Jack Latvala Archives - Page 7 of 35 - Florida Politics

Jack Latvala to be first inductee into Legislative Hall of Fame at Pasco-Hernando State College

State Sen. Jack Latvala will be the first legislator inducted into Pasco-Hernando State College’s Legislative Hall of Fame.

Latvala will be honored at a brief ceremony at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Alric C.T. Pottberg Library at the College’s West Campus, 10230 Ridge Road, New Port Richey. The event is open to the public.

Morris Porton, chair of the PHSC District Board of Trustees, will officiate over the ceremony, which will include the unveiling of a plaque to be displayed in perpetuity in the Legislative Hall of Fame. An identical plaque will be presented to Latvala.

PHSC President Timothy L. Beard will also recognize Latvala’s efforts leading to the construction of several buildings on the college’s West Campus, for strengthening articulation agreements with the University of South Florida, and preserving the integrity of the college’s local service areas.

Latvala, a Republican, represents District 16 (District 20 before redistricting) that covers northern Pinellas County. Latvala first served in the state Senate from 1994 to 2002, when he termed out.

Latvala concentrated on his business interests after leaving the Senate. He decided to run again in 2009 when the state House voted to allow oil drilling within three miles of Gulf beaches. He was elected and has been re-elected since then. Latvala is running for re-election this year.

During his first stint in the Legislature, Latvala served as Senate majority leader and was named as a rising star by the Wall Street Journal. He was also repeatedly ranked as one of the most effective senators in an annual survey by the Miami Herald. He has been named “Legislator of the Year” more than 40 times by a wide range of statewide groups including law enforcement, first responders, environmentalists, business groups, medical associations and educators.

Among his accomplishments: Florida Forever, a land preservation program; creation of Tampa Bay Water, a national model for regional water supply planning; and the outlawing on predatory title loans in Florida. Other accomplishments: passing laws requiring Duke Energy to refund $600 million to customers in Florida; reforming laws prohibiting the bulk purchasing of condos, which required owners to sell for pennies on the dollar; and ending Florida’s last-in-the-nation status of banning 64-ounce growlers which stifled the growth of small microbreweries in Florida.

He is a proponent of reducing taxes, reforming the state’s welfare system, enacting tough consumer protection laws and cracking down on violent crime and criminals. He also wants to improve the state’s educational system by providing sufficient funding for public schools, enforcing accountability in education, and providing opportunities and resources to children and families who need additional support to succeed.

He is the father of state Rep. Chris Latvala, also a Republican.

The Legislative Hall of Fame establishes a new PHSC tradition that recognizes legislators for supporting the college and higher education opportunities for their constituents.

PHSC serves the educational needs and interests of its community by awarding certificates, diplomas, and associate and baccalaureate degrees. As a comprehensive, multi-campus learning-centered institution, PHSC utilizes various instructional modalities and support services. PHSC provides an accessible, diverse teaching and learning environment rich with opportunities for students to achieve academic success and cultural growth in a global society.

State leaders, experts to discuss future of mobility at Better Transportation Summit

With the fatal crash of Tesla car on autopilot near Williston in May, Floridians already know the future of transportation is impacting the state’s highways.

Exploration of that future will be one of the themes when the 2016 Floridians for Better Transportation Summit meets Tuesday and Wednesday at the Loews Don CeSar Hotel on St. Pete Beach.

“Transportation is transformative. It has the power to fuel the economy, stimulate job creation and change the way we live,” said Floridians for Better Transportation President Matthew D. Ubben. “If Florida can get transportation right, the rest will follow.”

The keynote speaker will be Lawrence Burns, a former University of Michigan engineering professor who also has served as a vice president for research and development at General Motors.

Burns, the author of “Reinventing the Automobile: Personal Urban Mobility for the 21st century,” has long been a champion of the “reinvention of the automobile,” including driverless cars, vehicle electrification, fuel cells, advanced batteries and other innovative vehicle concepts.

Other summit speakers include Sen. Jack Latvala, the incoming state Senate budget chair, and state Rep. Lake Ray, who will talk about local and statewide transportation issues.

Florida Department of Transportation Assistant Secretary Brian Blanchard will discuss developments in Tampa Bay’s transportation system.

Janet Zink, assistant vice president at Tampa International Airport and Jim Kuzma, chief operating officer at Space Florida, will provide updates on aviation and aerospace developments.

Port Tampa Bay Vice President Ram Kancharla will discuss the impact of the newly expanded Panama Canal.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, by video, will give an update on transportation developments in Washington, D.C. impacting Florida.

