Tampa Bay – Florida Politics

Hundreds of Floridians show up for offshore drilling protest

Hundreds of opponents of offshore oil drilling gathered at Florida beaches and held hands.

The Tampa Bay Times reported Saturday that the protest at Clearwater Beach drew local and state elected officials including U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson. There were also protests held at other beaches throughout Pinellas County.

The “Hands Across the Sand” demonstration has been held annually since the Deepwater Horizon explosion in 2010. The explosion led to a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that resulted in damages in several Gulf states including Florida.

The administration of President Donald Trump has proposed opening up new areas for oil and gas drilling. But federal officials have also promised that they will not permit drilling close to Florida.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this post.

Neil Combee adds Lake County support for CD 15 campaign

After two waves of Polk County endorsements for his Congressional campaign, Auburndale Republican Neil Combee is announced some Lake County supporters Friday.

Joining the dozen or so backers already lined up behind the former state representative were Lake County Sheriff Peyton Grinnell, Lake County Property Appraiser Carey Baker, Lake County Commissioner Sean Parks and state Sen. Dennis Baxley, who lives in Marion County but represents most of Lake in the Senate.

“It is important to me that we have someone in Congress that will support those of us who protect the community. I have no doubt that Neil Combee will fight for law enforcement personnel and others who keep our country safe,” Grinnell said.

Baker cited Combee’s positions on the military, veterans, and the 2nd Amendment in his enforcement ; Parks said he’s behind Combee because of “his history of fighting for the average person, and for working to keep Florida and this country good for small business and workers.”

Baxley added that “no candidate will fight to Make America Great Again and help the President on Capitol Hill like Neil Combee. That’s why I’m behind Combee for Congress 100 percent.”

In accepting the endorsements, Combee said “to have these key folks in Lake County support me and my campaign means the world to me. I have great respect for all of them, and it warms my heart to know that these great leaders in Lake County believe in me and my campaign to be the next congressman for Florida’s 15th Congressional District.”

Combee is one of a dozen candidates running for CD 15, which opened up after U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross said he wouldn’t run for re-election in 2018.

Combee faces Dover state Rep. Ross SpanoSean HarperDanny KushmerCurt Rogers and Ed Shoemaker in the Republican Primary. Also running for the seat are Democrats Kristen CarlsonAndrew Learned and Ray Pena as well as three write-in candidates.

Most of CD 15’s voters live in Hillsborough or Polk, though about 10 percent are in Lake County. The district is rated “likely Republican” by Sabato’s Crystal Ball, the prediction newsletter from University of Virginia political science professor Larry Sabato.

Bill Nelson heading to Clearwater for anti-drilling event

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson will speak alongside Pinellas County Commissioner Pat Gerard, Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos and Sierra Club Florida Director Frank Jackalone at an event to oppose offshore drilling in Saturday morning.

The event, “Hands Across the Sand in Clearwater,” will begin at 11:30 am outside of the Palms Pavillion in Clearwater Beach. It is one of 119 anti-drilling demonstrations across 18 states that will be held concurrently tomorrow.

If the event gets rained out, Nelson and Co. will speak inside the Palms Pavillion, located at 10 Bay Esplanade.

After the speeches, attendees will line the Clearwater Beach shore and face the Gulf of Mexico. Eventgoers are being are encouraged to wear blue “to support the ocean,”

Event organizers said “Hands Across the Sand participants will be pushing local elected officials to formally oppose the draft plan to expand offshore drilling if they have not done so already, and to take a stronger stand against the expansion of offshore drilling along the coast. With the entire world rapidly switching to electric vehicles that use no oil, we’ll soon need less oil, not more.

Also slated to attend are Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long, Pinellas County Schoolboard Chairwoman Renee Flowers as well as representatives from Sea Shepherd, Environment Florida, the Suncoast Surfrider Foundation, Center for Biological Diversity, and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

The Clearwater event is one of several scheduled in across the state. A full listing of Florida events can be found on the Hands Across the Sand website.

