meet two candidates who DO,” the flyer reads. “And [who] will fight to protect them.”

Cross is an environmental scientist who formerly served as the executive director for the Florida Wildlife Corridor and spent 14 years working for the Tampa Bay Estuary. Protecting the environment is one of her top three priorities if elected.

Webb, a small business owner, earned her Masters degree from the University of South Florida where, after graduating, taught faculty members how to conduct research within the community.

Webb also lists protecting Florida’s drinking water and waterways as a top priority, according to her campaign website.

Webb leads Blacklidge 48 to 33 percent, according to an SEA Polling and Strategic Design survey released Tuesday. Brandes leads Cross 38 to 19 percent, according to a St. Pete Polls survey last month.

SD 16 - Hooper vs. Murphy

Ed Hooper buys ads through former Roy Moore campaign consultants

Florida Senate candidate Ed Hooper paid $200,000 to the same campaign consulting group that worked on President Donald Trump’s campaign and for former U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore.

A consultant working for Hooper’s campaign insisted that the payment was a pass through media buy and that the consulting group was not directly doing work on the campaign.

Still, Murphy’s campaign fired back at the media buy.

“We generally do not comment on another’s campaign vendors, but in this case it is appropriate to make an exception.  For Ed Hooper to go out-of-state to hire the firm that worked for the disgraced pedophile, Roy Moore, is a bridge too far,” Murphy said in a statement. “Ed Hooper should immediately fire the firm and apologize to the voters of Pinellas and Pasco County for bringing these vermin to our state.”

The Strategy Group Company worked on Moore’s successful Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice campaign. Moore lost a contentious Special Election to a Democrat last year after allegations of assaulting underage girls plagued his campaign. The Special Election was held to replace now Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Moore’s district is heavily conservative.

Hooper reported the expense in his most recent campaign finance filings with the Florida Division of Elections covering contributions and expenditures from September 1-14.

The Delaware company also worked on high profile campaigns for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, former Congresswoman Michelle Bachman and former House Speaker John Boehner.

The GOP campaign shop’s resume reads like a who’s who of conservative victories, according to its website.

A video on the company’s home page shows a reel of candidates including Trump and Pence.

Hooper did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The former state Representative is running against another former Representative, Democrat Amanda Murphy, for the Senate District 16 seat covering parts of north Pinellas and Pasco County.

Campaign filings show Hooper, like other GOP legislative candidates, massively out-raising his Democratic opponent.

Hooper raised $17,000 during the first two weeks of September bringing his total campaign contributions to date to $500,000. Murphy raised just $15,000 during the most recent campaign reporting period bringing her total contributions to $89,000.

Murphy did not have any notable campaign expenses in her latest campaign finance filing.

Contributions to Hooper rolled in from a host of conservative groups and special interest groups including Working Together for Florida, the political action committee associated with Southwest Florida Senator Kathleen Passidomo.

Groups representing lawyers, the pool industry and agriculture industry also contributed to Hooper’s campaign.

Murphy received contributions from Ruth’s List, a liberal organization that supports female Democratic candidates, the SEIU, the Plumbers and Pipefitters PAC and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman’s Sunrise PAC.

Murphy lost her previously held House district by fewer than 700 votes to Republican Amber Mariano. The race was considered a huge loss for Democrats despite the narrow majority in a district that went against Hillary Clinton in 2016 by double digits.

Hooper left the house to run for Pinellas County Commission in 2014 where he lost to Democrat Pat Gerard.

The two are running for the seat formerly held by Jack Latvala who resigned amid allegations of sexual impropriety with a female lobbyist.

The district covers Clearwater, Dunedin, New Port Richey, Oldsmar, Safety Harbor and Palm Harbor.

The race is considered competitive. A St. Pete Polls survey in June put the race at 45-43 percent with Hooper holding a slight advantage, though that edge is within the margin of error.

It is a red district. Republicans make up about 38 percent of the district’s electorate while Democrats account for about a third. The district went plus 12 for Trump in 2016.

Young Cruz 3

In Tampa, Dana Young crushing Janet Cruz in money race

Incumbent Dana Young continues to crush challenger Janet Cruz in fundraising.

Information from the Division of Elections shows Young, the Republican now representing for Tampa’s Senate District 18 has nearly $500,000 cash on hand. Cruz has less than $50,000.

