Tampa Bay Archives - Florida Politics

Hundreds of high-school students protest gun violence in Tampa rally

Chanting “we want change now,” hundreds of Blake High School students marched to Curtis Hixon Park Friday afternoon, calling for gun-control measures in the wake of the massacre in Parkland last week.

The crowd was stacked with mostly students, joined by other Tampa Bay area activists determined to perhaps finally see gun regulations enacted following the most recent shooting attack on primarily teenagers which stunned the nation.

“We don’t want your prayers, we want legislation,” read a sign held by Elizabeth Smith, who said that she’s never been much of a fan of the National Rifle Association, the all-powerful gun-rights organization that for nearly two decades has been described as the single most significant force for Congress and state legislatures failing to enact gun regulations.

“I feel like once we get rid of the NRA, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) can step in and figure out why these things are happening,” Smith said. “They say ‘they’re just high school students, they’re too young to know anything, but here we are. We know why we’re here, and we know what we’re talking about, and we know that if we do this, and we’re collective about compromise and change that we can get something done.”

Antonio Walker held a sign reading: “How many lives is your gun worth?”

Walker hopes that the anger in the country about Parkland can result in a diminution of the NRA’s power.

“I hope that they hate what we’re saying and they understand that it’s an issue for everybody,” he said of school gun violence. “It can happen to their kids. It can happen to any of us.”

While he won’t turn 18 until after the election, Walker can’t wait to vote in 2020.

“We’re about to vote and make change ourselves in our own voices,” he said, “so it’s time that we actually do that.”

Zoe Gallagher is a 14-year-old sophomore at Blake who also dances at the Patel Conservatory. She attended the march with her mother and little brother.

When she learned of the killings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last week, Gallagher was shocked and scared.

“I’m not really a big follower of politics, but things like that have made me think more about how I want to make sure to stay attuned about what’s going on, ” she said. “its made me more conscious.”

High-school students weren’t the only ones at the protest.

Sixty-eight-year-old Kent Fast says he vividly remembers the protests against the Vietnam War that was led by the younger generation half a century ago. He said the protests this week against gun violence “feel different,” a feeling he attributes directly to youth leading the activism, something not seen in America in a very long time.

A hunter and gun owner, Fast says he’s not “stupid” and sees no reason anybody needs an AK-47, AR-15 or any other type of assault weapon.

“I want some reasonable gun control and I think there’s some room for that,” he says, adding that “even Marco Rubio was moving off the square” regarding his announcement on live television on Wednesday night in the CNN town hall from Sunrise where he announced he now supported some gun regulations he had never previously believed in.

At 29, Hillsborough County Commission candidate Elvis Pigott is used to being one of the younger people at social protests. He calls it “very encouraging” to see so many people just half his (relatively young) age out in the streets calling for social change.

“Their eyes are open, and they’re determined to keep on knocking, until somebody answers,” says Pigott, a pastor from Riverview.

Ross Spano, Grady Judd call for allowing guns in schools, churches

In the aftermath of the shooting massacre in Parkland last week, Florida Democrats (and some Republicans) have talked about reducing the ability for some individuals to acquire firearms.

Meanwhile, state Rep. Ross Spano, a candidate for Attorney General, is going in the opposite direction.

Spano and Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd released their own sets of proposals Friday to address gun violence, pre-empting similar announcements scheduled to be made later by Gov. Rick Scott and legislative leaders.

“All week we’ve seen people react to the Parkland tragedy reflexively, often without substance or long-term vision,” Spano said. “We owe the families and friends of those 17 victims, as well as the thousands of survivors, something much better than an empty gesture,”

The recommendations include provisions for making schools safer and addressing mental health issues, but one measure would allow churches and other religious facilities to allow members of a congregation who are licensed to carry a concealed firearm to carry during services.

It would also expand the ‘sentinel program‘ that would allow teachers, administrators and parents who are licensed to carry a concealed weapon. The program would require participants to pass enhanced background checks, undergo emotional/psychological evaluation and complete comprehensive standardized training.

The measures introduced do include Gun Violence Restraining Orders (GVROs), a proposal that U.S. Senator Marco Rubio said earlier this week that he could support.

These GVROs would permit a narrowly defined group of people (law enforcement, spouse, parent, sibling, roommate, etc.) to petition the court for an order to temporarily remove a troubled individual’s gun rights.

