When then-Osceola County Commissioner Fred Hawkins first entered the Republican hunt for the seat opening in Florida House District 42, he seemed like a clear favorite to succeed term-limited Republican Rep. Mike La Rosa.
Now Hawkins is under felony charge and is politically tied to two widely unpopular Osceola County initiatives: the disposal of Puerto Rican coal ash in the county landfill and a county transportation tax proposal that crashed hard in an initiative election last year. Two weeks ago he was suspended from the Osceola County Commission after being arrested and charged with impersonating a police officer.
So the question in HD 42 is whether any of the other three Republicans, Dianna Liebnitzky, Benny Valentin, or Gary Scott, can emerge as a top alternative in Tuesday’s HD 42 Republican primary, or if Hawkins can survive by finishing first in a four way split.
The winner faces Democrat Barbara Cady, who is back for a second run for the seat after losing to La Rosa in 2018.
HD 42 covers most of Osceola County, except for a swath across most of Kissimmee and part of northwestern Osceola. It also covers a portion of eastern Polk County.
Republicans have held the district for decades, but Democrats have a 6-point advantage in voter registration.
Valentin, an ordained minister, clinical psychologist, and adjunct professor, also has run for the seat before, as a Democrat, and also lost to La Rosa, in 2016. Since then he’s become a Republican committed to Christian conservatism. He’s also made sure, as have the others, to press opposition to the coal ash disposal and to the failed transportation tax.
Liebnitzky, a health care administrator and adjunct professor from St. Cloud, was among the leaders in opposition of the transportation tax, as was La Rosa, and, for that matter, Cady. She is married to Wayne Liebnitzky, a two-time congressional Republican nominee who is running for the Osceola County Commission, and has also been pushing for property rights protections.
Scott, an Army combat veteran and student from St. Cloud, has been pushing a platform on controlling growth, seeking ways to reduce cost of living, and refocusing education to provide more vocational education.
Hawkins still has plenty of support from business groups and other interests. Since he was arrested on July 20, he’s still attracted $1,000 checks from the Florida Professional Firefighters, Business Force, Florida Medical Association, Florida Beer Wholesalers, and various real estate, quarry, and beverage companies.
Hawkins has raised and spent more than $220,000, including spending $93,000 on mailers in the first 13 days of August. The other three Republicans essentially have self-funded campaigns, none of them raising or spending more than $10,000 during the campaign.