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Rick Outzen: Political domino games begin with Jeff Miller’s announcement

U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller has set off a series of dominoes with his announcement Thursday that he will not seek a ninth term in Congress.

Congressional openings are rare. Over the past 45 years, Northwest Florida has only had four U.S. Representatives: Bob Sikes, Earl Hutto, Joe Scarborough, and Miller.

The last two, Scarborough and Miller, were relatively unknown when they announced their candidacies. Scarborough trailed in the 1994 GOP primary but beat Lois Benson in the runoff. Miller staved off potential candidates, such as Collier Merrill and Don Gaetz, by being the first to announce and raising a hefty war chest.

Who will run to replace Miller?

State Rep. Matt Gaetz, State Sen. Greg Evers, Escambia Supervisor of Elections David Stafford, and Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward were the names being bounced around Thursday.

Gaetz has raised nearly $1 million for his state Senate bid, so he has a good head start. I’ve heard Evers has polled well in the district, and name recognition could be critical in a crowded field.

Stafford has a great record as SOE. He is the former chief of staff for Scarborough and the son of a retired judge. However, he will have to give up his office to run, which would create another domino with possibilities of Dave Murzin, Charles Bare, Diane Mack and others seeking that post.

Hayward can run without stepping down as mayor. Someone might challenge that decision, but it looks like he has legal grounds to do it. Hayward has been a prodigious fundraiser. His former chief operating officer Tamara Fountain helped two Okaloosa County judges get elected in 2012 so she could assist in the eastern part of the district.

Escambia Commission Chairman Grover Robinson texted me that he’s not interested. I’ve been told that State Rep. Mike Hill may seek Evers’ seat, as may State Rep. Doug Broxson and Clay Ingram.

Long shots are Sheriffs David Morgan and Wendall Hall — both ever-popular with good name recognition. Another one is former Escambia County Commissioner Gene Valentino, who often said he wanted to run for Congress. With the recent merger of his company with JetPay, he may have the wealth to self-fund his campaign.

Speaking of self-funding, another name has been mentioned for Ever’s state Senate seat, Quint Studer. Since he announced his retirement from Studer Group, his name has been mentioned for several political offices, including Superintendent of Schools. If he runs for Florida Senate, he will likely face Hill, Ingram and Broxson — which opens up their House seats.

Here are how the House races could fall:

Broxson: Santa Rosa County Commissioner Jayer Williamson has already filed to run in 2018. He would have to move up his timetable.

Hill: Frank White, son-in-law of Sandy Sansing; Pensacola City Councilmen Charles Bare; and Larry Johnson are possibilities.

Ingram’s seat is the one that is the mystery. I’m sure we will hear more names over the weekend.

Rick Outzen is the publisher and owner of the Independent News in Pensacola, founded in 1999 to provide an independent voice on the issues facing Northwest Florida.

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