Tommy Gregory HD 73

Tommy Gregory endorsed by former Manatee Sheriff

Republican Tommy Gregory announced Thursday that former Manatee Sherriff Brad Steube has endorsed his campaign to replace Rep. Joe Gruters in House District 73.

“Tommy Gregory’s character and values will make him a very effective legislator,” Steube said. “His military career demonstrates his commitment to public service, and I believe he will bring the same determination and skill to the Florida House. I am pleased to endorse him and urge all District 73 voters to support him.”

Steube was Manatee County sheriff from 2007 through 2016. He joins current Sarasota Sheriff Tom Knight in endorsing Gregory, a Sarasota attorney. He has also been endorsed by former state Sen. Lisa Carlton and Steve Vernon, the second-place finisher in the 2016 HD 73 Republican Primary.

“Sheriff Steube really modeled community leadership during his time in office,” said Gregory. “I appreciate the example he set, and I’m honored to have his support. I look forward to working with him and other local leaders to find policy solutions that will help us overcome our area’s challenges and make the most of our opportunities.”

Gregory faces Melissa Howard in the Republican Primary race. The winner of that contest has the best odds to replace Gruters in the Republican stronghold.

HD 73 is open due to Gruters’ decision to run for the Senate seat currently held by Sarasota Republican Sen. Greg Steube. Gruters is Howard’s campaign treasurer.

As of April 30, Howard leads Gregory in hard money fundraising with nearly $125,000 raised, including $100,000 in candidate loans, to his $56,000. Gregory has the advantage when soft money is included. His committee, Friends of Tommy Gregory, has $85,000 banked, giving him a combined $132,220 on hand compared to $123,900 for Howard.

HD 73 covers parts of Manatee and Sarasota, with more than 85 percent of the district’s voters residing in Manatee County. The district massively favors Republicans, who make up nearly half of the electorate compared to a 25 percent share for Democrats.

Indian Rocks Beach commissioners back Nick DiCeglie for House District 66

Three members of the Indian Rocks Beach City Commission announced Thursday that they are backing Belleair Bluffs businessman Nick DiCeglie in the Republican Primary for House District 66, currently held by termed-out Rep. Larry Ahern.

The endorsements came in from Commissioners Phil Hannah, Ed Hoofnagle and Nick Palomba.

“It is my honor, and without reservation, I endorse Nick DiCeglie for State Representative for House District 66,” Hannah said. “I have had the distinct pleasure to know Nick and his family for over a decade. When Nick comes to mind, I first think of integrity; his word is his bond. As owner of a small business, he knows what it is like to put the key in the door of his operation each morning, and how the solid decisions he makes affect the people he employs and their families. I am thankful that he is stepping up to the challenge. Nick has my full support.”

Hoofnagle said, “He will represent our voice in Tallahassee and will help to keep our local views at the forefront of discussions in our state capital. Nick is an excellent candidate who exemplifies conservative values and hard work. He’s a great person and a role model for many of us.”

Palomba added, “Not only are Nick and his family longtime residents of Indian Rocks Beach, he also runs an award-winning small business. He brings honesty, integrity and a hard-working blue-collar mindset that we need to ensure our district is represented in Tallahassee. I believe when you are willing to endorse someone it is important to get to know them, understand their vision, know they are willing to listen and of course, know he is a man of honor. Nick, of course, is all of the above. With all that is happening in our city and state, it is great to know that we have someone who lives in our community to represent us in the Florida House of Representatives.”

DiCeglie runs Clearwater-based trash removal and recycling company Solar Sanitation and is the current chair of the Republican Party of Pinellas County. He said he was “honored” to receive the commissioners’ support.

“We all share a business-first philosophy toward creating jobs and encouraging enterprise in our community and I look forward to working with them to better the lives for the residents in Indian Rocks Beach and House District 66,” he said.

Their endorsements add to a long list of Republicans supporting DiCeglie in his primary race against Seminole attorney Berny Jacques. Past endorsements for DiCeglie include Pinellas County Commissioner Dave Eggers, Pinellas County Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller Ken Burke, as well as Largo Mayor Woody Brown and City Commissioner Curtis Holmes.