Other confirmed speakers include: FDOT District Secretary Paul Steinman, All Aboard Florida Vice President Rusty Roberts, Kenworth of Jacksonville President Denny Ross, BB&T Capital Markets Managing Director Kevin Sterling, and Jim Tymon, chief operating officer for the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

Ed Moore, president of the Independent Colleges & Universities of Florida, will talk about Florida’s political outlook.

5 reasons I’m looking forward to tonight’s “Popcorn & Politics” event

‘Tis the season.

It’s that most wonderful time of the year when candidates running in this fall’s elections begin to make the rounds at candidate forums, hob nobs, straw polls and Tiger Bay debates. It’s at these events candidates can begin to distinguish themselves from their opponents with a quick retort — or a regrettable gaffe.

Tonight, the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce is hosting “Popcorn & Politics,” an event it bills as a speed network opportunity with candidates running for state Senate District 19, House District 68, Pinellas County Property Appraiser and School Board.

Presented by the Tampa Bay Times, Popcorn & Politics gives attendees valuable time with the candidates running for these key local offices. The way it works is candidates rotate from table-to-table where they will “speed network” for several minutes with Chamber members.

Here are five reasons I’m looking forward to at tonight’s event.

1. “Popcorn & Politics” is an important event for the Chamber itself as the organization continues to upgrade its purely political operations. Executive Director Chris Steinocher has done a yeoman’s job leading the Chamber out of the dark financial situation he inherited. Now, he and his political attache, Travis Norton, are working to bolster the Chamber’s political strength. It will be interesting to see how well-attended “Popcorn & Politics” is by Chamber members.

2. The mostly white Chamber of Commerce gets to meet the candidates running for a state Senate seat that will likely be held by an African-American. While much of the Chamber’s attention, politically speaking, is focused on state Sens. Jeff Brandes and Jack Latvala, whoever succeeds Arthenia Joyner in the state Senate seat that bridges Pinellas and Hillsborough will be a key player in many of the issues important to the Chamber. As it happens, there just isn’t as much interaction between many Chamber members and the SD 19 candidates as there is in other races. “Popcorn & Politics” is a solid opportunity to change that.

3. To see which Democrat running in House District 68 is the Chamber membership’s favorite. The primary in HD 68 is probably the most interesting race in Pinellas politics. Ben Diamond and Eric Lynn are both strong candidates with significant resources at their disposal. While many Chamber members won’t be able to vote in the Democratic primary, some can — and it remains to be seen which of these two candidates is the preferred choice of the local business community.

4. To determine if there is a real race for Pinellas County Property Appraiser. It’s not the sexiest of posts, but property appraiser is a key position in a market like Pinellas that sees a high volume of real estate transactions. Former state Rep, Jim Frishe is hoping his name ID from his time in office is enough to hold off Mike Twitty, who seems to be the cool kid in class. The only poll we’ve seen of this race, to be decided in the Republican primary, shows Frishe in the lead, but Twitty closing quickly. In the final weeks of campaigning, could Frishe vs. Twitty become Pinellas’ equivalent of the heated Hillsborough Clerk of the Court race?

5. To not fall asleep when talking to the candidates for Pinellas School Board. Here’s the irony: the local newspaper won a Pulitzer Prize for exposing the institutional problems in five (predominately black) south Pinellas schools, yet the attention given to the candidates running for the school board that oversees them barely registers. Want to keep schools from becoming “failure factories”? Then elect better School Board members.

“Popcorn and Politics” begins at 5:30 p.m. at the St. Petersburg Museum of History. It’s open to non-members, although there is a $25 cost for a ticket.

Endorsement watch: Florida Parents Against Common Core, Republican Liberty Caucus of Florida, Florida Retail Federation and others issue endorsements

There’s less than two months until Floridians start casting votes, and organizations across the state are rolling out endorsements for state and federal candidates.

Several organizations — including the Republican Liberty Caucus of Florida, the National Federation of Independent Business, and the Florida Chamber of Commerce — issued endorsements this week.

Florida Parents Against Common Core has thrown its support behind Rebecca Negron.

The organization announced this week it was endorsing Negron in Florida’s 18th Congressional District. In a statement this week, the organization said Negron, a Martin County School Board member, has worked to make sure parents “have a priority voice in the education of their children.”

“If elected to Congress, Ms. Negron’s ultimate goal for education on the federal level will be to return ED back to the states, a necessary move consistent with the almost-unanimous support of our parents,” said Laura Zorc, one of the original co-founders of the group, in a statement. “Negron’s belief that the best decisions in education are made by those closest to the student and neighborhood school — which are parents and classroom teachers — gives us confidence she will take the principles she practiced on the school board to Washington, D.C.”

