Tampa Bay Archives - Florida Politics

Sparkman Wharf to open later than expected

Sparkman Wharf is opening its dining garden, outdoor beer garden and lawn November 30, developers announced Tuesday. That’s later than original launch date expected this month.

Sparkman Wharf is a mixed-use development in downtown Tampa where Garrison Channel, the Ybor Turning Basin and Sparkman Channel meet. It’s part of the $3 billion Water Street Tampa development planned by Jeff Vinik’s Strategic Property Partners and Bill Gates’ Cascade Investments.

The Grand Opening will include live music, fitness events, and pop-up concepts.

All of the Wharf’s food and beverage concepts will be open including Fermented Reality, the outdoor beer garden that will feature more than 30 taps promoting Florida’s craft beers.

“We are thrilled to announce the grand opening date of Sparkman Wharf and celebrate the first of many milestones for the Water Street Tampa neighborhood,” said James Nozar, CEO of developer Strategic Property Partners, LLC. “We anticipate that Sparkman Wharf will become a focal point and gathering place not only for visitors and the neighborhood, but the city and region at large. Sparkman Wharf celebrates Tampa Bay — the culinary talent, the craft beer scene, the weather, and the waterfront, and we could not be more excited to share Sparkman Wharf with the larger community.”

Foundation Coffee will feature cold brew and espresso along with housemade gelato, acai bowls and gourmet ice pops at Whatever Pops and seafood and cocktails at Chef Jeannie Pierola’s edison’s swigamajig divebar and fishkitchen.

The Corners Pizza will feature Detroit-style pizza.

The Wharf will also feature restaurateur Dave Burton’s Flock & Stock with roadside classics and BT in a Box with Vietnamese-French fusion.

Other restaurants include Montados tapas by Mise en Place’s Maryann Ferenc and Chef Marty Blitz, Boat Run Oyster Company and the modern taqueria Gallito by Rooster & the Till chef Ferrell Alvarez.

Sparkman Wharf will also eventually be home to 180,000 square feet of new waterfront office space and 65,000 square feet of ground-level retail along Channelside Drive.

The development is named after Stephen Sparkman, a state representative from Hillsborough County and Tampa in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Sparkman Wharf celebrates the disrupters and people who do things differently to push Tampa, developers said.

Sparkman Wharf will be open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday. It will also be open on any day there is a Tampa Bay Lightning home game or event at the Amalie Arena.

Republican candidates say ‘nope’ to local environmental forum

Local Republican candidates in state legislative races won’t be showing up to a candidate forum Wednesday hosted by ReThinkEnergy Florida, the First Street Foundation, Oceana and the League of Women Voters.

The coalition of groups is hosting an environmental forum at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Clearwater Wednesday at 6 p.m. to discuss sea level rise, flood risk and red tide.

State Senate District 16 candidate Amanda Murphy, Senate District 24 candidate Lindsay Cross, House District 65 candidate Sally Laufer, House District 66 candidate Alex Heeren and House District 67 candidate Dawn Douglas, all Democrats, confirmed they would attend.

None of their opponents are planning to attend. Some did not respond to the invitation; others said they had scheduling conflicts, according to forum organizers. 

Of all the races, the environment has been the biggest issue in Cross’s race against incumbent Jeff Brandes. Cross, an environmental scientist by trade, has been hammering down on Republican policies and deregulation she says contributes to polluted waters and is likely fueling this year’s massive red tide bloom.

Brandes also did not attend a previous forum with the Disston Heights Neighborhood Association. He said he had a family conflict.

Murphy is running against former State Legislator Ed Hooper in what has become a heated campaign. A third-party group recently sent out a mailer calling Murphy a spoiled child with an image of a little girl crying.

The two are vying for the north Pinellas Senate seat vacated by former Senator Jack Latvala who resigned amid sexual misconduct allegations.

Laufer, Heeren and Douglas are running lower-profile races.

