Kelli Stargel Archives - Florida Politics

Kelli Stargel leads Bob Doyel by a touchdown in SD 22

Despite Democratic challenger Bob Doyel touting internal poll numbers showing him leading Republican state Sen. Kelli Stargel, the first public poll of the SD 22 general election shows Stargel with an outside-the-margin lead in her re-election bid.

A new St. Pete Polls survey, conducted Sunday, found Stargel up by 7 percentage points among registered voters who said they planned to vote in the general election. The 48-41 percent lead for Stargel comes about a month after Doyel, a retired circuit court judge, circulated an internal poll showing him with a 45-40 lead as well as decent name ID within the district.

Stargel received more than 80 percent support from registered Republicans and held a 45-39 percent lead among unaffiliated and third-party voters. Doyel’s support among SD 22 Democrats was less robust, with 71 percent backing him, 17 percent supporting Stargel and 12 percent undecided.

Stargel’s lead reached 20 points among white voters, who make up about two-thirds of SD 22’s voting age population. Doyel was far ahead among black and Hispanic voters. The sample size for those demographics, however, was small.

By age, Stargel holds 9-point edge among 18- to 29-year-olds and leads by 8 percentage points among the 50- to 69-year-old bracket. The race was tighter among Gen Xers and the over 70 crowd, the former of which preferred Stargel by a 44-40 percent margin and the latter of which broke toward her 46-41 percent.

Doyel trailed by double digits among men, though the race is much tighter among women, who only are only leaning toward Stargel by 2 points, 45-43 percent.

SD 22 covers southern Lake County and northern Polk County and has trended toward GOP candidates in the past despite registered Democrats outnumbering registered Republicans by a couple points.

Florida Democrats are hoping the ‘blue wave’ can put it and other Republican-held Senate seats in play come November, though like in most other FDP-targeted districts, there’s a large fundraising disparity between the GOP and Democratic nominees.

Doyel was challenged by former state Rep. Ricardo Rangel in the Aug. 28 primary and spent a large amount of cash ahead of the 66-34 percent rout. Heading into September, he had about $92,500 in hard money $31,350 in his political committee, Bring Back Democracy.

Through the same date, Stargel had just shy of $240,000 in her campaign account with another $215,250 banked in her affiliated political committee, Limited Govt for a Stronger Florida.

In the 2016 cycle, Stargel scored a 7-point win over underfunded and overmatched Democrat Debra Wright. President Donald Trump also carried the district by nearly the same margin.

The St. Pete Polls survey was conducted by an automated phone call polling system on Sept. 16. It received responses from 569 registered voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.1 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence level.

Robert Doyel defeats Ricardo Rangel in SD 22 Democratic primary

Retired Circuit Judge Robert Doyel of Winter Haven defeated former state Rep. Ricardo Rangel of Osceola County to win the Democratic Party’s nomination for Florida Senate District 22.

The unofficial vote tally was 20,770 for Doyel, or 66 percent of votes cast, to 10,672, or 34 percent, for Rangel.

“I am happy with the outcome, but not resting,” the Doyle said. ” I will continue to run 12 hours a day, seven days a week until I get to Tallahassee.”

The Doyel campaign early on had broadcast that he collected the required signatures from 3,321 voters in Senate District 22 to qualify for the ballot without having to pay a filing fee.

The exercise was not so much to avoid the filing fee but to show he had a wide range of support, a consultant said.

Doyel did not campaign specifically against Rangel. In fact, he ignored him and instead campaigned heatedly against incumbent Republican State Sen. Kelli Stargel of Lakeland, who he now will meet in the general election Nov. 6.

The state Democratic Party has listed Senate District 22 as “viable” and sent assistance down for Doyel.

An internal poll conducted earlier this month showed Doyel with a 5-percentage point lead over Stargel. A Democratic Party official working with the campaign said they didn’t bother with tallies in a head-to-head with Rangel because his recognition factor from those surveyed never went above 20 percent.

Doyel served 16 years on the 10th Judicial Circuit bench before retiring in 2010. But has remained involved with social issues and family issues. He is the author of “The Baby Mama Syndrome,” a book dealing with the problems of unwed teenage mothers.