Negron will face Carl Domino, Mark Freeman, Rick Kozell, Brian Mast, and Noelle Nikpour in a crowded Republican primary.

The Republican Liberty Caucus of Florida threw its support behind Mike Hill in his Senate District 1 bid.

In a statement this week, RLC Florida Chairman Bob White said the Pensacola Beach Republican was a superior choice for the Florida Senate.

“We believe that less government means more liberty and we work through local chapters and with our member activists all over the country to oppose government excess and demand accountability to the people and the Constitution,” said White in a statement. “We have followed Mike Hill’s career as a member of the Florida House of Representatives and before that, his tenure as president of the Northwest Florida Tea Party. Mike has championed these same principles and values and we are convinced that he is the superior choice for the Florida Senate in District 1.”

Hill faces Doug Broxson in the Aug. 30 Republican primary. In a statement this week, Hill said he was honored to receive the group’s support.

“I appreciate the confidence of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Florida and I am thankful for their support,” he said. “They are one of those organizations that work hard to make a difference on behalf of their members working within the legislative process.”

The Republican Liberty Caucus also announced it was endorsing Matt Hudson in Senate District 28.

“Matt Hudson has been an outstanding leader in the Florida House of Representatives,” said White. “He has championed these same principles and values and we are convinced that he is the superior choice for the Florida Senate in District 28.”

Hudson faces Kathleen Passiodmo, also a Naples Republican and state representative, in the Senate District 28 race.

“The Republican Liberty Caucus of Florida has made a difference year after year in Tallahassee,” said Hudson. “I look forward to continuing our working relationship as a member of the Florida Senate.”

The Florida Retail Federation is backing Anitere Flores in the Senate District 39 race.

“Senator Flores has been a longtime supporter of retailers’ needs, including sponsoring or supporting the popular back-to-school sales tax holidays, the Energy Star sales tax holiday and this year she sponsored successful legislation that protects consumers from gas pump skimmer fraud,” said Randy Miller, the president and CEO of the Florida Retail Federation. “She has been a terrific partner in recognizing the importance of making Florida a retail-friendly and business-friendly state, and we look forward to the great things she’ll continue to do as the Senator for Florida’s 39th District.”

Flores faces Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell in the general election.

The National Federation of Independent Business announced its endorsements in several House and Senate races this week.

The group — which is Florida’s largest small-business association — endorsed Dean Asher in Senate District 13; Dorothy Hukill in Senate District 14; Joe Negron, the incoming Senate president, in Senate District 25, Dennis Baxley in Senate District 12; and Ritch Workman in Senate District 17.

On the House side, the group endorsed David Santiago in House District 27, Jason Brodeur in House District 28, Scott Plakon in House District 29, Bob Cortes in House District 30, Jennifer Sullivan in House District 31, Mike La Rosa in House District 42, Mike Miller in House District 47, Rene Plasencia in House District 50, Tom Goodson in House District 51, MaryLynn Magar in House District 82, Gayle Harrell in House District 83, Randy Fine in House District 53, and Sykes Lange in House District 54.

“Small business owners are facing huge workers compensation hikes from bad Florida Supreme Court opinions. Electing a pro-small business Legislature has never been more important,” said Bill Herrle, the executive director of the National Federation of Independent Business Florida, in a statement. “The endorsed candidates have demonstrated that they genuinely understand the challenges that small business owners in Florida are facing.”

Rep. Jay Fant has thrown his support behind Sheri Treadwell.

Fant, who represents House District 15, announced his endorsement of Treadwell in the House District 11 bid.

“Sheri Treadwell’s conservative credentials make her the leader we need in the Florida House,” said Fant. “District 11 voters can count on her to be a trusted voice for our Northeast Florida values of limited government and more freedom, and I look forward to working with her.”

Treadwell said she was honored to receive his support.

“Jay Fant has quickly distinguished himself as a strong conservative leader in Northeast Florida,” said Treadwell. “I am honored to have his support, and I look forward to joining him in Tallahassee to work toward our shared priorities of lower taxes, fewer burdensome regulations, and making sure our area offers opportunities for everyone to get ahead.”

Treadwell faces Wayne Bunk, Cord Byrd, Jack Daniels and Donnie Horner in the Aug. 30 Republican primary.

The Florida Chamber of Commerce announced this week it endorsed more than a dozen candidates in state House and Senate races.

In the state Senate, the organization endorsed Bill Montford in Senate District 3, Travis Hutson in Senate District 7, Jack Latvala in Senate District 16, Jeff Brandes in Senate District 24, Joe Negron in Senate District 25, Rene Garcia in Senate District 36, Anitere Flores in Senate District 39, and Dorothy Hukill in Senate District 14.