Laufer, a retired nurse, is running against incumbent Chris Sprowls who is in line to be Speaker of the House in 2021 if Republicans maintain control of the state’s lower chamber.

Heeren, a former public school teacher, is running against Nick Diceglie who formerly served as chair of the Pinellas Republican Executive Committee.

Douglas is a former chair of the Pinellas Classroom Teacher Association’s government relations committee. She’s running against incumbent Chris Latvala.

Chris Hunter, the Democrat challenging Gus Bilirakis for his long-held Congressional 12 district in north Pinellas, is also scheduled to attend.

Pinellas County Commission candidate Amy Kedron will also attend. Her opponent, Republican Representative Kathleen Peters, will not.

Three Pinellas County School board candidates — Jeff Larson, Peggy O’Shea and Nicole Carr — will also attend, though it’s not clear what they have to offer to a conversation about environmental policy short of mitigation efforts for coastal schools and other district property.

Environmental policy has become a linchpin issue this election, particularly in Pinellas County, because red tide continues to plague Florida’s Gulf Coast. Democrats are blaming Republican policies for worsening the naturally-occurring phenomenon as well as failing to address negative environmental effects associated with climate change.

Republicans rail against those claims, pointing to several spending bills that fund red tide research and policies to clean up Lake Okeechobee, one of the state’s most prominent polluting factors.

Victor Crist and Todd Marks claim their opponents support an $18B tax hike; they don’t

Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist and candidate Todd Marks sent out a dual-funded campaign mailer this week claiming Crist’s challenger, Mariella Smith, and Marks’ opponent, Kimberly Overman, support an $18 billion tax hike.

Except there’s no factual support for that claim.

“It’s a complete lie,” Smith said of the claim. “I just don’t know how they sleep at night.”

Overman said she has no idea where Marks and Crist got that number.

Marks and Crist did not respond to requests for comment and their campaigns did not clarify where they got that information, but the mailer cites the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida’s website.

There is no reference to an $18 billion tax hike on that site.

The only explanation for the claim is an exaggerated figure relating to Hillsborough County Referendum No. 2, which would raise Hillsborough County sales tax 1 percent to fund transportation and transit improvements countywide.

That tax would raise $9 billion over its 30-year life, if approved. However, the conservative website Sunshine State News offers several estimates for the tax ranging anywhere from $15-$18 billion.

Even if the tax estimate were accurate, Smith said she has not taken a stance on the All For Transportation sales tax initiative.

“These are matters for the voters to decide,” she said.

Overman supports the transportation tax.

The Halloween-themed mailer describes Overman as “kooky” and Smith as “mudslinging” and cautions voters that this Halloween they should be very afraid of the two.

It also makes several other dubious claims including that the two oppose deputies in public schools, support pay raises for politicians and oppose term limits.

Smith has not made direct statements on any of those claims and the mailer offers no citation for the allegations.

Smith said her opponent, Crist, is projecting his own track record onto her.

“I want to strengthen term limits to prevent career politicians like Victor Crist from playing the musical chairs game he’s playing,” Smith said.

Crist has been a Hillsborough County Commissioner since 2010. Commissioners are limited to two four-year terms, but a loophole allows them to “seat swap” between single member and countywide seats. Crist is term-limited out of his current District 2 single-member district in north Hillsborough and is now running for the countywide District 5 seat.

Overman said she believes there should be term limits, but doesn’t mind commissioners being able to serve their full two-terms in both a single member and countywide district, but “if you can’t get it done in 16 years, you need to leave.”

“Sometimes issues, especially transportation, take a good decade to see through and as commissioners, we should be able to get that done,” Overman said.

On pay raises for politicians, both Smith and Overman said they are opposed.

Many Democrats in Florida have called for pay raises for state lawmakers who are paid for part-time work rather than a full-time living wage salary. The claim there is that paying less than $30,000 a year for state elected office discourages working-class Floridians from running for office and instead leaves those seats open for independently wealthy residents who can afford to take the financial risk.