The order would be appealable and would lapse after a defined period of time, that is unless petitioners or the state can produce clear and convincing evidence that it should remain in place.

With eight days left in the 2018 Legislative Session, Judd was asked if there is time to approve such a wide-ranging program.

“They can certainly approve it at the macro level,” he said. “These plans will have to be tailored to each county to provide safe environments for the children.”

 Judd said whatever is finalized, there must be permanent recurring funding.

“One time doesn’t work,” he added.

“My focus has been that you can have a firearm at home to keep your children safe, businesses can be armed to protect themselves. The only gun free zones are the schools, where our treasures, our children are.

“A resource deputy is not enough. It is one-on-one. We want to overpower the attacker,” Judd said.

Second Amendment rights have surfaced as a major issue among the four candidates running for the GOP nomination for Attorney General. Spano is running against former Hillsborough County Judge Ashley Moody and state Reps. Jay Fant from Jacksonville and Frank White from Pensacola.

Fant and White have attacked Moody as insufficiently tough enough in her defense of the Second Amendment. A winning strategy perhaps in the primary, but a stance that could be problematic in the general election, depending if the fervor for gun regulations that emerged this week in the wake of Parkland will continue throughout the rest of the year.

“We need a better system in place to interdict credible threats when they are made,” Judd said. “And, we need a realistic, last best chance to keep our children alive in schools by having a group of select, well-vetted and well-trained teachers, coaches, and staff who will carry concealed weapons on campus to stop a killer if he shows up.”

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Bill Rufty contributed to this report.

David Jolly: Assault weapon license should be as hard to get as White House security clearance

David Jolly says he’s not sure that a ban on assault weapons is possible in Washington, but believes a solution that could happen immediately is to make them “functionally obsolete” for the average citizen.

“Make the requirements to get an assault weapon as hard as it is to get a security clearance in this White House,” the former Republican congressman quipped to laughs while addressing the Cafe Con Tampa crowd at the Oxford Exchange Friday morning.

“That would be a yearlong process,” he said, turning serious to say that it would allow authorities to get as much information about a person’s background as possible, including serious training and storage requirements that he thinks would only allow the most trained sportsman or woman to handle.

Like many Republicans, he also says that enforcing current laws on the books to a greater extent would also work, or as he says, “Enforce the gun laws as strictly as Donald Trump wants to enforce the immigration laws.”

Though not a card-carrying NRA member, Jolly did receive $9,600 in contributions from the gun rights organization in his special election against Democrat Alex Sink in 2014 and was the beneficiary of the group spending more than $100,000 against Sink in that same campaign.

He said the current background check process is relatively toothless, consisting of a criminal conviction check and little else. People’s mental health history, including counseling, is currently not part of such a check.

And with all that has been learned about Parkland confessed shooter Nikolas Cruz, Jolly said it should be.

Universal and comprehensive background checks should include every transaction involved with a gun, Jolly said, so if somebody wants to sell it to a family member, it should be done at the local sheriff’s department.

Jolly said he’s now “evolved” to the point where he believes such medical background history needs to be included in such a background check.

Joining the Indian Shores Republican in the discussion was former Treasure Coast Democratic Congressman Patrick Murphy, who called guns like the AR-15 “weapons of war” designed to kill human beings, and said they need to go away.

Cruz used an AR-15 to kill 17 people last week at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last week.

“If you need 50 rounds to kill a deer, you need a new sport. Bottom line,” he said.

Murphy said in the current climate in Washington (controlled by Republicans in both the House and Senate)  banning assault weapons isn’t a viable possibility, but says it should be the ultimate goal.

Eliminating bump stocks, addressing mental health and reinforcing school safety are “baby steps” that Murphy believes are possible to achieve now.

A joint appearance by two moderate former members of Congress (who collectively only spent six and a half years in Washington) was part of their traveling road show on ways to get Washington working better, a tour they are holding across the state and other parts of the country since the fall.

To their credit, Jolly and Murphy aren’t preaching to the crowd that they need to be as moderate politically as they are, but that it’s essential to find common ground to fix the problems that our political system is supposed to do but has been breaking down over the past few decades into increased partisan rancor.

Jolly attributes the beginning of the fissure was the mid-1990s when Newt Gingrich led the Republican takeover of the House of Representatives. However, he also insists that Democrats were poised to do the same thing if they were in charge (which they were for decades in the U.S. House before 1994).

