Kelli Stargel – Florida Politics

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.

Dennis Baxley, Dorothy Hukill and Kelli Stargel avoid primaries in Central Florida state Senate runs

Republican state Sens. Dennis Baxley, Dorothy Hukill, and Kelli Stargel all managed to avoid Republican primaries as they seek re-elections in their Central Florida districts this fall.

With qualifying for the ballot closed at noon and nearly all the elections officially updated to final status, Baxley of Ocala, whose Senate District 12 covers Lake County and a broad swath of West Central Florida, will be in a showdown with Democrat Gary McKechnie of Mount Dora in November. Both qualified for the ballot, as did a write-in candidate.

In Senate District 14, covering much of the Space Coast, Hukill of Port Orange is in, as is Democratic challenger Mel Martin of Cocoa. Another Democrat, Brandon Maggard, appears to have dropped out as he has not filed any paperwork in months. But the Florida Division of Elections was slow Friday updating some races and still listed Maggard as “active” after 5 p.m. Friday, even though qualifying closed at noon Friday.

In District 22, covering Polk County and part of Lake County, Stargel, of Lakeland will get the winner of a Democratic primary. Former Circuit Judge Bob Doyel of Winter Haven and former state Rep. Ricardo Rangel of Auburndale will be battling in the August 28 Democratic primary for that honor.

Kelli Stargel

Florida retailers endorse Kelli Stargel for re-election

Florida retailers are endorsing Lakeland Republican Sen. Kelli Stargel’s re-election for Senate District 22.

Florida Retail Federation President/CEO R. Scott Shalley said in an announcement Monday: “In her role as Senate Finance & Tax Chair this past year, Senator Stargel showed continued leadership in her support of Florida’s retailers by including in the tax package a reduction in the business rent tax and multiple sales tax holidays. We’re thankful for her partnership in ensuring the growth of the retail industry and look forward to finding new ways to support the industry when she returns to the Senate.”

Reducing the commercial lease sales tax has been a top priority for FRF and other business groups for years. The tax package signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott this year reduced the tax rate from 5.8 percent to 5.7 percent.

In its endorsement, FRF also highlighted accolades Stargel has received from other interest groups, including the Foundation for Florida’s Future A+ Award and the Florida Farm Bureau Champion for Agriculture Award.

Stargel is running for re-election against former circuit court judge Bob Doyel and former Rep. Ricardo Rangel, both Democrats.

SD 22 has a Republican lean, but Democrats are hoping the “blue wave” can put it and other Republican-held Senate seats in play come November. In the 2016 cycle, Stargel scored a 7-point win over Democrat Debra Wright after outspending her 20-to-1. President Donald Trump also carried the district by nearly the same margin.

Through May, Stargel had a firm lead in the money race. She is also expected to get some reinforcements from incoming Senate President Bill Galvano, who is hosting a fundraiser for her in Bradenton next month.

Julie Brown, Gary Clark seek another term on PSC

Utility regulators Julie Brown and Gary Clark are seeking reappointment to the Florida Public Service Commission, as candidates face a Tuesday deadline to apply for two seats on the panel.

Brown and Clark were among 11 people [now 14, see bottom of post] who had submitted applications as of early Monday afternoon for the $132,036-a-year positions on the five-member commission, which regulates utilities such as Florida Power & Light, Duke Energy Florida, Gulf Power and Tampa Electric Co.

The deadline to submit applications to a state nominating council is 5 p.m. Tuesday.

The nominating council, chaired by Sen. Kelli Stargel, a Lakeland Republican, is expected to come up with a list of “most qualified” applicants on June 26 in Orlando.

After interviews, the council will eventually offer a short list of recommendations from which Gov. Rick Scott will make appointments to the two seats.

Brown and Clark currently hold the seats, but their terms expire Jan. 1. Scott will make appointments to four-year terms. Brown, an attorney from Tampa, has served on the Public Service Commission since January 2011. Scott reappointed her in 2014.

“It has truly been the highlight of my career serving the state of Florida as a Public Service Commissioner, and I would be honored to have the opportunity to continue serving for an additional term as we face new challenges in the utility industry ahead,” Brown wrote as part of her application for reappointment.

Clark was appointed to his seat in September to complete the term of Jimmy Patronis, who was named by Scott to serve as Florida chief financial officer.

Clark, previously a deputy secretary at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, in his application called the Public Service Commission appointment “the pinnacle of my career.”

Earlier this year, Clark applied for a different seat on the commission that became open when former Rep. Ritch Workman, a Melbourne Republican, withdrew after being appointed by Scott.

Workman, who had not begun serving on the commission, withdrew after Senate Rules Chairwoman Lizbeth Benacquisto, a Fort Myers Republican, accused him of sexual harassment. Benacquisto said she would not hold a confirmation hearing for Workman, who said he did not recall any impropriety.