However, that’s something on which Smith and Overman said they’ve never taken a position.

Smith also said she does believe deputies should be in Hillsborough Schools to keep students safe, but contends the allegation is baseless because she’s running for Hillsborough County Commission, not the school board.

“There’s nothing in the purview of my campaign that applies to whether or not we have deputies in school,” she said.  

Overman said there are already school resource officers in middle and high schools, but thinks alternative school safety measures should be considered for elementary school.

“I guess you could say I prefer we have various different safety measures in place so we’re not scaring our kids. In some of our communities, a person with a gun might be someone who would shoot them,” Overman said.

Joe Henderson: No tax for tracks, or anything else in Hillsborough

No tax for tracks. No tax for anything.

What else is new?

The grumpy demographic in Hillsborough County has weighed in on the All For Transportation referendum and guess what? They’re agin’ it!

I know you’re shocked.

The first mailer appeared in my mailbox Monday. The old “No Tax For Tracks” group reformed about three weeks ago to fight the Nov. 6 referendum to raise the sales tax by a penny for transportation needs.

It was predictable.

It was adorned with a picture of Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik. Both men heavily support the referendum, so they were trolled with the label of Bob “Billions” Buckhorn and Jeff “Vision” Vinik.

Ouch. That hurts.

They didn’t mention the more than 77,000 people who signed petitions to get this issue on the ballot because a majority of the county commissioners couldn’t bring themselves to do it.

But the punch line was a sentence that flat-out said a rail system would be part of the tax plan, along with an out-of-left-field jab that said tax money would be used “to finance another billionaire’s stadium.”

I guess they mean the Tampa Bay Rays. And where did they draw the connection between the stadium and the referendum? The mailer doesn’t say. All it screams is TAX!!!!!

Oh, and TRACKS!!!!!!

“This tax increase is unnecessary as Hillsborough County commissioners re-prioritized $800 million of existing revenue for transportation funding over 10 years that, along with our existing gas taxes, funds needed maintenance and safety issues,” Karen Jaroch, co-founder of the Hillsborough tea party and a former member of the county’s bus board, told the Tampa Bay Times.

That money is a spit in the bucket for the transportation needs now, let alone what will it be like in 10 years.

If approved, the tax is estimated to generate about $280 million a year for 30 years, although that figure likely will grow because the county is growing rapidly and that means more people – and cars – on a road system that can’t handle what it already has.

More than half the money is targeted for congestion relief in the form of road repairs, smart traffic signals, sidewalks, and other upgrades.

About 45 percent of the money would go to the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority for expanded rapid bus service and possibly, yes, some sort of rail system.

The notion that a rail system might be years down the road (so to speak) sets opponents’ collective hair on fire. Their answer is to build more roads, including an expansion of toll roads, and, um … THOSE AREN’T FREE.

A long-range Florida Department of Transportation study estimates that it could cost $7,448,544.36 for a single mile of new four-lane urban roadway with bike lanes. You never hear the “No Tax” hounds barking about that.

Junk like this has kept Hillsborough stuck in the slow lane for years because these people, tea party types mostly, have a phobia against rail and are determined to apply it to any new transportation idea.

They have gotten away with it because lawmakers, Republicans mostly on the County Commission, are scared that the next mailer will be about them.

So, we sit, as Tampa’s traffic situation grows worse by the day and the “No Tax” crowd celebrates the malaise.

Mind you, as usual, No Tax For Tracks supporters offer no solution. They never do.

They just scream no, and they keep repeating it and throwing out juvenile insults against anyone who tries to say they are wrong.

They may be over the edge of their skis trying to turn Buckhorn and Vinik into bogeymen though.

If Buckhorn wasn’t term-limited, I doubt he would even have an opponent if he wanted to run for a third term as Tampa’s Mayor. And Vinik’s “vision” that the mailer mocks will result in a completely rebuilt Channel District after decades of floundering.

