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2020

Rene Flowers bests Wengay Newton for Pinellas County Commission

Flowers now faces Maria Scruggs and a write-in candidate in the November election.

Rene Flowers will head to the November General Election, defeating three candidates in Tuesday’s Democratic primary for Pinellas County Commission District 7.

Flowers is a current Pinellas County School Board member.

Flowers defeated Wengay Newton with 52% of the vote. Newton, a current state Representative, received 33% while Frank Peterman Jr. received 15% with 83% of precincts reporting.

Flowers will now face Maria Scruggs and write-in candidate Anthony Hart in the Nov. 3 General Election. Scruggs is running without party affiliation.

Flowers had been the early favorite in the race until Newton entered the race in January. That set up what was mostly a two-way battle between them.

Flowers and Newton dominated in campaign cash, with Newton bringing in nearly $80,000 and Flowers almost $64,000. The two have been the most forward-facing candidates in the race.

The race pit a progressive Democrat in Flowers against a more moderate Newton who, at times, has sided with Republicans on issues surrounding school choice and transportation.

Newton supports vouchers and charter schools, issues not likely to come up in his capacity as would-be County Commissioner. He also voted in favor of a controversial highway project, one most Democrats rejected as an environmental no-no.

Both candidates formerly served on the St. Petersburg City Council. Newton served part of his tenure under St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman’s administration. Kriseman endorsed Flowers. Newton supported Kriseman’s 2017 Republican challenger, former Mayor Rick Baker.

Both also cleaned up with endorsements, with Flowers securing nods from St. Pete City Council member Lisa Wheeler-Bowman, who replaced Newton, Rep. Jennifer Webb and Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long, among others. She also landed endorsements from the SEIU and Equality Florida Action PAC.

Newton’s endorsements included the Tampa Bay Times, St. Pete Association of Firefighters, Pinellas Realtor Organization, St. Pete Police Benevolent Association, and 33 members of the Legislature, among others.

Flowers likely heads into the General Election at an advantage.

Write-in candidates are historically non-starters, and Scruggs, the former president of the St. Petersburg chapter of the NAACP, faces a funding deficit.

Flowers enters the race with $18,000. Scruggs has less than $5,000 on hand. While Scruggs is an NPA, her policies align more with progressive voters.

Still, she’s a fierce competitor, staking her campaign on boosting long-struggling minority communities in a district that includes some of the county’s most impoverished areas and a high density of Black voters.

The winner will replace incumbent Ken Welch who is not seeking reelection in order to run for St. Petersburg Mayor next year.

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in Tampa Bay since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as senior reporter for WMNF News. Janelle has a lust for politics and policy. When she’s not bringing you the day’s news, you might find Janelle enjoying nature with her husband, children and two dogs. You can reach Janelle at Janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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