In the state House, the organization endorsed Blaise Ingoglia in House District 35, Ross Spano in House District 59, Larry Ahern in House District 65, Gayle Harrell in House District 83, Jose Oliva in House District 110, and Bryan Avila in House District 111.

“Now, more than ever, Florida needs leaders in the Florida Legislature that will ensure the long-term needs of Florida’s families and small businesses are placed before short-term political fixes and special interest agendas,” said Marian Johnson, senior vice president of political operations for the Florida Chamber.

Lizbeth Benacquisto has received the support of the 2016 Estero Citizens Review Committee.

The committee announced its endorsement in a letter to Benacquisto this week. In it, the committee said it looked forward to working with her to “implement our shared vision.”

“I am honored to have the support of the Estero Citizens Candidate Review Committee,” said Benacquisto. “The people of Estero work hard each and every day toward a community they can be proud of, and I am honored to have their support.”

Benacquisto faces Republican Jason Maughan in Senate District 27.

Bob Rommel has received the backing of Collier County Commissioner Donna Fiala.

Fiala, who was first elected in 2000, endorsed Rommel in House District 106. In a statement, Fiala said the Naples Republican would bring “real-world perspective” to the Florida House.

“His experience as a successful, conservative businessman will bring a real-world perspective that is sorely needed in Tallahassee,” she said in a statement. “We can count on him to champion policies that will lower taxes and lead to job creation and increased opportunity, and I look forward to working with him to move Collier County forward.”

Rommel faces Lavigne Ann Kirkpatrick and Nick Ballo in the Aug. 30 Republican primary.

“Commissioner Fiala is a dedicated public servant, and I am honored to have her support,” said Rommel. “I look forward to working with her to make sure the policies coming out of Tallahassee promote free enterprise, economic growth, and opportunity in our area and around the state.”

Jack Latvala for Chief Financial Officer?

Next week, several Republican members of the Florida Senate will gather at the summer home in Boothbay Harbor of their colleague Jack Latvala. There they will raise money for the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee on Thursday and Latvala’s “Florida Leadership Committee” on Friday.

With Latvala slated to be the next chairman of the Senate’s Committee on Appropriations, there’s no question he will be able to raise tens — if not hundreds — of thousands of dollars at both events. The question is: what does Latvala have planned for all of that money in his political committee?

As it stands today, there is $2,169,340 in Latvala’s main political committee. There is another $350,000 in Latvala’s campaign committee. That puts him at north of $2.5 million cash-on-hand.

The senior senator from Pinellas enjoys high, positive name recognition in his district and faces a tomato can this November, so if he spends more than the absolute minimum on his re-election campaign, he’s wasting money.

It’s more likely Latvala will use his resources to protect some of his allies running in tough races this November. Certainly, Sen. Miguel diaz de la Portilla could use Latvala’s help in his death match versus Democrat Jose Javier Rodriguez. But even if Latvala spends $50,000 on his own re-election and $500,000 on four or five other races, he still will have more than $2 million in the bank. And that’s if he doesn’t raise another dollar, which will not be the case.

Come May of 2018, Latvala — likely to be one of the most impactful appropriations chairs to have ever held the gavel — should have at least $3 million in his war chest.

Latvala is term-limited from running again in 2018, so what will he do next? That’s the $64,000 question being asked in Tampa Bay and Tallahassee.

While some suggest Latvala would make an excellent (moderate) Republican governor, it’s hard to envision a scenario where he has the horses to outrun Adam Putnam or Will Weatherford. As much as Sunburn would love to see Latvala in the Governor’s Mansion, it’s just not going to happen.

Similarly, it’s difficult to see Latvala running for some small-ball local office in Pinellas a la what Mike Fasano did in Pasco. And as long as there are Bilirakises in north Pinellas, Latvala won’t be going to Washington D.C.

So why not Latvala for Chief Financial Officer?

With Jeff Atwater term-limited from holding the Cabinet post again, the 2018 race to be the next CFO is wide open. There won’t be a major Republican worth their elephant pajamas who does not take a look at running for the position. And now, with developer Pat Neal officially out of the race, the list of prospective candidates will only grow. Because he could have self-funded, Neal would have likely kept the field of candidates in check. But now, without Neal and his eight-figure checkbook to worry about, the price of admission to the CFO race is considerably less.

A serious candidate would need to be able to raise for the primary, say, two or three million dollars out of the gate. Know anyone who can do that?