No one likes paying taxes but it’s part of the deal to pay for things that benefit the public. People have identified our lack of decent transportation as a major issue and it won’t get better by screaming “NO!”

What you need to know about St. Pete’s Harborage Referendum

Mail-in ballots have been out for some time, early voting is gearing up, and Nov. 6 Election Day is right around the corner.

Everyone’s focused on the Florida Governor’s election and other big campaign battles, but right now, we want to draw your attention to a little City of St. Petersburg item that’s hanging on to the bottom of the ballot: The Harborage Marina Referendum.

Although this referendum is among the most benign, if not useful, referendums that ever existed, if it doesn’t get enough votes — merely because people aren’t terribly aware of it — It might not pass.

Here are a few things that you might want to know about the Harborage Marina Referendum:

It is no cost to the City or taxpayers.

This referendum only concerns a decadeslong lease between the City of St. Petersburg and the Harborage Marina, and it would allow the marina to expand its lease to more submerged land for a longer lease agreement. The marina plans to develop more boat slips to meet increased area demand.

The marina will pay the City through this lease, so it costs the city and the taxpayers nothing for this proposed project.

Currently, the demand for slips has outstripped the availability.

Harborage Marina spokesperson Mario Farias explains: “We will need to grow even further to keep up with the increased demand. The Harborage is proposing to add a new dock up to 200’ with slips on both sides. This will provide an additional 3,200 sq. ft. of dock space. We will also upgrade our current breakwater electrical systems to better service boats up to 300.’ This new construction will include our use of local contractors, manufacturers and tradesmen to complete the expansion project.”

It allows more boaters to visit St. Petersburg.

The Harborage Marina recently built the first mega yacht port on the west coast of Florida, making St. Petersburg a premier megayacht destination. St. Petersburg has become a preferred destination for vacationers, and Tampa Bay has become the preferred destination for boaters both near and far.

It is good for economic development.

The Harborage Marina Referendum expansion will both promote and allow more tourists to dock in St. Petersburg, which means that these visitors usually visit our restaurants, bars, shops, galleries, museums and other attractions and events, helping to support our local economy.

It adds storm protection.

“Boats at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg and the U.S. Coast Guard station will also benefit from this project if completed,” said Farias, “since the new construction of boat slips will actually help protect neighboring boats as well as the boats docked at the Harborage during storms.”

USF St. Petersburg and the U.S. Coast Guard are close neighbors of the Harborage Marina, sharing the same basin, and both entities have expressed their support of the marina’s project.

It will create employment opportunities.

“This new construction will employ local contractors, manufacturers and tradesmen to complete the expansion project,” said Farias. The Harborage Marina currently employs 19 full-time staff, and they utilize over 180 vendors and contractors.

Brian Sweeney, general manager of the Harborage Marina explained in the marina’s Letter of Intent to the City that in 2017, due to the marina’s recent expansion, the marina exceeded $380,000 in revenue for the first time. He said that this represents a 7 percent increase in just one year.

“This growth in our business also creates a surge in revenue generated for the city and its local businesses as visitors and guests come into our port,” he said.

Overall, the Harborage Marina referendum is requesting an expansion of submerged lease space at no cost to the City or taxpayers that expects to boost tourism and tourism-related revenue, create jobs and help with storm protection for its customers and neighboring docks.

For more information on the Harborage Referendum, please visit: www.HarborageReferendum.com, which includes a comments section that appears to be receiving rapid and detailed responses thus far from the Harborage Marina.


Daphne Taylor Street is a St. Petersburg-based writer.

Dana Young trounces Janet Cruz in fundraising

State Sen. Dana Young has raised nearly $1 million for her re-election bid against Democrat Janet Cruz.

