Janet Cruz slams Jay Collins over ad including controversial far-right activist

jeff hawks
Cruz and Collins are going head-to-head for Tampa's Senate District 14 seat.

State Sen. Janet Cruz is calling out a recent campaign ad supporting Republican challenger Jay Collins for including an individual with ties to the Jan. 6th Stop the Steal rally.

The 30-second ad, paid for by the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, features local conservative activist Jeff Hawks praising Collins’ for his service. But Hawks has become something of a controversial figure in Tampa Bay politics, leading Cruz to call out Collins’ campaign.

Hawks founded the Tampa group Community Patriots, which touts itself as a “grassroots organization … motivated by a strong sense of pride and love for our Country and its Constitution.” Its mission is to preserve “liberty and freedom.” But it has been criticized in the past for promoting violence.

In February 2021, Hawks put out a call on Facebook for members to attend a New Port Richey City Council meeting to respond to public comment from members of the Black Lives Matter movement. One of them, Jason Duckworth, was arrested on a simple battery charge following an altercation with a group protesting the police, according to reporting from WMNF Community Radio.

Earlier that year, in January, Hawks traveled to Washington for the Jan. 6 Stop the Steal rally, which ultimately devolved into the now infamous Capitol riot. Later, Christine Quinn, a former opponent of U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, sued Hawks in Hillsborough County Court for not reimbursing her for the trip she paid for. The suit appears to be settled now.

“You can tell a lot about a person based on the company they keep, and Jay Collins’ association with Jeff Hawks tells you all you need to know about his extreme agenda. It’s an agenda that is out of line with the values of my neighbors here in Hillsborough,” Navy veteran Scott Hottenstein, president of the Democratic Public Education Caucus of Florida, said in a statement.

“That Collins would proudly amplify his association with someone who supported a violent insurrection in an attempt to thwart our nation’s sacred democratic process should serve as a warning to voters of the out-of-the-mainstream values Collins would take with him to Tallahassee,” he continued.

Hawks appears in the ad as a volunteer for a food truck providing relief to Ian victims. There, he provides testimony in support of Collins.

“I watched the insurrectionists beat police officers with flagpoles and trample on our democracy while in the Capitol during the deadly January 6th Insurrection. It is appalling that a candidate who seeks to represent the patriotic Tampa Bay community would rely on a January 6 insurrectionist for aid and support,” said Congresswoman Castor in a statement.

“The threat to our democracy is real. Voters of every party must reject extremists who do not share our values — before it is too late.”

The ad also attacks Cruz, starting out with website images of an Act Blue fundraising page soliciting donations for Hurricane Ian relief efforts. The ad claims the page was attempting to “swindle people into sending money to a nonexistent charity” and called it a fundraising scam. The page has no affiliation to Cruz’ campaign.

Still, the ad’s message will likely resonate, with images of Collins and volunteers handing out barbecue to hurricane survivors and a final sting: “Janet Cruz: Self-service. Jay Collins: Public service.”

Florida Politics has reached out to Collins for comment but has not received a response by publication.

Kelly Hayes

Kelly Hayes studied journalism and political science at the University of Florida. Kelly was born and raised in Tampa Bay. A recent graduate, she enjoys government and legal reporting. She has experience covering the Florida Legislature as well as local government, and is a proud Alligator alum. You can reach Kelly at [email protected].


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