“Newt Gingrich realized not only did we take control of the House of Representatives, we’re now going to demand that K Street give us all their money that they’ve been giving to Democrats,” he said, “and then we’re going to go around the country and set up these funds to push lobbyists money into the states, so we can take over our state legislatures, and start to redistrict, start to close primaries, and put a chokehold that ensures that Republicans have a structural advantage for the next couple of decades.”

“And that’s what they did.”

After losing a re-election bid after redistricting in Florida’s 13th Congressional District in 2016 to Charlie Crist, Jolly has become omnipresent on CNN and MSNBC as one of the most outspoken Republican critics to President Trump. Although he’s said as recently as a month ago that he was still considering a run for office in 2018, he all but admitted on Friday that’s increasingly unlikely.

“Not only am I candidate without a party, I’m a candidate without a donor base.”

He did add that he is already involved with efforts to help out a Republican primary presidential challenge to Trump in 2020, having recently met with Republicans in both Iowa and Washington D.C.

Murphy said the teenagers who were directly affected by the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School and have been protesting this week about gun violence give him great hope.

“It’s powerful for our country,” he said.

Murphy concluded: “To get involved, to knock on doors, to get out there to vote, or at least get others to vote. That’s a powerful thing. Politicians, by and large, will care more about that than the money, or anything else, if they see that as a sustaining movement, it can’t be one week, two weeks and done.

“This has to continue for months, and unfortunately probably years to be effective, but with the passion that I see, I am optimistic that this can be a generation that does lead to results.”

Bob Buckhorn now says Tampa may not appeal firefighter’s sexual discrimination ruling

At one time, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn “vowed” to appeal the federal jury verdict for firefighter Tanja Vidovic, winning her case of claiming that the city discriminated against her because she was pregnant and fired her in retaliation for complaining about it.

But the mayor’s office is now saying Buckhorn, in fact, has not decided whether to challenge the ruling.

“The mayor hasn’t decided on (an) appeal,” said spokesperson Ashley Bauman.

This revelation startled Vidovic during an appearance on Tampa’s WMNF 88.5 FM.

“Everything that I had heard from both [city attorney] Tom Gonzalez and from his statement in the newspaper was that he was [filing an appeal], so that’s news to me,” she said.

Before that, the perception had been that the city would indeed appeal the decision.

In a conversation with the Tampa Bay Times February 14, Buckhorn said: “We are appealing this with valid legal reasons.”

The next day, a Times editorial opined: “Having had its day in court and lost, the city should have respected the verdict and moved on.”

The op-ed continued: “But Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn defended Tampa Fire Rescue this week and vowed to appeal. That was exactly the wrong tack, legally and morally, and it could open taxpayers to even further financial exposure in a case that already has cost the two sides about $1 million in legal fees.”

In December, a federal jury found in favor of Vidovic in her case against Tampa Fire Rescue, awarding her $245,000 in damages. Last week, U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Kovachevich ruled that she should be reinstated back to Tampa Fire Rescue within the next two months.

In the interview Thursday, Vidovic, a married woman, recounted how she had been sexually harassed during the first five years of her career at Tampa Fire Rescue, including having captains text or outright ask her for sex.

Initially, she never complained about it.

“There’s a system in there when you’re called like a rookie for the first five years,” Vidovic recalled. “You’re not supposed to talk. Harassment is supposed to be part of it.”

“I was hoping it would end, and then when it didn’t, when it became more severe, I decided I should speak up.”

Vidovic continued: “After speaking to some women in the dept. and explaining to them what happened, they’re like ‘yeah, it happened to me, it’s going to happen to you.’ There was one woman who said ‘it’s not the first time, it’s not going to be the last.'”

During her eight-year career with Tampa Fire Rescue Vidovic was pregnant three times. Her employment there ended the day after she filed a lawsuit against the city in April 2016. Vidovic never wanted to sue, but she wanted to go through mediation with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Also during the radio interview, she complained there was no paid maternity leave at the time. “I requested it.”

Now, that leave is available for all city employees, as the mayor announced in early 2017 that the city would begin providing paid parental leave to full-time workers. The policy will offer primary caregivers with eight (8) weeks and secondary caregivers with two (2) weeks of paid leave after the birth of a new child or an employee with a child placed for adoption or foster care.