Democrat Alex Heeren is also running for the seat, though the Republican nominee has the best odds of succeeding Ahern in the western Pinellas district.

HD 66 covers includes part of Clearwater, Belleair, Indian Rocks Beach and Indian Shores.

Ninja Bow — Tampa Bay campaign finance roundup — April 2018

Money talks, and for candidates just a few months away from the primary and general elections, it can speak volumes.

This edition brings you up to speed on state House candidate money chases in the Bay area. It’s early yet, but monthly fundraising hauls — and spends — provide valuable insights into how things might shape up in August and November.

Each district is distinct, with cash being a factor in some more than others. Dover Republican Rep. Lawrence McClure still hasn’t gotten rolling in the months since he won the special election to replace Dan Raulerson. He has about $1,600 banked — the lowest of any Bay-area incumbent. But he helms a deep-red district, and won 55 percent of the vote in the four-way special election, while the Dem took third.

Palm Harbor Republican Rep. Chris Sprowls, however, chugged past the $150,000 threshold in April and holds about $118,550 of that on hand. The 2020 Speaker-to-be’s affiliated committee also has nearly $900,000 on hand. Meanwhile, his opponent, Democrat Alex Stephen Toth, sits below $100.

Raburn overspends in HD 57

Lithia Republican Rep. Jake Raburn added $1,000 to his campaign account in April for his re-election to House District 57, but spending outstripped contributions leaving him with about $12,500 on hand.

He faces two Democrats: Debbie Byles Katt and Layla Hartz. Katt added $5,870 and spent about $500, leaving her with $5,500. Hartz, who filed at the start of April, showed $600 raised in her inaugural report and has $475 on hand.

Despite Katt taking the fundraising crown for the second month in a row, she still faces long odds in the safe Republican seat.

Wicker leads in HD 59

Three candidates have filed for central Hillsborough’s HD 59, which opened after the early exit of Dover Republican Rep. Ross Spano, who is running for Congress.

Republican Joe Wicker leads with total fundraising of $35,000. He has $28,843 banked, including $4,000 in candidate loans. He faces former County commissioner and state Sen. Ronda Storms in the Republican primary.

Storms raised $7,550 through two reporting periods. She has about $7,000 on hand. Democrat Adam Hattersley entered at the start of April and his $8,877 report was the best for the month.

Toledo has great April

Republican Rep. Jackie Toledo had her best fundraising totals in six months for House District 60. After raising $36,525 and spending $7,975 in April, her total fundraising is approaching the $150,000 mark, with just shy of $100,000 in the bank.

Democrat Debra Roberts Bellanti’s combined fundraising over the past three months still hasn’t matched the $12,285 she raised in January. Her to-date total is $21,100 and she has $6,000 on hand.

Toledo was sent to the House with a 14-point win over Democratic attorney David Singer in 2016, and he raised $160K for that bid.

Crowded field in HD 61

Democratic Rep. Sean Shaw is leaving House District 61 after one term to run for Attorney General. Five Democrats have filed for the Tampa-based stronghold: Sharon Carter, Norman Andronicus Harris, Dianne Hart, Byron Keith and Karen Skyers.

Skyers posted an impressive $32,850, surging past top challenger Hart, who came just 101 votes shy of besting Shaw in the 2016 primary.

Harris brought in $9,385 in April, putting him behind only Skyers, who has $32,000 banked; Hart has $21,600 (including $15,000 in loans), Harris with $5,350, Carter with $370 and Henry with zilch.

Democrats clash in HD 62

Two Democrats seek to succeed termed-out House Minority Leader Janet Cruz in House District 62, but not the same ones as last month.

Alicia Campos filed on April 16, after Carlos Frontela dropped out of the race. NPA candidate Jason Alan Stuber also entered the race last month.

Michael Alvarez leads the race with $38,853 raised and $29,356 on hand, including $1,250 raised in April. Bolstering his total is $21,648 in loans. Campos beat him in April with $1,465 raised.

She had all but $27 of that banked heading into May.

Harrison nets $52K HD 63

Republican Rep. Shawn Harrison brought in more than $52,000 in April between his campaign and committee accounts for House District 63, after two $0 months in a row.