Rangel, who like Doyel is a military veteran had listed an Auburndale address for his campaign headquarters but would not confirm where he lived. He represented northern Osceola County for a two-year term 2012-2014.

Florida Senate District 22 covers most of northern Polk and southern half of Lake counties.

Poll gives Robert Doyel a 5-point lead over Kelli Stargel in battleground SD 22

Retired Circuit Judge Robert Doyel has the largest competitive edge of any of the six Republican-held Senate seats specifically targeted by the Florida Democratic Party, according to a recent internal survey.

The Winter Haven Democrat is running for Senate District 22, which covers northern Polk County and southern Lake County and is currently held by Lakeland Republican Sen. Kelli Stargel.

The Florida Democratic Party’s internal poll numbers show Doyel has a higher name recognition in his district than any other Democratic Senate candidate in a targeted race at 54 percent — that means higher than House Minority Leader Janet Cruz, higher than former state Rep. Amanda Murphy and higher than Gainesville physician Kayser Enneking, who started hitting TV last week.

The internal survey also shows Doyel with a 5 percent advantage over Stargel, 45-40 percent, giving him the heretofore biggest lead among the six contested races. The only recent public poll showing one of the six targeted candidates with a lead came in SD 18 early last month, where Cruz held a 1-point lead over Tampa Republican Sen. Dana Young, 44-43 percent.

The random sample poll was conducted July 23-26 and took responses from 402 likely voters from all parties and results were statistically adjusted to mirror the demographics of the district.

Unlike Stargel, Doyel has to get past a primary challenger in two weeks, however, the poll didn’t give a window on his chances in that contest.

Doyel faces former state Rep. Ricardo Rangel, who represented Osceola County from 2012 through 2014. His campaign headquarters is listed as Auburndale which, unlike his former stomping grounds, is within SD 22. Still, he has been a no-show from many forums and campaign events.

In addition to District 22, the state party is targeting Gainesville-based SD 8, Pinellas and Pasco-based SD 16, Tampa-based SD 18, St. Petersburg-based SD 24 and Hialeah-based SD 36. In each instance, party officials have determined that the seats are winnable by a Democrat, though only SD 18 and SD 36 were carried by Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election.

Party officials added that the bright polling for Doyel may help him boost his fundraising numbers over the next few weeks as large institutional donors have their doubts assuaged and begin to see his potential for success in November.

As of Aug. 3, Stargel had about $425,000 banked between her campaign account and an affiliated political committee, Limited Govt for a Stronger Florida. Doyel, meanwhile, has raised $125,215 in campaign funds and has $73,212 at the ready, followed by Rangel with $6,145 raised and pennies in the bank.

Denise Grimsley scores 32 endorsements from current and former lawmakers

Agriculture Commissioner candidate Denise Grimsley got the nod from a large contingency of her colleagues in the Florida Legislature Monday, adding another 32 backers just days after she announced three dozen endorsements from local elected officials from all corners of the Sunshine State.

Grimsley, a Sebring Republican, has been a member of the state Legislature since 2004, first as a member of the Florida House and, since 2012, as a member of the Florida Senate. She currently represents District 26, which covers all of DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, Highlands and Okeechobee counties as well as parts of Charlotte, Lee and Polk counties.

The bulk nod included a baker’s dozen of backers who are currently serving alongside Grimsley: Sens. Dennis Baxley, Aaron Bean, Anitere Flores, George Gainer, Rene Garcia, Dorothy Hukill, Debbie Mayfield, David Simmons, Kelli Stargel and Reps. Sam Killebrew, Cary Pigman, Elizabeth Porter and Charlie Stone

The nine current senators announced today join incoming Senate President Bill Galvano and Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson, making for half of the Republican Senators not named “Grimsley” backing her campaign. Grimsley’s chief rival in the Republican primary, Lehigh Acres Rep. Matt Caldwell, has landed loads of support from his House colleagues, but has only earned one endorsement from a sitting Republican Senator: St. Pete Sen. Jeff Brandes.