Bob Gualtieri vexed over immigration misinformation

A community forum to discuss the recent agreement between 17 Florida Sheriffs and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is scheduled to take place Thursday night in St. Petersburg.

That agreement allows local authorities to hold undocumented immigrants beyond the time they normally would have to be released based on state or local cases. It was announced at a press conference at the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office in Largo last month, and came about after courts objected to sheriffs making their own decisions based on a civil detainer request. Under the new arrangement, the migrants are booked under federal auspices.

Indivisible FL-13, For Our Future FL, the Allendale United Methodist Church, the Florida Immigrant Coalition, Women’s March Pinellas and others have organized the event at the Allendale United Methodist Church.

A press release announcing the event said that Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri was invited but is unable to attend. Gualtieri confirms that he won’t be available to participate, but says that he’s concerned and frustrated by what he calls misinformation being perpetuated by critics of the agreement.

“What we’re talking about in this area is solely one hundred percent only criminal illegal aliens, and when I see in the literature that’s being distributed that what we’re doing is in the same sentence as ‘dreamers’ is absolutely erroneous, and it’s very concerning, because they’re putting fear into the community needlessly by this misleading information,” he says.

Gualtieri says the agreement does not give his deputies carte blanche to start detaining whomever they believe might be undocumented, contrary to claims by some critics. Instead, he says it’s all about people who have been arrested for violating a law and then later determined to be out of status, a much more narrow population.

“A lot of these these people … either are ignorant about it or they are intentionally misleading and then causing others to be misled and causing concern in the public and in the immigrant communities needlessly, because they’re trying to scare these people.”

At a protest in front of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office in Ybor City two weeks ago, Father Peter Ruggere of Corpus Christi in St. Petersburg said service is the image expected from local law enforcement, not handing off undocumented immigrants to the federal government.

“We do not expect them to be handymen, cleaner-uppers for ICE. That’s not their job,” he said. “Their job is to serve and protect this community, and that’s why we’re here.”

At a rally in Tampa a week ago, activists put out an “emergency travel advisory” for Florida, warning potential visitors to be cautious about entering a state where racial profiling is occurring.

“We’re also advising that they particularly avoid high-risk areas, such as the counties that are increasing their collaboration with ICE and DHS as well as airports, seaports, Greyhound bus stations, 7-11 convenience stores and gas stations,” said Briann Gonyea, an attorney with the Council on American Islamic Relations.

There have been incidents where the undocumented  have been picked up on Greyhound buses and in 7-11s, though in most cases reported it’s been at the hands of Border Patrol officers, who work for Customs and Border Protection, an arm of the Homeland Security Department.

The New York Times reported Wednesday that Border Patrol officers are working without permission on private property and setting up checkpoints up to 100 miles away from the border under a little-known federal law that is being used more widely in the Trump administration’s aggressive crackdown on illegal immigration.

Gualtieri says that’s not what sheriff deputies in Florida are up to.

“It’s all nonsense, ” he says. But he says if a person is undocumented and committing crimes, “We’re going to help ICE get you out of here, and that’s the way it should be.”

Gualtieri says that of the estimated 11-13 million undocumented people in the U.S., approximately one million have committed crimes – and that’s who he’s concerned about (In 2016 the Migration Policy Institute estimated that 820,000 of the 11 million unauthorized have been convicted of a crime).

“This isn’t about Sheriff Gualtieri,” said CAIR Florida attorney Robert Sichta .”This is about some law enforcement agencies deciding to ride the wave of a new and dangerous shift in policy that attempts to divide our communities into persons who deserve the protection of the Constitution and those who do not. The Constitution is still the law of the land. People are not criminals until found guilty. Existing detention laws follow the Constitution. The fact that any local government would expose itself to liability from unlawful detentions boggles the mind.”

Marc Rodrigues of the Hillsborough Community Protection Coalition rejects the idea that activists like himself are promoting fear, saying there’s already enough of that in immigrant communities due to the current political climate.

“Sheriff Gualtieri can talk about safety all he wants, but members of the community we speak with are in fact feeling less safe as a result of these policies, less likely to approach law enforcement if they are victims of crime,” he said.

“The reality is that that what is often considered a misdemeanor infraction for a U.S. citizen that is resolved routinely, thousands of times every day across this country through the paying of a fine or the posting of bond, results, for an immigrant, in utter life-shattering devastation,” Rodrigues added.