Not included in that figure is another $580,000 in in-kind contributions from the Florida Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Cruz, the outgoing House Democratic Leader, had $358,000 with $160,000 more in in-kind contributions. Her fundraising haul so far also includes $60,000 in carryover funds from her House campaign account.

That puts Young way out ahead in campaign cash in what is shaping up to be one of the state’s most competitive Senate races. Polls show the two battling it out within the margin of error, with Young holding a slight edge over Cruz.

Young’s campaign raised $56,000 from Oct. 6-12, with $41,000 of that coming through in-kind contributions. (They’re defined as “anything of value except money made for the purpose of influencing the results of an election.”)

Young brought in money from two notable local names: James Nozar, CEO of the Jeff Vinik-affiliated Strategic Property Partners that’s behind the $1 billion Water Street Tampa development, and Todd Hall, CEO of Tampa’s Talent Cloud Staffing.

Young’s political committee, Friends of Dana Young, has brought in $2 million to date with $16,000 coming in during the latest reporting period.

Those contributions came from Advancing Florida Agriculture, Health Network One and Hialeah Republican Rene Garcia’s People for Accountable Government political committee, as well as $1,000 from Rayonier Advanced Materials.

Cruz’s campaign raised $23,000 during the same period. Her committee, Building the Bay, has raised $682,000 to date with $58,000 rolling in during the latest reporting period.

Those contributions came from the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, which donated $25,000, and $10,000 each from Miami millionaire Christopher Findlater, the Initiative for Florida’s Future political committee and Fort Lauderdale attorney Kelley Uustal.

Tampa financial investor Bob Gries contributed $2,000 and Tampa attorney Rosemary Armstrong kicked in $1,000.

Cruz’s committee spent more than $80,000 during the latest campaign finance period with most of that going back to the Florida Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee.

Campaign finance activity boosts Kimberly Overman as pro-transit candidate

Kimberly Overman, the Democrat running for the countywide Hillsborough County Commission District 7 seat, is getting financial backing from transit activists, according to the latest campaign finance reports covering October 6-12.

Tampa residents Michelle Cookson and Mauricio Rosas both contributed small donations to Overman’s campaign. Hillsborough County Commission incumbent Pat Kemp also kicked in $100 this report.

Cookson runs the group Sunshine Citizens that advocates for robust transit solutions and opposes roads-only efforts in the region. Rosas is a frequent face at pro-transit events and regularly emails county commissioners with his thoughts on transportation problems.

Kemp has long been a proponent for transit solutions and is a vocal opponent of the 41-mile bus rapid transit project as currently proposed. She says she supports BRT, but only if it is done right, which she argues is not currently the case.

The proposal would put the bus route along Interstate 275 from St. Petersburg to Wesley Chapel.

Overman continues to lag behind her Republican opponent, Todd Marks, for the seat being vacated by Al Higginbotham, who is retiring.

Marks has raised $267,000 to date compared to Overman’s $129,000.

Marks raised $15,000 during the latest reporting period; Overman raised $10,000.

Overman is also lagging in cash-on-hand with about $12,000 left in her campaign coffers compared to Marks’ $93,000.

The cash disparity is largely due to Overman’s lack of high-dollar contributions. Her average contribution is $179 while Marks’ is $556.

Marks brought in eight top-dollar $1,000 contributions from Maria Kletchka, a Tampa resident, Newland Real Estate Group, Phantom Administrative, HFO Development, KMDGR Investments, Henderson Family Office financial services, 422GH Aviation, Wade Trim in Michigan, HNTB Corporation, Victory Oil Management, Vonderburg Properties and FMI-VP, a Colorado-based investment firm.

Overman brought in just three top-dollar contributions from the IOUE Local 487, an operating engineer union, Maryland resident Judy Nicklason, Woodbury Payton, a Tampa Limited Liability Company.

She also received $250 from former Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink.

The two are also running against Green Party candidate Kim “Klarc” O’Connor. O’Connor has raised just $26,000 to date.