Also adding their names to the pile were 19 former lawmakers, all but five of whom served alongside Grimsley for at least a couple years of her tenure in Tallahassee, including former House Speakers Allan Bense, Dean Cannon, Larry Cretul, H. Lee Moffitt; former Sens. Ellyn Bogdanoff, Charlie Dean, Pat Neal and Miguel Diaz de la Portilla; as well as former Reps. Kim Berfield, Marti Coley, Faye Culp, Frank Farkas, Mark Flanagan, James Frishe, Kurt Kelly, Dick Kravitz, Dave Murzin, Mark Ogles and Joseph Spratt.

“During my time in the Florida Senate and Florida House of Representatives, I have met or worked with many of these Senators and Representatives while serving our Sunshine State,” Grimsley said. “We have worked together to make this the best state in the nation to live, work and play; and, I am grateful for their support of my campaign.

“With my diverse background raising cattle, growing citrus, helping people, running a business and managing a budget, paired with my dedication to solving problems that face Florida, I know I am the most qualified and best candidate in this race; and, I look forward to the opportunity to continue my work serving Floridians as their Commissioner of Agriculture,” she said.

Grimsley has surged in endorsements over the past several weeks. Outside of the 66 endorsements she’s announced since Friday, she has the support of 36 current county sheriffs — seven Democratic and 29 Republican — as well as numerous statewide organizations, including the Fraternal Order of Police, Florida Professional Firefighter, Florida Realtors and the Florida Medical Association, among many others.

Caldwell and Grimsley are running alongside retired U.S. Army Col. Mike McCalister and former Winter Haven Rep. Baxter Troutman in the Republican primary.

Through Aug. 3, Grimsley leads in true fundraising with $2.65 million in outside cash raised since she entered the race in February 2017. She also currently holds the cash lead with more than $1.1 million in the bank between her campaign account and two political committees, Saving Florida’s Heartland and Let’s Grow Florida.

Caldwell, meanwhile, has also broken the $2 million mark since entering the race in April 2017 and had a little over $1 million in the bank at last check-in.

Troutman, however, has pumped $3 million into his campaign fund and raised about $500,000, though his high burn rate has left him with just $322,500 on hand as of Aug. 3. McCalister, for his part, has raised just $22,604, including nearly $19,000 in candidate loans.

The winner of the Aug. 28 Republican primary will move on to November when they’ll face one of three Democrats: Nikki FriedJeffrey Porter or Roy David Walker.

Poll: Bob Doyel slightly edges incumbent Kelli Stargel in Senate District 22

A poll released by the state Senate campaign of retired Circuit Judge Robert Doyel, a Winter Haven Democrat, shows him edging Republican incumbent Sen. Kelli Stargel of Lakeland in the November general election for the Republican-leaning District 22.

The poll shows a preference of 45 percent for Doyel to 40 percent for Stargel with 15 percent undecided if the election were held today. With a margin of error of 4.9 percent, however, the results are just barely out of a statistical tie.

Asked if they wanted to re-elect Stargel or someone else, the poll said 33 percent of the voters want Stargel re-elected, 39 percent said they they’d vote for someone else, and 28 percent said they didn’t know.

The district breakdown is 42 percent Republican to 38 percent Democrats.

The poll results do not show a Democratic primary matchup versus Ricardo Rangel, who lists his address as Auburndale, but who served a term in Florida House from Osceola County.

Doyel and Stargel are each well known by 54 percent of the voters who were surveyed.

Asked if they had a favorable or unfavorable view of each candidate, 37 percent of the voters surveyed said that they had a favorable view of Doyel while 17 percent said unfavorable with the remainder as undecided or no answer.

While voters were not asked their reasons for their favorable or unfavorable views, Stargel has taken hits recently by school board members and teachers for the Republican legislators’ actions on school policies and funding,

The race has been identified as a priority by the Florida Democratic Party of Florida and has brought funding and advice from the state party, not seen in the area in many years. It is still the only race in Senate or House districts anchored in Polk County in which the state party has taken a direct interest.

The random telephone poll of 402 likely voters in the November General Election in Senate District 22, was conducted July 23-26. It was conducted by Kevin Akins of Anzalone Liszt Grove Research.