“When an undocumented immigrant repeatedly drives without a license to be able to work and to keep a roof over their head and food on the table in a state that won’t allow that immigrant to apply for a driving permit, that person is deemed a ‘felon’ and subjected to these Sheriff-ICE collaboration, detention, deportation, family separation policies. Then we’re asked to remain silent as politicians and Sheriffs, eager to capitalize on fear to advance their careers, crow about how incredible of a job they’ve done to keep US citizens safe from the dangers of a housekeeper, tomato picker, landscaper or construction worker who was found driving with a broken tail light. We will not remain silent.”

The 17 counties participating include: Bay, Brevard, Charlotte, Columbia, Hernando, Hillsborough, Indian River, Lee, Manatee, Monroe, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, Santa Rosa, Sarasota, Suwannee and Walton.

An organizer for Thursday’s event, Vickie Dunn, says that her group would have welcomed Gualtieri speaking to the group at a later date, “but that option wasn’t offered.”

The roundtable discussion is scheduled to take place Thursday night at 7:00 p.m. at the Allendale United Methodist Church, 3803 Haines Rd. N. in St. Petersburg. Those who plan on attending are advised to RSVP online.

Former state lawmaker Rob Wallace commits suicide

Rob Wallace, a Republican who served in the Florida House of Representatives from 1994 to 2002 representing Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, died on Monday, jumping from a Dale Mabry Highway overpass.

Wallace was 65.

At least one witness saw Wallace plunge 40 to 50 feet onto Gunn Highway, according to a Hillsborough County Medical Examiner’s report. A 911 call came in at 7:02 p.m., and first responders found his body lying on a rock surface next to railroad tracks.

Quoting a medical report, the Tampa Bay Times reported that Wallace had been suffering from depression “for the past several years.”

Former state Sen. John Grant worked closely with Wallace for about eight years and said he was saddened by news of his death.

“This just proves how much we don’t know about how to fight mental illness,” said John Grant, who served in the Legislature with Wallace. “It’s not like other medical problems where you can get an MRI and find out what is wrong.”

After serving eight years in the Florida House, he was thought done with politics but came back unexpectedly in 2010. That’s when Hillsborough and Florida Republicans were scrambling for a candidate to replace Jim Norman in the Senate District 17 race in Hillsborough and Pasco Counties.

Norman was kicked off the ballot less than a month before he was expected to win the seat following a trial filed by the Republican he had defeated in the primary that August, Kevin Ambler.

After Ambler lost to Norman, he filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn his loss, arguing that Norman was not qualified to run because he failed to disclose a gift for an Arkansas vacation home on his state ethics forms.

Tallahassee Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford ultimately found Norman’s explanation that he knew nothing about the house “patently absurd,” and ordered him off the ballot.

Then six Republican representatives from Hillsborough and Pasco counties selected Wallace to replace Norman on the ballot. Norman appealed that verdict, and ultimately got back on the ballot, and was elected to the Senate.

In 2012, after Norman opted not to run for re-election for the Senate seat, Wallace filed to run in the Republican primary that year, where he ended up losing to John Legg. He complained to this reporter that year that the GOP establishment in Tallahassee had intervened in the primary.

“I have no problem with people like (Richard) Corcoran, (Mike) Fasano, (Will) Weatherford, ” he said of Pasco area Republicans who were endorsing Legg in the SD 17 race, which encompasses parts of both Pasco and Hillsborough counties.

“They know Legg, they want to work with him, that’s fine. But for Tallahassee to come in, that’s wrong. In the long run, it hurts the party. It may be expedient in this case or a couple of cases around the state, but they really need to stay out of it.”

Wallace attended Tampa Catholic High School and was a USF graduate in 1974, majoring in civil/environmental engineering. In 1979, he founded Environmental Engineering Consultants, Inc.

He said that he got into the environmental business in the early 1970s at a time when the Environmental Protection Agency had just been formed and was dealing with air and water issues on a national basis.

“I came to the belief that man can cause problems and man can solve those problems, and I wanted to be on the cleanup team,” he once said.

A memorial service will be held at St. Timothy Catholic Church in Lutz on Monday at 1 p.m.

“He was a true family man who loved and cared deeply for his community,” said Wallace’s daughter Amber Loper.

In addition to his daughter, Wallace is survived by his sons, Robert, Scott, and Connor Wallace, and his wife, Ann. He had three grandchildren.