Clark’s effort to change seats would have given him a longer term. But Scott selected Andrew Fay, who was a chief deputy in the state attorney general’s office, to replace Workman. Fay’s term expires Jan. 1, 2022.

Others who had applied as of Monday afternoon for the two open seats are:

Cynthia Wilson Orndoff, a professor of construction management at Everglades University in Sarasota who made the nominating council’s short list for the commission in 2016. At that time, Scott selected Donald Polmann, a Dunedin engineer who was a longtime official with Tampa Bay Water, to serve on the commission.

Anibal Taboas, an appointee to the Governors State University Board of Trustees from Woodridge, Ill. who was interviewed for the commission last year.

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.

Amir Liberman, the owner of Consulting.Net, Inc. in Fort Lauderdale.

Terry Dilligard, a former service technician with AT&T from DeLand.

Robert R. Bennett, former chairman of United States Green Energy Corp. from Pensacola.

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

Vanessa Hall, a chief administrative law judge with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in Washington, D.C.

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.

Updated Tuesday – One more applicant filed before today’s 5 p.m. deadline: Mark C. Nading, a self-described firearms expert from Pembroke Pines.

Updated Wednesday – The final applicants by deadline include Rachael Vinita Favors, a former manager for the Florida State Minority Supplier Development Council, and Gregory Hill, an assistant general counsel with the Department of Corrections.

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Capital correspondent Jim Rosica contributed to this post.

Bob Doyel raises $8,900 for SD 22 bid in May

Winter Haven Democrat Bob Doyel raised $8,916 in May for his bid to unseat Lakeland Republican Sen. Kelli Stargel in Senate District 22.

The retired circuit court judge received that cash via 66 contributions, the majority of them coming in from individuals giving $100 or less. About half of Doyel’s May contributions came from within the confines of the district, which covers northern Polk County and southern Lake County.

His top donor of the month was “Floridians for Ethics, Accountability and Responsibility,” a political committee tied to South Florida Democratic Sen. Gary Farmer.

Following that were a half-dozen $500 checks, including one from Lakeland law firm DiCesare, Davidson & Barker. Further down on the report was a $100 check from the Lakeland branch of the United Food & Commercial Workers.

Expenditures came in at about $14,500 last month. More than half of that tally paid the salary of campaign manager Trinity Laurino, an experienced digital marketing and fundraising expert and a former CNN producer who has been working for the campaign for several months.

Also on the ledger was a $2,166 payment to St. Petersburg-based Democratic consulting firm Blue Ticket Consulting and a $1,850 payment to direct mail/printing experts Street Smartz Consulting.

With May in the books, Doyel has raised just over $92,000 since filing for the race one year ago. That total includes $7,500 worth of loans Doyel used to kickstart his campaign in the early going. He started June with a little over $50,000 in the bank.

Doyel will have to dispatch former state Rep. Ricardo Rangel in the Democratic primary before he can get a shot at Stargel.

The Auburndale Democrat had not filed his May campaign finance report as of Wednesday afternoon, though as of April 30 he had shown about $5,000 in contributions for the six weeks he’d been in the race.

Both Democrats trail Stargel by a mile. Through April, she had raised $183,600 for her campaign and had $133,600 banked. She is also expected to get some reinforcements from incoming Senate President Bill Galvano, who is hosting a fundraiser for her in Bradenton next month.

SD 22 has a Republican lean, but Democrats are hoping the “blue wave” can put it and other Republican-held Senate seats in play come November. In the 2016 cycle, Stargel scored a 7-point win over Democrat Debra Wright after outspending her 20-to-1. President Donald Trump also carried the district by nearly the same margin.

Kelli Stargel

Bill Galvano to help boost Kelli Stargel fundraising next month

Incoming Senate President Bill Galvano is planning to host a fundraiser in Bradenton next month for fellow Republican Sen. Kelli Stargel, one of a half-dozen GOP state senators whose seats are being targeted by Florida Democrats this fall.

The casual fundraising reception will be held at Gio Fabulous Pizza, 4805 Cortez Rd. W, from 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm on July 10.

Stargel is unopposed in the Republican primary, but she faces two Democrats in her SD 22 re-election bid: former circuit court judge Robert Doyel and former state Rep. Ricardo Rangel.

Though there’s still a primary election to be had on the Democratic side, that hasn’t stopped Doyel from ramping up his campaign, complete with some heated rhetoric.

As of April 30, Stargel had raised $183,583 and had $133,614 in cash reserves. Doyel entered May with $75,650 banked, while Rangel had $3,467 on hand.

The fundraiser invitation is below.