The poll included an oversample of 50 voters in the Lake County portion of the district to bring the results up to a measurable proportion. It also included a party breakdown in proportion to the voters in the district, 43 percent Republican, 36 percent Democrat 21 percent No Party Affiliation or Other.

Polling included the use of both landline and cellphone numbers. Pollsters said the poll results were weighted to reflect the traditional 7 percent GOP turnout advantage.

Democratic Progressive Caucus backs Pam Keith, Bob Doyel

The Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida on Friday helped bolster the liberal credentials for Pam Keith‘s Congressional campaign and for more than 35 other politicians running for state and local office this year.

The newest round of endorsements includes backing Keith over Lauren Baer in the Democratic primary in Florida’s 18th Congressional District.

Keith, who two years ago finished third in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, still lags in the money race behind Baer, who has more than $1 million in cash on hand compared to Keith’s $68,000.

Keith celebrated the endorsement Friday and said “pro-people” policy should win the day.

The winner will go up against freshman U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, a Stuart Republican who right now boasts just under $2 million in cash on hand.

The contest is shaping up to be one of Florida’s more competitive Congressional races in the fall, though the major analysts still give Mast an edge. Cook Political Report rates the race “Lean Republican” and Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball lists the district as “Likely Republican.”

The Progressive Caucus also backed Bob Doyel, a Winter Haven Democrat running in Senate District 22, over Ricardo Rangel. Doyel’s the heavy favorite in this Democratic primary, having raised nearly $112,000 to Rangel’s $6,100.

The Democrat who wins the Aug. 28 primary will face incumbent state Sen. Kelli Stargel, a Lakeland Republican who has more than $311,000 raised in her re-election effort.

In Senate District 8, the Progressive Caucus didn’t take a primary side in the Gainesville district and offered its endorsement to both Democrats, Kayser Enneking and Olysha Magruder.

Right now, Enneking holds the edge on donations, with upward of $324,000 raised compared to Magruder’s nearly $29,000.

The Democratic primary winner in District 8 will go up against Republican incumbent Keith Perry, who faces no primary challenge and boasts $450,000 in contributions.

The full list of Progressive Caucus endorsements for 2018 can be found here.

Central Florida hoteliers pick Jerry Demings, Teresa Jacobs

The Central Florida Hotel & Lodging Association PAC has endorsed Jerry Demings for Orange County mayor, Teresa Jacobs for Orange County School Board chair, and dozens of other candidates for state and local offices in Central Florida.

“With a record-breaking 72 million visitors to the Orlando destination, Central Florida’s Hospitality Industry continues to serve as a crucial economic engine for the state of Florida. The CFHLA-PAC proudly supports the following ‘Pro- Tourism’ Candidates, who respect the importance of the Hospitality Industry relating to job creation and economic development,” CFHLA President Richard Maladecki stated in a news release.

Demings, currently the Orange County sheriff, was picked by the hoteliers over entrepreneur Rob Panepinto, who has been a leader in the business community, serving a stint as president of the Orlando chamber of commerce; and Orange County Commissioner Pete Clarke.

Jacobs, currently the Orange County mayor, was picked over Orange County School Board Member Nancy Robbinson and two others. The pick implies fully-healed wounds after Jacobs and the hotel association publicly and angrily sparred over uses for the county’s tourism develoment tax two years ago.

Orlando Police Chief John Mina is the hoteliers’ pick to succeed Demings as Orange County sheriff. Mina has two opponents, notably former Florida Highway Patrol Chief Jose “Joe” Lopez.

In state races, the hotel association gave its backing to state Sen. Kelli Stargel, whose Senate District 22 is in Polk and Lake counties, abutting Walt Disney World; and to state Rep. Keith Perry, whose Gainesville-based Senate District 8 is more than 50 miles away from the region usually associated with Central Florida.

The hoteliers said they also like state Rep. David Smith in House District 28 in Seminole County; state Rep. Bob Cortes in House District 30 in Seminole and Orange counties; Bobby Olszewski in House District 44 in Orange; state Rep. Kamia Brown in House District 45 in Orange; state Rep. Amy Mercado in House District 48 in Orange; and state Rep. Rene Plasencia in House District 50 in Orange and Brevard counties.