The third party candidate is most well-known for her work on the Hillsborough Soil and Water Conservation District. She resigned earlier this year amid allegations that she smoked pot while staying in a hotel on taxpayers’ dime. O’Connor admits she smokes pot, but denies she did so in the hotel in question, according to the Tampa Bay Times

Jennifer Webb

Jennifer Webb wants false attack ad removed from the airwaves

A third-party released a negative attack ad against Jennifer Webb in the House District 69 race. 

The ad condemns Webb for taking contributions from special interest groups, political insiders and lobbyists, but was chock full of inaccuracies and falsehoods, as reported by Florida Politics.

Webb asked her opponent, Ray Blacklidge, to petition the group behind the ad to remove it from the airwaves.

In response, Blacklidge posted on his campaign Facebook page a public denouncement of negative advertising by third parties.

District 69 voters are looking for candidates with a positive vision for our region and effective solutions for the challenges we face. They have had enough of political games and immature attack ads from third parties, and so have I. All third-party political attacks should stop now,” Blacklidge wrote last week after the Florida Politics report on the ad.

Webb responded by pointing out that since Blacklidge had not taken further action to remove the ad from airwaves, she has.

In a disclaimer at the end of the ad, Citizens for Florida Prosperity Political Committee took responsibility for the ad. But when the Webb campaign reached out to Spectrum, they said the Republican Party paid for the ad. Webb said in a text message she was waiting on clarification on who paid for the ad to issue a cease and desist letter to take it down based on false claims.

If the ad disclaimer about who paid for it is incorrectly listed, it is a campaign finance violation.

I will also be sending the cease and desist letter once we figure out who is actually responsible — the Republican Party of Florida or the Citizens for Florida Prosperity PAC,” Webb wrote on Facebook in response to Blacklidge’s condemnation of negative ads.

Both candidates vowed during a campaign forum earlier this month not to use negative campaigning.

“I have forbidden attack ads from my side which is why there has never been an attack ad against you,” Webb wrote on Facebook responding to Blacklidge.

Both candidates say they trust voters in the mid and west-Pinellas district they seek to will make the right decision based on facts and campaign platforms, not negative, outside advertisements.  

We have no need to resort to gutter politics, and I hope that outside groups attacking either of us will think better of their tactics that only serve to turn citizens off.” Blacklidge continued in his Facebook post.

Webb, a Democrat, and Blacklidge, a Republican, are running to replace moderate Republican Florida Representative Kathleen Peters who is not seeking re-election to run for Pinellas County Commission.

Peters’ district is a mostly even split between Democrats and Republicans. Republicans make up 36 percent of the district while Democrats account for 35 percent. Independents and other minor parties account for 29 percent of the district. Peters recently endorsed Blacklidge in the race.

The district voted plus-3 for Donald Trump in 2016.

A recent poll has Webb leading Blacklidge by 15 points.

The ad and question said Webb was taking a disproportionate of campaign contributions from outside groups and special interests, a claim Florida Division of Elections campaign finance data does not support.

Lindsay Cross ad: ‘Put a scientist in the Senate’

Lindsay Cross launched a new television ad this past weekend highlighting her experience as an “environmental scientist and problem solver, not a politician.”

Cross is running against incumbent Jeff Brandes for the Senate District 24 seat covering parts of St. Petersburg, Pinellas Park and St. Pete Beach.

“As executive director of the Florida Wildlife Corridor, I fought for our water supply and our environment. Now I’m ready to fight for you to make sure we have great public schools, access to affordable health care a clean environment and a strong economy because what we don’t need is more red tide and empty promises,” the 30-second ad says.

It ends with Cross’s catchphrase: “It’s time to put a scientist in the Senate.”

The ad comes with a little more than two weeks before the Nov. 6 election, and as Floridians are already returning vote-by-mail ballots.

Despite a giant fundraising gap between Cross and Brandes, the campaigning in that race has been hot.

The Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee launched a website and accompanying television ad blasting Cross for her “radical progressive agenda” and tying her to U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum.

The website and ad, which have the same imagery, say the “radicals” support open borders, higher taxes and government-run health care.

Cross has not released specifics on how to implement or fund improved health care access, but it is one of her campaign priorities. She also has not weighed in on the idea of “sanctuary cities,” what the GOP calls municipalities that don’t directly enforce federal immigration laws.

The GOP senatorial committee ad also does not offer a citation for its higher taxes claim, but notes it would be $1 billion. Cross supports Gillum, who proposed a $1 billion education package to improve public education and increase new teacher pay to $50,000 a year by raising corporate income taxes.

Meanwhile, Cross is asking voters to support other Democratic state candidates with science backgrounds this election:

Annisa Karim, a wildlife ecologist running in Senate District 28; 

Melissa ‘Mel’ Martin, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate who majored in ocean engineering running in Senate District 14; 

Jennifer Boddicker, a microbiologist campaigning for House District 80; and

Parisima Taeb, a physician running for the House District 78 seat.

In a news release, Cross said the coalition “will craft legislation to reinstate rigorous monitoring and enforcement of evidence-based standards to fight red tide [and] blue-green algae blooms that threaten Florida’s coasts and waterways.”

“Let’s bring science back to state government,” Cross said. “For too long, Gov. Rick Scott and Republican lawmakers have ignored basic scientific principles, and now Florida is paying for it. It’s time to elect leaders who know what they’re doing.”

Democrats are campaigning heavily this election cycle on creating policies and funding priorities to mitigate red tide and blue-green algae blooms as red tide continues to plague Florida’s Gulf Coast, including Pinellas County beaches.

Republicans reject claims that the bloom is their fault, correctly noting red tide is a natural phenomenon that happens nearly every year and has been documented as far back as the 1840s.

Scientists agree red tide is naturally occurring, but also say it might be intensified by bad environmental policy and related runoff.

Scott’s office defends his environmental policies and points to millions of dollars directed at research and mitigation and relief funding to combat red tide.

Ardian Zika

GOP group names Ardian Zika an up-and-comer to watch

The Republican State Leadership Committee, a national group that works to elect GOP candidates to state legislatures, recently recognized Land O’ Lakes Republican Ardian Zika in its “18 in ’18 Races to Watch” List.

Zika, a first-time candidate for public office, is the Republican nominee in House District 37. The Pasco County-based seat is currently held by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who is term-limited and cannot run for re-election.

“Republicans at the state level would not be reaching historical highs, without the growing diversity of our party, and candidates like Ardian Zika. Ardian represents the best from our Future Majority Project (FMP) and Right Women, Right Now (RWRN) initiatives,” said RSLC president Matt Walter. “The RSLC has invested over $20 million in these initiatives since 2011, electing 500 new female and 100 new diverse office holders in the process.”

Zika was the only Florida candidate recognized in RLSC’s list. Its decision to recognize Zika was based on the Kosovan immigrant “[pulling] himself up by the bootstraps and [emerging] as an example of an American Dream success story.”

HD 37 is a safe Republican seat that covers the majority of inland Pasco County, including Land O’ Lakes, Odessa, Heritage Pines, Shady Hills, Meadow Oaks and Moon Lake. Zika easily secured the GOP nomination in the August primary for the seat and now faces Democratic nominee Tammy Garcia, also of Land O’ Lakes, in the general election.

In addition to the district’s partisan lean favoring Zika, he has proved to be a prolific fundraiser.

As of Oct. 12, he had raised more $260,000 in hard money for his campaign and had $80,000 left to spend. Garcia, meanwhile, has raised about $16,500 and has a little over $8,000 in the bank.

Zika has also landed endorsements from a long list of GOP politicians, including nods from St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes, Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson, former House Speaker Will Weatherford, Pasco Tax Collector Mike Fasano and Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco.

Election Day is Nov. 6.

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