That’s right, Jack Latvala. He can already buy a ticket to the big game and he has decades worth of IOUs left to cash in. He has an extensive history working on the insurance and regulatory issues that make up the CFO’s portfolio. And what other candidate can count on the kind of favorable treatment from the press that Latvala would receive?

Latvala will probably shoot down this speculation as soon as he’s done reading this sentence, but that doesn’t mean Latvala for CFO doesn’t make sense.

Someone should ask him about it next week in Maine.

Jack Latvala faces only write-in candidate in re-election bid to Florida Senate

Clearwater Republican state Sen. Jack Latvala will not face opposition from either a Republican or a Democrat this fall in Senate District 16, with only write-in candidate Katherine Perkins standing in the way of his being re-elected.

As the qualifying period came to a close Friday, no Democrat rose up to challenge the Pinellas County power broker, who lost out in a battle for the Senate presidency last year to Palm City Republican Joe Negron.

In exchange for a final detente with Negron, Latvala got a coveted consolation prize: the Appropriations Committee chairmanship, making him arguably the most important player in the budget process, given his extensive experience and mastery of the rules.

During the 2016 Legislative Session, Latvala chaired the Senate budget panel on Transportation, Tourism, and Economic Development and co-chaired the overall committee that oversees the spending of related dollars.

A staple of the Florida Senate across much of the last three decades, Latvala is known as a consummate dealmaker who “would rather get half of what I want that none of it,” as he once said — and knows how to negotiate for it.

A Tampa Bay Times story about the 2015 Legislative Session, for instance, portrayed the “gruff and tough” Latvala thusly:

“The veteran Republican lawmaker from Clearwater is having another Latvala-esque legislative session, relishing his role on a wide range of issues, from housing to beer to state troopers to Florida’s space program. He’s where the action is.”

Another write-in candidate, Michael Ryan, had been listed on the Division of Elections website, but Ryan did not qualify on Friday.

The 64-year-old Latvala initially served in the Florida Legislature from 1994-2002, and came back to the Senate in 2010.

George Gainer becomes instant winner in SD 2

George Gainer is on his way to the Florida Senate.

The Bay County Republican won the Senate District 2 seat Friday after no other candidate qualified for the race.

“I am humbled and honored to have been elected without drawing another candidate to run against me,” Gainer said in a statement. “From the first day I announced my candidacy, I have worked to visit with as many voters as possible throughout the district. They have my pledge that my door is always open to them and I will do my absolute best to serve them with honor in Tallahassee.”

The Senate District 2 race was expected to be one of the most expensive and hotly contested races this election cycle. Gainer was set to face Matt Gaetz, a Fort Walton Beach Republican and the son of former Senate President Don Gaetz.

At the time, the race had high stakes — Gainer was backed by Sen. Jack Latvala, who was locked in a battle for the Senate presidency with Sen. Joe Negron, of whom the elder Gaetz is an ally.

But those stakes dropped significantly when the presidency was decided in Negron’s favor late last year.

And in March, when Rep. Jeff Miller announced he wasn’t running for re-election, the younger Gaetz dropped his state Senate bid to run for U.S. House.

Gainer is a Florida native, who has spent much of his life in Bay County. He opened his first car dealership in 1968. That same year, Gainer made his first run for public office. He was elected to the Bay County Commission at the age of 25, and served on the board until 1972.

He ran again and was elected to the Bay County Commission in 2002. Gainer is married with six children and 12 grandchildren.

According to LobbyTools, SD 2 is heavily Republican, with 55.5 percent of active voters in 2012 identifying with the GOP; 30.7 percent identified as Democrats. Another 13.9 percent of voters were either NPA or another party.

In 2012, The district overwhelmingly voted for Mitt Romney 74-26 percent over President Barack Obama in 2012; two years earlier, Gov. Rick Scott 70-30 percent over Democrat Alex Sink.

The voting age demographics of SD 2 is 62 percent white, 29 percent black and 5 percent Hispanic; the district has a median age of 40 years old.

 

Alan Suskey aiming to be Pinellas’ man in Tallahassee

Attend a political function anywhere in Pinellas County and it’s almost inevitable you’ll see one name consistently listed as a sponsor.

That is, other than Bill Edwards.

The name is Alan Suskey of Suskey Consulting, the governmental affairs firm based in Tallahassee, but with deep roots in Pinellas.

Of course, Suskey doesn’t have the millions of dollars Edwards has, so its noteworthy to see him as a patron of so many diverse interests, from the Warehouse Arts District to the University of South Florida–St. Pete campus, as well as a headline sponsor of at least one political fundraiser a week.