In Orange County Commission races the group endorsed Fred Brummer in District 2, Susan Makowski in District 4, and incumbent Commissioner Victoria Siplin in District 6.

The hotel association also gave its backing to Orange County school board candidates Heather Traynham in District 1, Chadwick Hardee in District 2, incumbent School Board Member Linda Kobert in District 3, and former state Rep. Karen Castor Dentel in District 6.

In Seminole County, the hoteliers backed Jay Zembower for the County Commission District 2 seat and Joe Durso for the District 4 seat. For the Seminole School Board, they backed Tina Calderone.

In Osceola County, the hotel association endorsed incumbent Commissioner Viviana Janer in District 2 and incumbent Commissioner Cheryl Grieb in District 4.

There were some conspicuous absences from the endorsement list, notably state Rep. Mike La Rosa of Osceola County, who chairs the House Tourism and Gaming Control Subcommittee, and state Rep. Scott Plakon of Seminole County, who serves on that committee.

The association spread its endorsements across parties, though generally favored Republicans. Among them, Demings, Mina, Brown, Mercado, Siplin, Castor Dentel, and Janer are Democrats, while Jacobs, Stargel, Perry, Smith, Cortes, Olszewski, Plasencia, Brummer, Makowski, and Hardee are Republicans.

Brown already has been re-elected by default, since she did not receive an opponent in this year’s election.

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

Incumbents make first cut for PSC seats

Hoping to get reappointed for another four years, state utility regulators Julie Brown and Gary Clark are among the six “most qualified” applicants who will be interviewed next month for seats on the state’s Public Service Commission.

The Public Service Commission Nominating Council on Tuesday agreed to invite the two incumbent commissioners, along with candidates Anibal Taboas, Amir Liberman, Monica Rutkowski, and Gregory Hill, to interview for the $132,036-a-year positions, which Brown and Clark now hold on the five-member commission.

Interviews will be held July 17 in Orlando. The commission regulates investor-owned utilities.

The six, listed on the council’s website as the “most qualified,” were among 14 people who applied.

After interviewing the candidates, the council — chaired by Sen. Kelli Stargel, a Lakeland Republican — will forward a short list to Gov. Rick Scott, who will make the final selections. The current terms of Brown and Clark expire at the end of the year.

Brown, an attorney from Tampa, has served on the Public Service Commission since January 2011. Scott reappointed her in 2014.

Clark was appointed to his seat in September to complete the term of Jimmy Patronis, named by Scott to serve as Florida’s chief financial officer. He replaced Jeff Atwater, who stepped down early from his second term to work for Florida Atlantic University.

Clark previously was a deputy secretary at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Taboas is an executive consultant with Strategic Leadership & Risk Management in Woodridge, Illinois, and a member of the board of directors for the nonprofit Center of Excellence for Hazardous Materials Management, according to his application. He interviewed for the commission last year.

Liberman owns Consulting. Net, Inc. in Fort Lauderdale and is a partner in Liberman Real Estate and Victoria Honey Farm, which his wife runs.

Rutkowski is an insurance regulatory compliance consultant from Tallahassee who previously was a vice president of compliance and regulatory affairs for Guy Carpenter and the SmithGroup.

Hill has been an assistant general counsel with the Department of Corrections since March 2017. Previous positions included serving as a senior attorney with the Florida Department of Financial Services.

Among those who did not advance on Tuesday were Alton Drew, an attorney from Atlanta who was a staff member at the Florida Public Service Commission for all but a short time between November 1989 and February 1998, and Steven Petty, a former chief economist for Florida TaxWatch who applied for a spot on the commission last year but failed to get an invitation to the interview process.

The PSC regulates utilities such as Florida Power & Light, Duke Energy Florida, Gulf Power and Tampa Electric Co.

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Content has been reprinted with permission of The News Service of Florida.

Florida Democrats say ‘no GOP seat is safe’ in 2018

A record number Democratic candidates qualified for state races this week, and the Florida Democratic Party said now it’s time to prepare for the “Blue Wave.”