Mike Deeson says city of Tampa participating in ‘sham’ regarding CFO’s address

Mike Deeson is pushing back on the city of Tampa’s official position regarding where finance director Sonya Little resides.

The former Channel 10 news investigative reporter filed a lawsuit Monday against the City of Tampa, claiming it is in violation of public records laws by denying him the home address of the city’s CFO, whom Deeson maintains resides outside of the city limits of Tampa. If that’s accurate, t would be a violation of the city charter.

Deeson says that Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn has always been aware of that, but circumvented that classification by listing Little as being the “interim” director for nearly six years, even though she’s served in his administration for almost the entire time he has been in office.

“The charter allows someone to be in an interim position,” Buckhorn told Deeson in December of 2016, “We are not violating the charter.”

Last year, the city said Little moved to Tampa. Deeson requested her address, but city officials objected, saying it was exempt from the state’s Sunshine Laws because she was a local government employee whose duties include revenue “collection and enforcement,” according to the lawsuit.

Deeson claims that the city only changed its tune about Little moving to Tampa after he began airing reports questioning Buckhorn about it. He says the address in unincorporated Hillsborough County remains her declared homestead property and carries the homestead tax exemption afforded under Florida law.

When asked to comment on Tuesday, City Attorney Sal Territo provided this statement: “Little is a Resident of the City of Tampa, and her address is exempt from public records because of her position as the Director of Revenue and Finance of the City of Tampa.”

Deeson exploded after he read those remarks.

“For the six years when the city blatantly and shamefully violated the city charter, it NEVER claimed that Sonya Little’s address was exempt from public disclosure,” the veteran journalist emailed Tuesday night. “After trampling on the charter for 6 years, the city is saying trust us to do the right thing. I don’t trust them and believe they only reason the city is trying this use this exemption  is because it is concerned I will expose the fact that Ms. Little spends the majority of her time living at her home in the county rather than the address she claims is her permanent residence.”

“I think the Mayor, Ms Little and those who have participated in this overt sham for the past six years and now continue to deprive the citizens of their right to know about their government should be ashamed!”

Deeson retired from WTSP last year after an illustrious career as a TV reporter. He continues to work on documentaries, as well as providing commentaries on his Facebook page.

Jim Waurishuk elected chair of Hillsborough GOP, vows to make county party great again

Retired U.S. Air Force Colonel and Hillsborough County’s Republican State Committeeman Jim Waurishuk is the new Chairman of the Hillsborough Republican Executive Committee.

Waurishuk defeated political consultant April Schiff, 76-58 Tuesday night during the party’s monthly meeting in Tampa.

The military veteran has only been involved with local party politics since 2011 when he joined the Hillsborough County REC. He told the local Republicans in his speech that he naturally gravitated to Donald Trump during the most recent presidential election

“In May of 2015 I took a stand and stood to support Donald Trump for president and I have stood steadfast with him ever since,” he boasted. In fact, Waurishuk introduced Trump when the then Republican presidential candidate spoke at the USF SunDome in February of 2016. He also touted endorsements from not only local Republican officials, but also support from such figures as Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie, high ranking officials for at least part of Trump’s 2016 campaign.

Nearly everyone in local Republican politics admits, the party is in dire need of  a transfusion of energy and excitement, following the resignation last month of Deborah Tamargo.

Tamargo was elected in 2014 but faced an inter-party battle in 2016 before stepping down after she faced a grievance filed against her by other party officers, including Waurishuk.

Waurishuk admitted that Hillsborough County is a different place than it was in 2004, the last time it went red in a presidential election.

“Through strong Republican policies and leadership, we will turn the party around and continue to grow,” he promised, adding that he would improve fundraising and grow the party’s volunteer basis. He also said that the party needed to change its message, and its messaging.

Waurishuk’s military background has made him a respected voice with national conservative media venues like Fox News, the Laura Ingraham radio show and 970 WFLA in Tampa. He served as a staff advisor at U.S. Special Operation Command (USSOCOM)  and Central Command out of MacDill Air Force base over the past 15 years.

He defeated Schiff, who in her speech said that she had ran her campaign based on three principles – unity, civility and success.

She said she believed in celebrating a diversity of views a la Ronald Reagan’s “big tent” philosophy and said it was important to respect each other’s opinions And she promised to bring back elected officials who had wandered away from the local party during the Tamargo years.