Democratic challenger Fentrice Driskell has been bringing in consistent money since filing in February. Harrison has about $215,000 banked, while Driskell has $70,200 on hand after showing another $21,000 raised in April.

HD 63 will be one to watch in November; former Rep. Mark Danish snagged it from Harrison in 2012 with only $20K in fundraising.

Grant stays strong in HD 64

Republican Rep. Jamie Grant brought in $4,450 last month for his bid to keep House District 64, the best since before the Legislative Session, but spending outstripped income twofold, leaving him with about $35,750.

Grant’s primary challenger, Terry Power, has kept up with him largely through self-funding. He threw in another $3,000 last month and raised $775 to bring his total to nearly $80,000 with $52,360 in the bank.

Democrat Heather Kenyon Stahl is the top non-GOP candidate, fundraising-wise. She added $1,765 in April and has $8,900 banked.

Battle rages in HD 66

Two Republicans and a Democrat are running to replace termed-out Rep. Larry Ahern in House District 66. Competing for the Republican nomination are Pinellas GOP chair Nick DiCeglie and attorney Berny Jacques, who led in fundraising again with $173,000, including $13,000 in April, and had just over $120,000 banked.

DiCeglie showed just shy of $2,500 raised in his new report, putting him at $104,000 to-date with $78,780 on hand.

Democrat Alex Hereen tacked on $5,350 — and a handful of local endorsements — for third with $9,375. Also running is Reform Party candidate Paul Anthony Bachmann, who has $345 banked.

Latvala sails through April

With Democrat Becca Tieder’s decision not to run, Clearwater Republican Rep. Chris Latvala remains unopposed in House District 67. The threat of a credible challenger, however, did wonders for his campaign account last month.

His campaign and committee reports combined to more than $44,000 raised and he now has nearly $180,000 on hand.

Unless Florida Democrats can line up another candidate to challenge Latvala in the Pinellas district, he looks set for a third term.

Diamond shines in HD 68

Freshman state Rep. Ben Diamond raised $750 last month, his campaign account is still fat from his pre-Session fundraising efforts.

He’s raised nearly $108,000 so far and has $89,000 banked.

The St. Pete-based HD 68 seat is competitive, but his opponent is not.

Republican Neelam Taneja-Uppal filed for the seat in September and has yet to show a single contribution through eight months in the race.

Webb takes April in HD 69

HD 69 is another seat that’ll bid the incumbent adieu before term limits kick in, as Republican Rep. Kathleen Peters is foregoing re-election to run for Pinellas County Commission.

The seat has a Republican lean, but it’s competitive, and so is Democrat Jennifer Webb. She led the pack last month with $20,124 raised and now has $94,150 in her campaign account.

Republican Ray Blacklidge is still the overall fundraising leader with $145,000 raised, including $9,200 last month. Primary opponent Jeremy Bailie outraised him in April, posting $10,010 in his eighth month.

Blacklidge started May with $78,683 on hand, while Bailie had $41,982.

Newton scores first win

Freshman Democratic Rep. Wengay Newton scored his first fundraising win of 2018 in April for what’s shaping up to be a three-way primary race to defend his seat. His April report showed $4,170 in contributions and about $1,000 in spending, leaving him with $18,640 on hand heading into May.

Vito Sheely followed with $2,730. He’s raised $12,377 so far and has $3,427 on hand.

Also running is Keisha Ann Bell, who had her second $2,000 month in a row since kicking off with a near $5,000 effort in February. She has raised $8,822 and has $4,543 on hand.

Big get: Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri backs Jamie Grant’s re-election to Florida House

Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri wants Tampa Republican Rep. James Grant to stick around for another term.

The Republican sheriff announced Wednesday that he was backing Grant in his primary race against Terry Power, an Oldsmar retirement plan consultant.

“James Grant is a principled leader and dedicated advocate for law enforcement and first responders in Florida. We consistently partner to ensure that legislation considered in Tallahassee incorporates the everyday impacts to our streets in Pinellas County. I am pleased to endorse James Grant’s candidacy for the Florida House of Representatives, District 64, so we can continue working together to keep our community safe,” Gualtieri said.

