Joe Henderson: Get your popcorn ready because Tuesday’s primary is a must watch

Is it the end of the line for U.S. Rep. Ross Spano? We'll know after Tuesday.

This website is devoted to politics, so I assume that if you’re reading this, you care enough to vote.

For the record: I already did, and it was perfectly legal and safe. I became a devoted convert a few years ago to voting by mail, and, if anything, I believe in that even more strongly now.

Of course, it helps that I live in Hillsborough County where elections under the direction of Supervisor Craig Latimer usually run efficiently. Put it this way: Palm Beach and Broward counties could take a few lessons from how things work here.

To be safe, though, I checked Sunday on the elections site to ensure that my ballot arrived safely.

It did.

A few Republican friends — yes, I have them — chided me in the past for voting by mail. One of them, seriously, said it’s my civic duty to stand in line on Election Day.

Phooey on that.

I prefer taking the ballot and a cup of coffee to the kitchen table and considering each race before filling in the chosen circle with black ink.

And in Tuesday’s primary, there is a lot to consider in Hillsborough, or wherever you are.

I’ll be closely watching the CD 15 race, and I suspect it will be the last hurrah for incumbent Republican Ross Spano.

Allegations of shady campaign financing – a nice way of saying cheating – dogged Spano before he was even sworn in to his first term in the U.S. House in 2018. He had to expect Democrats would make truckloads of hay over that, but Spano likely never considered a blistering attack might come from a colleague in his own party.

But that’s what happened.

Matt Gaetz threw his support behind Spano’s primary opponent, Lakeland City Council member Scott Franklin. Then things got weird.

Gaetz even took on House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who in a video asked people to support Ross SpanOS.

“It is “SpaNO” not “SpaNOS,” Mr. Leader,” Gaetz tweeted. “While you can’t say it right in your endorsement… I’m sure the federal prosecutors will get it right in his indictment.”

Gaetz still is a Republican, right? Yes, we have confirmation of that.

SpaNO didn’t take it lying down. He responded the way everyone does these days: via Twitter.

@mattgaetz you’re lying to the voters of FL15 when you say I don’t support the President & the Border Wall,” he tweeted. “YOU voted No on that bill the same way I did, because it gave the President only a fraction of the $ needed & it tied his hands on how & where he could build it.”

Spelling and grammar apparently are optional on Twitter.

If there is any popcorn left after watching that circus, I’ll consume the remainder on the Hillsborough Tax Collector and Clerk of the Court races.

By bedtime Tuesday we should know whether Democrats Kevin Beckner or Cindy Stuart will succeed the retiring and venerable Pat Frank as Clerk. No Republican is in this race, so it’s an open primary. Stuart, a term-limited School Board member, has courted Republican support while Beckner has more money and endorsements.

In this election, I don’t think voters lose either way.

I know and respect them both. The Clerk’s office will be in good hands.

But if the Tax Collector’s race was a movie, it could be a sequel to “The Empire Strikes Back.”

Hillsborough’s established political muscle is solidly behind Nancy Millan, the Chosen One by retiring agency head Doug Belden.

Their favorite nemesis, April Griffin, is the Democrat in this primary. The animus goes back to 2015 when Griffin angered business and political wags and led the charge to remove popular (with them) Superintendent MaryEllen Elia.

The Empire vowed revenge and have rolled out the tanks to defeat Griffin this time. Of course, they tried that, too, when she ran for reelection to the School Board. It didn’t work.

So, get your popcorn, and if you haven’t voted yet, vote early in the day.

Tuesday will be a lot of fun and you don’t want to miss a minute.

Joe Henderson

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.


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