The disparity stems from another huge gap in overall fundraising.

To date, Young has raked in $718,000 from local, state and outside donors. Cruz has raised $279,000.

Cruz came close to Young in fundraising during the latest reporting period, Sept. 1-14. Cruz brought in just under $37,000 while Young raised nearly $43,000.

She’s challenging Young in one of the most contentious and important races in the state.

Susan McManus, a retired political scientist from the University of South Florida and frequent political commentator, called the state Senate race one of the top five most important in the nation.

Young is seeking her second term in the Senate after serving in the House. Cruz is the outgoing House Democratic Leader and is term-limited. 

The two present staunchly different views on gun control, education and the environment.

Cruz voted against the school safety bill that provided additional funding for school security and increased the legal age of firearm purchases from 18 to 21 because the bill did not include a ban on assault weapons. Young voted in favor of the bill. It also included a provision that allows properly trained teachers to carry guns in school.

Cruz is hoping to ride the so-called “blue wave” to unseat Young. While Cruz is underperforming in fundraising efforts, she says her campaign is in full swing on the ground knocking on doors and attending events.

Cruz has been involved with the Andrew Gillum campaign for Governor, attending local events and supporting increased education funding and higher teacher wages.

Last week Cruz spoke at a press conference in front of Plant High School calling attention to the lack of maintenance funds available. That school has issues with mold and has to have clean air pumped into the building through tubes. 

5 takeaways from the Dana Young, Janet Cruz Tiger Bay clash

Florida House Minority Leader Janet Cruz and Senator Dana Young sparred in a heated debate Friday at Tampa Tiger Bay in their battle for the Senate District 18 seat.

This Tampa-area race has become one of the most hotly contested in the nation as Democrats seek to create a “blue wave” and Republicans fight to keep their majorities in state legislatures and Congress.

There’s a lot to watch in the race that pits to veteran lawmakers against one another.

Here are five takeaways from their latest match-up:

Education is one of the top issues

The Tiger Bay Club of Tampa is known for its feisty members who come prepared to ask tough questions. Friday’s forum with Cruz and Young was no different.

In addition to a question from the moderator, retired USF Political Science Professor and political commentator Susan McManus, several Tiger Bay members asked education-related questions ranging from funding for infrastructure improvements to the pros and cons of school choice programs like charter schools and voucher programs.

Cruz bashed her opponent, the incumbent in the District 18 Senate race, for continually supporting funding for charter schools and voucher programs at the cost of traditional public schools.

“[Her priority] has been with privatizing public schools and watching the infrastructure crumble,” Cruz said.  

Young did not refute her track record on charter schools, which are publicly funded but run by private education providers, or voucher programs that give low-income students the opportunity to attend private schools using tax-credit scholarships. Instead, she said she considers “the changing face of education.

“Public education today is very different than when I went to school,” Young said. “But now we have a wide variety of choices where parents can pick what works best [for their child.”

Both candidates think they care about student safety and guns

Young voted in favor of the student safety bill earlier this year that increases the minimum gun purchase age to 21, provides funding for additional school security, bans bump stocks that allow a modified weapon to fire similarly to an automatic weapon and allows school districts to arm teachers if they opt-in. Cruz voted against the bill because it didn’t include a ban on assault weapons.

Young sharply implied that Cruz’s vote against the school safety bill meant she didn’t prioritize student safety.

“We need to figure out why [lawmakers like Janet Cruz] don’t care about children’s lives,” Young said.

“Isn’t that hilarious, Dana,” Cruz fired back in a loud voice that countered Young’s stern, but calmer demeanor. “When she was elected … she was all about campus carry. She was all about open carry.”

Cruz accused Young of being a shill for the National Rifle Association. Young said she did not vote for an amendment that would have included an assault weapon ban in the school safety bill because it would have tanked the entire thing.

Neither candidate is afraid to get dirty

The gloves were off right out of the gate. Young accused Cruz of not caring about childrens’ lives. Cruz basically called her a hypocrite. The two were so shouty at one another, dozens of people were wrestling cell phones from their pockets and pocket bags to get some top-notch footage of one of the hottest races in the nation right now.

Cruz doubled down on her “dammit Dana” slogan she just came up with this week during a press conference on education funding — this time about guns. Young scolded her for being rude.

Cruz later accused Young of avoiding a vote banning assault rifles.

“She ran and hid because she was owned by the NRA.”