Grant said he was humbled and honored by Gualtieri’s support in his re-election campaign.

“In addition to being a respected leader in and beyond our community, Sheriff Gualtieri is a tremendous resource whom I lean on regularly. His experience and insight on issues is invaluable as we consider legislation that affects all Floridians. Whether it has been confronting the most prolific and repeat criminal offenders, the opioid crisis, preserving due process and privacy rights in the age of technology, and so much more, Sheriff Gualtieri has been a rock-solid partner,” Grant said.

Grant was first elected in 2010 and has been re-elected three times since, but a challenge to his 2014 results led to a brief period where he was out of office, resetting his term limit.

Power has been crying foul about the term-limit reset since day one of his primary campaign, which he has largely self-funded. In addition to challenging Grant in the primary, Power has filed a lawsuit aimed at disqualifying Grant from running for re-election.

If Grant can get by him in the Aug. 28 primary election, he’ll be in solid position for another term. Democrat Heather Stahl and unaffiliated candidate Andy Warrener are also running, but HD 64 has a heavy Republican lean. Grant didn’t face an Election Day challenger in 2016.

The district covers a piece of northwestern Hillsborough County and some of eastern Pinellas County.

Jane Castor kicking off mayoral campaign at The Columbia

Former Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor is getting her campaign to take over as Tampa Mayor rolling tonight with a with a fundraising reception at The Columbia.

The event is set to run from 5:30 pm to 7 pm at the restaurant on 2117 E. 7th Ave, and the host committee alone shows it will be a packed house.

Well over 100 names are printed on the invitation, including House Minority Leader Janet Cruz, who is running for state Senate, Hillsborough County Property Appraiser Bob Henriquez and St. Pete City Councilman Steve Kornell.

Castor announced her run for mayor about a month ago and is one of seven candidates vying to take over for exiting Mayor Bob Buckhorn in 2019. She faces City Councilmembers Harry Cohen and Mike Suarez, Michael Hazard, businessman Christopher “Topher” Morrison, philanthropist David Straz and former county commissioner Ed Turanchik.

She led the field in fundraising as of April 30, with nearly $225,000 raised and $218,000 in the bank. Cohen and Turanchik are not far behind.

A recent poll of the race showed Castor was voters’ top pick for the job, though there is 10 months to go before the election is held on March 5, 2019. The new mayor and councilmembers will take office on April 1, 2019.

Castor’s invite is below.

castor, jane - campaign kick-off invite

Teacher union touts Janet Cruz as ‘tireless champion’

The state’s largest teacher union announced Wednesday that it is backing House Minority Leader Janet Cruz in her bid to unseat Tampa Republican Sen. Dana Young in Senate District 18.

“Rep. Janet Cruz has been a tireless champion for our educators, students, and parents,” said Florida Education Association President Joanne McCall. “While Republicans, including Senator Dana Young, voted to underfund public education, undercut teachers, and emphasize testing over teaching, teachers have always been able to count on Rep. Cruz.”

Cruz said she was “honored to receive this support from our educators.”

“Because of the failed leadership in Tallahassee, Hillsborough County schools are having to cut teachers, including bilingual classroom aides, and can’t even afford to repair air conditioning in certain schools — while brand new for-profit schools are being funded and built with tax dollars that should be going to our public schools,” Cruz said.

“It’s unacceptable. Tallahassee has to change. We need more teaching, less testing, higher teacher pay, and lawmakers who show up, just like educators and school staff do every single day without fail.”

The job cuts Cruz referenced are detailed in a Tampa Bay Times article on Hillsborough County Schools’ $38.2 million budget shortfall for next school year, which caused the district to cut 800 jobs, including 220 elementary school teachers, 116 custodial workers and 106 bilingual classroom aides.

Cruz launched her SD 18 campaign on April 10. Fellow Democrat Bob Buesing, the 2016 nominee in SD 18, exited the race and announced encouraged his supporters to back Cruz. The move left Cruz as Young’s lone challenger for the Hillsborough-based district.