“From the Gubernatorial race, to State House and Senate, to county commissioners and mayors, we have the most qualified, committed, and exciting group of candidates we have ever seen,” said FDP Chair Terrie Rizzo.

“We have a record number of people who have stepped up to run, and what this shows us is that no GOP seat is safe. After nearly 20-years of all-Republican rule, Floridians are fed-up with economic policies that don’t benefit working families, they are tired of their children’s education being shortchanged, and they are tired of leaders who have failed to take action on everything from gun violence prevention to climate change.”

Rizzo also touted a record-breaking 82 Democratic women making the ballot for state legislative races.

“Women will be the difference in 2018, I do truly believe that. They are instrumental to the success of the Democratic Party, and they feel more empowered than ever to take their future into their own hands by running for office,” she said.

It’s too early to tell whether Democrats can crack the GOP’s hold on state government by flipping the Governor’s Mansion, or possibly even the state Senate, but now that the title cards are set it’s clear heretofore underdogs’ strategy is more reminiscent of Rocky than Glass Joe.

Republicans currently hold a 23-16 advantage in Florida Senate, with one vacancy. Democrats plan to take the chamber back has been clear for months — flip Tampa Bay and field fresh, credible challengers in Gainesville-based SD 8, Lakeland-based SD 22 and Miami-Dade-based SD 36. Win five, win the Senate.

On the Tampa Bay front, Democrats have recruited House Minority Leader Janet Cruz to challenge Republican Sen. Dana Young in SD 18; former Democratic Rep. Amanda Murphy to take on former Republican Rep. Ed Hooper in SD 16, and trial attorney Carrie Pilon to challenge St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes in SD 24. None of those races will be easy, but the 2018 crop of candidates is certainly more competitive than in 2016.

In SD 8, the party likes its odds with Kayser Enneking, and she’s done her part by pulling in a respectable amount of cash for her campaign. Incumbent Republican Sen. Keith Perry still leads her in fundraising, but not by near the margin found in the Tampa races.

The fundraising gap and Republican lean is more significant in SD 22, where former circuit court judge Bob Doyel is challenging Lakeland Republican Sen. Kelli Stargel. He’s a much more formidable opponent however than the 2016 Democratic nominee, Debra Wright, who to her credit still came within 7 points despite being outspent 20-to-1.

Time will tell on David Perez’ bid against Republican Rep. Manny Diaz in SD 36. Diaz is a popular and very well-funded, and Perez has only been in the race for a couple of weeks.

While the Senate roadmap is known, Florida Democrats have been less direct about their overall strategy to chip away at the GOP’s sizable majority in the House.

Republicans currently have a stranglehold on the chamber, which is split 76-41 with three vacancies. Two of those empty seats are Republican locks, and the third was a gimme for Democrats — congrats to Boynton Beach Democrat Joseph Casello, who was elected to HD 90 without opposition Friday.

At 42 seats, the party is still a dozen from the number that went for Hillary Clinton in 2016, and in 2018 the strategy in the lower chamber reflects a familiar adage: “You must be present to win.”

To that end, Democrats are fielding a candidate in over 100 districts, a marked increase from the 63 Democrats who took a shot in 2016. And it’s not all quantity over quality — a cursory glance the 95 House races that weren’t decided Friday jogs the memory on some of the strong candidates running under the Democratic Party banner.

In Orlando’s HD 47, Anna Eskamani has strong odds to flip the seat vacated by Republican Rep. Mike Miller. In Broward-based HD 93, Emma Collum has a genuine chance to succeed term-limited Republican Rep. George Moraitis. And in perennial target HD 63, Fentrice Driskell is raising cash and landing endorsements as she aims to unseat Tampa Republican Rep. Shawn Harrison.

Even in some districts previously thought of as moonshots, some real-deal candidates have shown up and gotten to work. In Sarasota’s HD 74, for instance, Tony Mowry is confident he can hand James Buchanan his second defeat of the year in a traditionally Republican seat. Tracye Polson is matching her GOP opponents in fundraising in her bid to flip HD 15, the seat vacated by Jacksonville Republican Rep. Jay Fant.

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