In turn, Young fired back that Cruz was a shill for the teacher’s union because “she doesn’t want to lose their funding.”

There are some things on which they agree

Despite the verbal jabs, there were moments of true diplomacy and mutual respect. In a now unusual moment of bipartisanship, both candidates praised Hillsborough County Public Defender Julianne Holt for her work with troubled youth and people with disabilities.

“She recognized early on … you take a kid who’s marginal. His mom is working. Maybe he doesn’t have the support some of us grew up with. She stood up for diversion programs [to keep those kids from going over the cliff,] Cruz said.

Young nodded in agreement and added her own praise for Holt’s work with people in the system with disabilities.

Both seemed on the same page about opening primary elections, agreeing that the demographic of voters without party affiliation is growing and closed primaries effectively disenfranchise those voters.

Don’t get too settled in the touchy-feely moments though. Like Cruz, they were in the minority party.

They might both support the transportation referendum

In a nod to the bipartisan tone transportation tax campaigners are trying to strike, it’s likely both candidates will support the All for Transportation referendum that would increase sales tax 1 percent to raise $280 million a year for both transit and transportation projects.

Cruz offered her support specifically.

Young was not as straightforward saying she would “probably” support it. Young said she needs to study the bill more before making a final decision noting that while transportation needs to be a priority — and needs additional funding — it’s important to carefully consider any tax increase before placing that burden on taxpayers.

Photo credit: Kim Defalco

‘Dammit Dana’: Janet Cruz blasts opponent Dana Young’s education record

House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz, now challenging GOP state Sen. Dana Young for her Senate District 18 seat, is attacking her opponent’s record on education policy and funding.

“Dammit Dana, stop,” Cruz lamented at a press conference in front of Plant High School in south Tampa on Tuesday.

Cruz was referring to Young’s track record voting in favor of school choice programs like vouchers and charter schools, which critics say funnel funding away from traditional public schools into corporate hands.

Young responded to Cruz’s comments, arguing school choice programs are effective for children, particularly those who may not live near good schools.

Bottom line, no one can really say any more what traditional education is, because that rigid thinking does not help the students,” Young said.

“I support public education. I support school choice. And I will continue to support education funding that helps the child succeed, whatever format that is and (whatever) is best for them.”

Young also said choice programs are making public education better.

“There is only one test given to a sampling of students in every state, and that is the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Fifteen years ago, Florida students were ranked 38th … Now, Florida is ranked fifth. That means the system we have works for the students.”

Cruz, the House District 62 incumbent, spoke with Lt. Governor nominee Chris King at an event touting the Gillum/King ticket’s education platform that would put $1 billion into education by raising corporate tax rates by 2 percent.

Cruz acknowledged implementing Gillum’s plan might be a tough climb in a Republican-majority Legislature, but said a Gillum win creates two wins for Democrats. 

It gives veto power over what many in the party see as damaging education proposals, and it gives Democrats a better shot at having a seat at the table in 2020 when district lines are redrawn.

“Democrats and Republicans in this state are nearly equal,” Cruz said. “Yet Republicans control (a huge) majority of the House.”

Meet Rob Levy, Democrat running for Florida Senate District 25

Just like in 2016, we’re again asking every candidate, including incumbents, to complete a questionnaire we believe offers an interesting, albeit, thumbnail sketch of who they are and why they are running. If you are a candidate and would like to complete the questionnaire, email Peter@FloridaPolitics.com.

Significant other? Kids?

Married to Oksana Massey, who is a nurse. I have three (31, 26, 24) and three step-children (24, 19, 17).

Education background? Professional background?

Education: Bachelor of Science, University of Miami; Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine, Des Moines University;  Master of Business Administration with a concentration in Health Services Management, Duke University.

Professional background: Established a single-office primary care practice in Port St. Lucie in 1983. By the 1990s, it had grown to a multisite practice with 13 physicians and 3 allied health care professionals serving more than 30,000 patients in the areas of internal medicine, family practice, pediatrics, cardiology, and gastroenterology. It became part of Martin Memorial in 1997, but I have continued practicing, as a volunteer physician at Volunteers in Medicine, the clinic where residents of Martin County without private health insurance who do not qualify for Medicaid or Medicare can receive comprehensive, compassionate care at no charge.