Through three weeks in the race, Cruz’ campaign and an affiliated committee reported raising $146,600 – more than Buesing did in three months. Including money she had raised prior to entering, she has $267,200 on hand.

That gives her a jumpstart in catching up to Young, though she is far from matching the Tampa Republican’s overall totals of $1.45 million raised and $1.1 million on hand.

SD 18 is atop the list of districts Florida Democrats think they can flip in 2018. It is the only one of their main targets – which also include SD 8, SD 16 and SD 24 – that voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election cycle, and Cruz is by far the most experienced candidate Democrats have recruited to run in one of those battlegrounds.

Young was elected to the Senate in 2016 after taking 48 percent of the vote compared to 41 percent for Buesing. Nearly 10 percent of the remaining ballots were cast for businessman Joe Redner while no-party candidate Sheldon Upthegrove received 1 percent support. Early in his 2018 campaign, Buesing pointed to Young’s victory via a plurality as evidence that the seat was ripe for a flip in 2018.

Neil Combee heralds second wave of Polk endorsements

Auburndale Republican Neil Combee announced another half-dozen endorsements for his campaign to succeed retiring U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross in Florida’s 15th Congressional District, all of them from Polk County.

The nods came from former lawmaker J.D. Alexander, who served in the Florida House and Senate from 1998 to 2012, former State Attorney Jerry Hill, former Polk County Commissioner and former mayor of Auburndale Jack Myers, former Polk County Commissioner Jerry Carter, former Lakeland City Commissioner Don Gifford and former Polk County Commissioner and current member of the Southwest Florida Water Management District Paul Senft.

“I have known Neil Combee for many years now, and there is no one else who’s as passionate about serving others, agriculture, small business owners, or preserving our constitutional rights. He will always stand up for what’s right in Washington, and won’t forget those of us back here at home. I’m proud to endorse Neil for Congress,” Alexander said.

All the endorsements touted Combee’s conservative principles, from gun rights and job creation to secure borders and respect for the rule of law. Carter’s endorsement focused on Combee as a person, rather than his record as a politician.

“There aren’t many people out there today that are like Neil. His integrity, grit, spirit, and passion alone will make him a great congressman, however the most outstanding trait of Neil Combee is his heart for service. I’ve known Neil for 40 years now, and Washington needs more people like Neil, and I am proud to support Neil for Congress,” he said.

Wednesday’s announcement makes for a dozen Polk County endorsements so far. Last week, he announced the first half-dozen: Republican state Reps. Ben AlbrittonMike LaRosa and Josie Tomkow, former Republican Rep. John Wood, Auburndale Mayor Tim Pospichal and Polk City Mayor Joe LaCascia.

“I am blown away from the support that this campaign is getting, and I am honored that these folks think so highly of me that they would put their name behind this run for Congress. I am excited to have them on Team Combee,” Combee said.

CD 15 is split between Hillsborough and Polk counties, with about 10 percent of the district’s voters living in Lake County. Of the dozen candidates running for the seat this year, Combee is the most well-known in Polk County. He held the District 39 seat in the Florida House from November 2012 until November 2017, when he resigned to accept a presidential appointment at the USDA. He is also a former Polk County Commissioner.

Combee faces Dover state Rep. Ross SpanoSean HarperDanny KushmerCurt Rogers and Ed Shoemaker in the Republican Primary. Also running for the seat are Democrats Kristen CarlsonAndrew Learned and Ray Pena as well as three write-in candidates. CD 15 is rated “likely Republican” by Sabato’s Crystal Ball, the prediction newsletter from University of Virginia political science professor Larry Sabato.

Spano, who lives in the Hillsborough portion of the district, is likely Combee’s most prepared opponent in the primary race. He moved his campaign over from the Attorney General race shortly after Ross’ retirement announcement.

Since then, he and Combee have released dueling press releases touting their support from area officials and announcing campaign events. Spano announced earlier this week that he’d picked up another dozen endorsements, including a pair from Combee’s Polk County turf.

The primary election is Aug. 28.

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