Over the last 18 months, Suskey has built a lobbying practice that represents almost all of the major players in the Pinellas community before state government. And with leaders from the area set to have a major impact on the next two sessions (at least) of the Florida Legislature, Suskey Consulting can expect even more growth.

Already a part of Suskey’s client roster are Drug Free America (which connects him to Mel and Betty Sembler, as well as board chairman Jim Holton), Eckerd CollegeSolar Sanitation (whose owner is Pinellas GOP Chairman Nick DiCeglie), the Warehouse Arts District (which indicates Suskey’s close relationship with major player Rob Kapusta), among others.

Even Edwards and former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker have turned to Suskey, like they did when they wanted the North American Soccer League included in the mix for sports facilities incentives money or when they sought state funding for improvements to Mahaffey Theater.

Suskey was recently hired by Great Explorations Children’s Museum as it embarks on a $2 million capital campaign to construct a final mezzanine of 2,600 square feet to add classroom and group activity room space, as well as funding a freshening of exhibits.

Even though Great Explorations has never asked for public funding for capital projects in the past, it was decided by the museum’s board to employ an experienced lobbyist to guide the process of asking for state funding. That’s when Great Ex reached out to Suskey.

“He is very effective in telling the story of several worthy nonprofits to state legislators, building the case for the wise use of taxpayer funds,” said board member Scott Wagman.

Suskey’s effectiveness is based on his knowledge of the appropriations process — he cut his teeth in politics working for the master of the purse strings, the late Congressman C.W. “Bill” Young — and the strength of his relationships with the local delegation and key lawmakers, including Sens. Jack Latvala (the incoming Senate Appropriations Committee chairman) and Jeff Brandes, and several members of the state House, including Speaker-to-be Chris Sprowls.

Today, the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority is deciding whether to include Suskey in a contract for governmental relations services. A committee smartly recommended Tampa-based lobbyist Ron Pierce of RSA Consulting and Suskey share the contract.

There may not be two lobbyists who care more about the Tampa Bay area than Pierce and Suskey (uh-oh, I might get in trouble now with my friends at Corcoran & Johnston and Southern Strategy Group). There certainly is not another lobbyist who cares more about Pinellas than Suskey.

PSTA would do well to go with the hometown guy.

David Jolly says he intends not to mention Charlie Crist’s name at all in their blockbuster congressional match-up

Two years ago, special interest money out of Washington made the special congressional election in Florida’s 13th District between David Jolly and Alex Sink one of the most expensive of all time. While it’s unlikely the spending will exceed the reported $12 million paid out in 2014, it’s a race Democrats will desperately try to win — especially if they believe they have the ability to win the entire House of Representatives because of the deleterious effects of a Donald Trump candidacy on down-ballot races.

Friday afternoon in Clearwater, CD 13 Rep. David Jolly confirmed the rumors — he is dropping out of the Florida GOP Senate race to run for re-election against former Gov. Charlie Crist.

“I’m asking my community simply for the opportunity to keep doing my job,” Jolly said after a seven-minute preamble to explain the circumstances that led to his decision. “Today I’m announcing that I will seek re-election to the U.S. House of Representatives for Pinellas County.”

Speaking inside an airplane hanger at the Clearwater-St. Petersburg airport, Jolly confirmed the filing deadline of June 24 compelled him to decide on his political future this week, and he said he made it in concert with his wife, Laura, within the past 48 hours.

Rumors Jolly would drop out of the Senate race accelerated with the concurrent stories that failed presidential candidate Marco Rubio has been having second thoughts about not running for re-election, and could very well enter back into the race. Jolly was the only one of the five GOP candidates who have been running for the seat to say outright he would drop out if that scenario played out.

Jolly has bemoaned the Florida Supreme Court’s ruling last year that the CD 13 district was one of eight in Florida drawn up in violation of the state constitution in 2012, saying it had been an ideal swing district, a rarity in American politics these days. He was quoted last October as saying no Republican could win the seat.

Which begs the question: Why does he think it’s viable now?

The congressman answered by saying his comments at the time are still valid, citing the double-digit margins of victory President Obama enjoyed in 2012 and Crist did while running for governor in 2014. “By entering this race, I believe as a sitting Republican House member, we might have the most challenging race for a Republican in the country, in a very expensive media market, against a very well qualified candidate in Charlie Crist, who has shown that he can win races. So I am not naive with the challenge we are undertaking.”

He went on to say he didn’t know or care what current polls say, but these are the facts: a St. Pete Polls survey conducted recently shows Jolly to be in a straight-up tie with Crist, and reportedly private polls conducted by state Sen. Jack Latvala show Jolly actually leading Crist.