I also am an active real estate investor with interests in Florida, Colorado, and Texas, and recently became a partner in a unique new venture, The Roasted Record. Located in downtown Stuart, I believe it’s the only business of its kind in Florida: a coffee shop that specializes in single-origin specialty grade coffees, roasted in small batches to sounds provided by vinyl records for sale at the store.

What was your first job?

When I was 16, I worked in a pharmacy in the Bronx as a stocker, where I made $5 per hour.

In 25 words or less, why are you running for office?

As a physician, a father and a businessman, I’m sick and tired of politicians who are all talk and no action while our river reeks with algae, millions of people go without access to healthcare, and our schools and teachers are denied the support they deserve.

Who do you count on for advice?

For wisdom and guidance, it was my beloved father until he passed away, four years ago. Now it is my spouse.

Who is your political consultant? Campaign manager?

John Jones; Jake Sanders

Who was the first person to contribute to your campaign? Why did they donate?

I am fortunate in that I was able to launch my campaign myself, and I did so because I felt I should invest in myself before I asked others to.

Who, if anyone, inspires you in state government?

Thanks to one-party rule in Florida for the last 20 years, I have no role models in state government.

What are 3 issues that you’re running on? (You’re not allowed to say education or “improving the schools”)

Expand Medicaid and obtain a waiver for the ACA so that all Floridians have access to healthcare; fully fund both Florida Forever and Florida Water & Land Legacy Amendment (Amendment I); Reverse legislative practice of stealing tax dollars and Lottery money from public schools and giving it to private/for-profit/religious schools

What is a “disruptive” issue (i.e., ride-sharing) you are interested in?

In two words: gun safety — meaning a ban on assault weapons, meaningful background checks, and closing the gun-show loophole. My goal is to get an “F” from Marion Hammer before I am sworn in as a Senator.

Who was the best governor in Florida’s modern history?

Certainly not the current one. I’d call it a tie between Bob Graham and Lawton Chiles.

Are yard signs an important part of campaigning in your district?

Due to environmental concerns, they are just a small component. We only encourage them on personal property, in residential yards.

What’s the first thing you read each morning?

The Stuart News

Where do you get your political news?

Florida Politics, NY Times and Politico.

Social media presence? Twitter handle?

Our campaign is active on Facebook and Instagram, with just a bit of Twitter activity, but I do not have a handle myself.

In 280 characters, what’s a tweet that best describes your campaign message?

Expand Medicaid and obtain an ACA waiver. Fund and implement all solutions for Lake O, our rivers, and the Everglades as fast as possible. Repair the damage done to our environmental agencies over the last eight years, and stop robbing our public schools of tax dollars.  


Running, cooking, golf. I log 3 miles a day and do most of the cooking at my house. My golf game, however, has suffered of late as campaigning has cut into it.

Favorite sport and sports team?

Baseball; New York Yankees.

Central Florida hoteliers back Manny Diaz, Dana Young, Stockton Reeves

The Central Florida Hotel and Lodging Association announced five new endorsements following Tuesday’s primaries, including state Sen. Dana Young and state Rep. Manny Diaz for the Florida Senate and Stockton Reeves VI for the Florida House.

The association, a powerful interest group in Central Florida’s tourism-based economy, also announced endorsements of Pete Crotty for the Orange County Commission’s District 3 seat and Melissa Byrd for the Orange County School Board District 7 seat.

On Tuesday neither Young nor Diaz, both Republicans, had primary opponents, and neither are running in districts in Central Florida, yet the area’s hoteliers offered their backing. Young now faces Democratic state Rep. Janet Cruz in the contest for Senate District 18. Diaz will go up against Democrat David Pérez for the Senate District 36 seat.

Reeves defeated Mikaela Nix in the Republican primary and now faces Democrat Anna Eskamani in the House District 47 race.

In the county elections Tuesday, Crotty finished second to Mayra Uribe. Since neither got a majority of votes on Tuesday, the two are headed to a Nov. 6 runoff election.

Byrd finished first in the Orange County School board election Tuesday. Since she did not get a majority, she and second-place finisher Eric Schwalbach move on to the Nov. 6 runoff.

This past spring the hotel association announced earlier endorsements including Jerry Demings for mayor and Teresa Jacobs for school board chair. Those two and others won Tuesday while most backed by the hoteliers moved on to the Nov. 6 election. The group said there may be more post-primary endorsements coming.

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