Kelli-Stargel-Invitation-July 10

 

Looking toward November, SD 22 race turns up the heat

While most campaigns are concerned with the August primary elections, the general appears already to have started for Senate District 22 and the main issue is education.

The campaign of former Circuit Judge Robert Doyel, of Winter Haven, fired several blasts at Sen. Kelli Stargel, a Lakeland Republican, because she would not participate in a canvas of senators, seen by some as a move by Democrats, for a Special Session.

Statewide, Democrats believe they have a winning issue to use against Republican incumbents because of the GOP refusal to agree to the Special Session to increase funding for K-12 education.

Doyel, picking up on teacher dissatisfaction with funding from the recent Legislative Session, blasted what he said is leaving regular public schools shortchanged.

“I am disappointed that she couldn’t even be bothered to complete the survey. A majority of the senators who voted this week agreed that we need to get clear answers for our public-school teachers, students and parents, but Kelli Stargel doesn’t seem to care,” he charged in a prepared statement.

“It’s a timely reminder that she’s more interested in maintaining her relationship with her friends in the for-profit and charter school industries than she is in doing her job as a state senator,” Doyel said

Stargel said the increases (by the Republican-majority Legislature) are adequate and are having good results.

“The budget passed by the Legislature provides an unprecedented level of K-12 per-student funding, with a per-student increase of over $100,” she said. “The fact is that 45 percent of the per-student increase is unrestricted and can be spent by districts according to locally determined priorities, while 55 percent of the per-student increase is restricted for critical uses such as Mental Health, Safe Schools and Teachers Classroom Supply.

Ignoring the criticisms of shortchanging public schools, Stargel said: “Our investments are working. Recent NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) scores demonstrate that our Florida students continue to excel and outperform their peers across the nation. In fact, Florida students outperformed the nation in Grade 4 reading, Grade 8 reading and Grade 4 math.”

Doyel has assembled a formidable campaign staff, but he still has a primary opponent, former state Rep. Ricardo Rangel, who has been eclipsed publicly by the growing battle between Stargel and Doyel.

At the end of April, Rangel had a campaign account of $5,085 compared to Doyel with $75,650 and Stargel, with the power of incumbency, at $183,583.

But in Rangel’s successful 2012 state House race, the Orlando Sentinel complained he was running a stealthy — under the radar — campaign. He won that race with 68 percent.

Polk Democrat Robert Doyel gets the unthinkable: party support

Former Circuit Judge Robert Doyel, a Winter Haven Democrat and candidate for Senate District 22, is receiving what no other Polk County Democrat has received in more than two decades: support from his state party.

No Democrat from Polk County — the historic home of three Democratic governors and four U.S. Senators along with one speaker of the House and three Senate presidents in the 20th century — has served in either chamber of the Florida Legislature since 2000.

This year, Doyel is receiving support and the party has marked his race against incumbent state Sen. Kelli Stargel as viable. He noted he had his campaign up and running several weeks before state party interest.

Doyel served 16 years as a judge, retiring in 2010. But he has remained very active in several social issues including domestic violence.

He is the author of The Baby Mama Syndrome, a book dealing with the problems faced by young, often unwed, mothers.

He has been featured as a speaker and quoted on television news programs in the Southeastern states for his expertise on domestic violence issues and violence against women and law enforcement mismanagement of rape kits across the nation.

In 2016, he ran for Florida House District 41 and received no support from the Democratic Party, but had large grassroots support from the county party.

But what a change in races and two years make. Doyel has support from the state party, the Florida Senate campaign committee and several noted consultants.

He hired as campaign manager Trinity Laurino of Lakeland, an experienced digital marketing and fundraising expert and a former CNN producer.

Doyel hired Tom Alte and his St. Petersburg-based Democratic consulting firm, Blue Ticket for digital campaigning. His direct mail expert is Matt Martz. All were hired before the entrance of the state party and the Senate Committee into his campaign, he said.

“This is a serious job and a 24-hour one,” he said, “and I am working it.”

Monday, the campaign was notified that it had collected the required signatures from 3,321 voters in Senate District 22 to qualify for the ballot without having to pay a filing fee.

Before he can face Stargel, Doyel must win the August Democratic Primary. Former state Rep. Ricardo Rangel of Auburndale is challenging him. Rangel represented northern Osceola County for a two-year term 2012-2014.

Stargel a has served in the state Senate since 2012 and has been noted for her strict conservatism in supporting abortion restrictions and her support of charter schools. Her votes on education funding brought opposition from some public-school teachers during the recent session of the Florida Legislature.

She also received angry replies from some over her statement that, during gun restriction debates. “thoughts and prayers” were the best way to stop the evil behind mass shootings like the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High.

But she has been a strong conservative in a previously strong conservative district.

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