Crist supporters were quick to note that Jolly’s narrow, two-percentage point victory over Sink in 2014 occurred when turnout was less than 40 percent, and said in this year’s presidential election the turnout could be as a high as 75 percent. And they noted that in 2014, 40 percent of new voters were Democrats, 37 percent Republicans and 23 percent independents.

However, in March, Republicans superseded Democrats in terms of party registration for the first time in years. While some Democrats attempted to spin that total as a result of voters signing up to vote for and against Trump, the fact is Trump easily won the CD 13 vote. So, if voters were registering as Republicans to vote against Trump, they didn’t appear in very large numbers in the March primary.

Last fall, the normally amiable Jolly uncharacteristically crashed Crist’s announcement that he was running in CD 13, prompting this reporter to ask Jolly if he has enmity towards the former Republican that could result in an intensely negative campaign this fall?

Jolly said simply he felt he was more qualified than Crist to represent the district, and said while his opinions about his new opponent have been extensively reported on, he doesn’t intend to reference it at all between now and November, a laudable goal that could be impossible to adhere to, depending on the state of the race in October.

Jolly did say he once asked Crist for a refund from a campaign contribution he made to the former governor when he switched parties (he said Crist ignored the request), and no longer votes early in the voting cycle after having committed to Crist early in his 2006 gubernatorial run against Democrat Jim Davis. But a constant theme throughout the nearly half-hour-long press conference was he wanted to “change the tone in Washington,” and clearly bashing his new opponent would hardly fit into his branding. “Hopefully, you won’t hear me utter another candidate’s name between now and November, you’ll only hear me talk about my record and what I intend to for the county.”

In a brief statement, Crist noted Jolly’s uninvited appearance to his campaign announcement last fall.

“Unlike what my new opponent did when I announced, I’m not going to start name calling like Donald Trump — everyone should do what’s in their heart,” Crist said. “Pinellas needs less Donald Trump and more civility to tackle issues like the rising cost of health care, gun violence, failing schools, and protecting our environment — that’s why I’m running, for the people.”

While Crist was ready to turn the other cheek, it was another story with the national and Florida Democratic Party.

“David Jolly wanted any excuse to end his Senate campaign that was defined by lackluster support and pathetic attempts to scrub his lobbying career from his public biography,” said DSCC Communications Director Sadie Weiner. “He was ill-prepared to run a statewide race, let alone represent Florida in the U.S. Senate. We wish the NRCC the best of luck with their former lobbyist candidate, who they accused of lying after he brought a secret camera crew into their office.”

“Jolly’s lack of commitment and principle are exactly what Pinellas County residents would expect from a Washington lobbyist who is only interested in furthering his political career,” said  Florida Democratic Party Chair Allison Tant. “Florida Democrats look forward to sending David Jolly back to K Street in November.”

Democrats are already attacking Jolly for his draft proposal this week that would tighten firearm restrictions for potential terrorists, while also requiring an individual who was denied the ability to purchase a gun be entitled to a due process hearing within 30 days before a federal judge. At that time the government must demonstrate by a preponderance of the evidence the individual should be on the watch list and prohibited from purchasing a firearm.

Democratic protestors (who were not allowed into the hangar but stood at a gate outside) held signs called Jolly a hypocrite for opposing similar Democratic proposals to restrict terrorists or suspected terrorists from being able to purchase firearms. “The issue with the terror watch list is an individual never had due process, and that’s the fallibility of the simple proposal of ‘no-fly, no-buy.’ But we can fix that,” Jolly said.

A handful of Pinellas County Republicans were on the scene to show their support, such as Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos, who worked with Jolly on Congressman Bill Young‘s staff. The mayor said he wasn’t surprised to see Jolly fairing well in early polls. “He has reached out throughout the district from Day 1, and he’s done a good job representing all of us.”

Palm Harbor state Rep. Chris Sprowls said the community knows both candidates well. “They’re going to evaluate them, and I think that based on that, they’re going to elect David Jolly back to Congress.”

While Jolly says he won’t criticize Crist, that message apparently isn’t universal with his surrogates. “I think that Pinellas County voters will see the difference between the two,” said Clearwater state Rep. Chris Latvala. “One of them you have a statesman, the other one you have someone who will say and do and belong to every political party they think will advance their own political career.”

Both candidates are considered moderates, a byproduct of Pinellas County politics. Jolly emphasized the moderate nature of his brand of politics, a stance many felt would ultimately doom him a GOP Senate primary race, though he has remained competitive in the polling to date.

“Listen, I bring some very conservative core convictions,” he said, “but I think I’ve demonstrated on areas like equality and non-discrimination and climate science to guns, that if we sit down together, I can advance my conservative convictions while giving voice to others that perhaps are on the other side of the spectrum, and we can reach a consensus solution that’s right for the American people.”

The scenario is now quite different for Crist than when he entered the contest last fall, with his biggest task being to put away then Democratic challenger Eric Lynn. It should be a fascinating race.

Where sh*t stands in Tampa Bay legislative races

Five months from Election Day, Republican Sens. Jeff Brandes, Jack LatvalaTom Lee and Bill Galvano are still running unopposed. The only two bay area Senate seats in contention so far are the Senate District 18 contest between Tampa Republican Rep. Dana Young and Democrat Bob Buesing and the three-way Democratic primary going down in SD 19.

Young had built up quite the lead in her jump to the Senate, and though Buesing posted more than $100,000 in contributions in his May campaign finance report, Young responded with more than $166,000 in contributions to her campaign account and another $115,000 for her political committee, “Friends of Dana Young.”

The May performance left her with more than $1 million in funds across the two accounts, compared to about $96,000 for Buesing, whose total includes $5,500 in loans.

In SD 19, first-term Democratic Rep. Ed Narain piled on another $17,130 last month for an on-hand total of about $79,000. Fellow Democratic Rep. Darryl Rouson out-raised him on the month, though he holds just $31,000 in his campaign account. Rep. Betty Reed fell further behind in the race after adding just $2,075 for an on-hand total of about $16,500, while John Houman, the lone Republican in the race, recorded a $3,000 loan as his only income since filing in the middle of May.

The race to replace Narain is just as lopsided. Since filing for the HD 61 seat in March, Tampa Democrat Sean Shaw has raised more than $52,000 and has about $30,000 of that money on hand, compared to about $12,000 for Dianne Hart and $3,500 for Walter Smith.

For the most part, House Republicans are faring well, with incumbent Reps. Jake Raburn and Jamie Grant crossing off another month without opposition, while Reps. Chris LatvalaLarry Ahern and Dan Raulerson each continued their fundraising dominance over fledgling rivals.

Tarpon Springs Republican Rep. Chris Sprowls did pick up a challenger last week in Democrat Bernie Fensterwald, though he’ll have a tough time catching up to Sprowls, who has $126,000 in his campaign account and another $197,000 on hand in his political committee, “Floridians for Economic Freedom.”

In HD 69, Republican Rep. Kathleen Peters was out-raised by her challenger, Democrat Jennifer Webb, for the second month running. Peters’ $6,450 haul barely covered expenses in May and left her with about $116,000 in the bank, while Webb added another $19,266 to boost her on-hand total to nearly $37,000 after two months in the race.

Republican Reps. Ross Spano in HD 59 and Shawn Harrison in HD 63 are also facing tough re-election battles, with Spano spending another month in second place behind Democratic challenger Rene Frazier.

The incumbent lawmaker raised more than Frazier and Democrat Golnaz Sahebzemani last month and increased his on-hand total to about $81,000, but it wasn’t enough to erase the gap between himself and the Brandon attorney, who entered June with nearly $87,000 in the bank.

Harrison fared better. The first-term lawmaker brought in $20,550 in May, leaving him with about $133,000 on hand, while his major competitor, Democratic Tampa City Council member Lisa Montelione, raised just $6,275 to bring her war chest to about $61,000.

Harrison’s other challenger, Democrat Mike Reedy, raised just $110 and had about $16,000 in his campaign account.

In HD 68, Democrat Ben Diamond has taken control of the race to replace exiting Rep. Dwight Dudley.

Diamond was able to raise $28,366 in April after Dudley had announced he would forego re-election, and came in with another $75,752 in May. The burst in fundraising left him with about $98,000 in the bank at the end of the month compared to about $5,900 for Republican Joseph Bensmihen.

Diamond will face a tough primary battle against Eric Lynn, however, as the mid-May filer has committed to dumping $500,000 into a political committee supporting his candidacy.

The other two open seats in the bay area — HD 60 and HD 70 — also looked to feature tough primary battles, though Republican Rebecca Smith threw in $165,000 of her own money last month to give her a nearly $200,000 lead over fellow Republican Jackie Toledo in the race to replace Rep. Young in HD 60.

With more than $288,000 on hand for Smith, and $92,000 on hand for Toledo, lone Democratic filer David Singer faces an uphill battle in the GOP-leaning seat despite raising another $25,696 last month.

The HD 70 race is a little closer, with St. Petersburg City Councilman Wengay Newton holding a small lead over Dan Fiorini in the Democratic primary, though a third Democrat, Christopher Czaia, filed for the race on June 1.

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