Pasco County State Committeeman Bill Bunting attended the meeting and excitedly called Pasco County Chairman Randy Evans immediately after Waurishuk was announced as the winner.

“I’m glad this guy’s in because we’re going to need him, and we’re going to help him,” Bunting said, adding that he throught that the party under Tamargo was “dysfunctional” in his opinion.

Court denies rehearing for developer in $16.5 million Pinellas zoning case

There will not be a rehearing in the case that could have cost Pinellas County taxpayers $16.5 million over a Safety Harbor apartment complex that the County Commission rejected five years ago.

The 2nd District Court of Appeals in Lakeland denied a request for rehearing by the Richman Group of Florida.

The court originally ruled last November in favor of the county, making it clear that local taxpayers would not have to pay the millions for the County Commission having denied a developer its constitutional rights by failing to grant a proposed zoning and land use change.

The case arose out of a 2012 request that the city of Safety Harbor rezone a 34.55-acre parcel of land at the intersection of McMullen-Booth Road and 10th Street so that it could build a 246-unit apartment complex and 25,000-square-feet of single-story office space.

To accomplish this, the land — which had several zoning designations — had to be rezoned to residential. About 15.8 acres of the larger property was zoned industrial.

The proposal won preliminary approval with a 3-2 vote from the Safety Harbor City Council. The proposal had to win the county’s approval before it went back before the Safety Harbor council for the final OK.

But, after hearing from 308 residents opposed to the development, Pinellas County commissioners turned down the proposal saying they believed in the preservation of “industrial” land in 2013.

Richman then appealed to an administrative law judge, who said the Commission was wrong when it denied the rezoning. Preservation of industrial land was not mentioned in the land code as one of the criteria the County Commission can follow in deciding zoning and land use cases.

The case went back before the commission, where they were instructed by their attorney that they were bound to follow the administrative judge’s ruling about what they could consider in deciding the case. The commission once again went ahead and unanimously voted to turn down the request, leading to the lawsuit.

In June 2016, Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Walter Schafer Jr. ruled in favor of Richman, and Pinellas was ordered to pay $16.5 million in lost profits and interest to the Richman Group.

The county appealed that ruling, and the 2nd District Court overturned the judge last November. Richman has 30 days to file an appeal with the Florida Supreme Court.

For Democrat Heather Stahl, gun control is now top issue in HD 64 race

When Democrat Heather Kenyon Stahl entered the House District 47 race last month, seeking the seat currently held by Republican Jamie Grant, her emphasis was on education, transportation and health care.

While those issues remain at the forefront of her campaign, another subject emerged — gun control — which few Democrats hoping to make it to the Legislature talked about just a week ago.

Now, guns have become a major part of Stahl’s platform.

“It wasn’t a part of my platform but is now the absolute number one thing priority of my campaign,” Stahl said to cheers at the Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Committee meeting in Ybor City Monday night.

“We have four children that are all in the public school systems in Hillsborough and Pasco counties, and I am devastated at what guns have done for our children,” she told the crowd. “I never want to hear another parent come home and have to hear the words that their child is no longer alive. That is no longer acceptable, so that’s going to be a big thing in this campaign because my opponents are running the race to see who can be the most not only ‘red’ but gun friendly and NRA friendly.”

The issue of gun control has catapulted nationally and in Florida following the latest gun shooting massacre, this time the Broward County city of Parkland on Feb. 14, when 17 people were killed and another 14 wounded at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School.

Terry Power, an Oldsmar-based certified financial planner, is challenging Grant in the HD 47 Republican primary. Grant received an “A” rating from the NRA when he began his House career in 2010.

“This isn’t about taking away people’s constitutional rights,” Stahl said in a statement Monday night. “This is about common-sense measures like background checks and raising the age of those that can purchase AR-15’s. I want to ensure guns stay out of the hands of those who shouldn’t have those weapons in the first place.”

On Monday, incoming Senate President Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican, said his chamber is preparing a package that would include raising the age to purchase any firearm to 21, creating a waiting period for purchasing any type of firearm, banning bump stocks that can allow semi-automatic guns to spray bullets quickly and creating gun-violence restraining orders.

Stahl also faced a primary opponent, special needs teacher Christopher Smutko, who has since withdrawn from the race and is now backing Stahl.

“The needs of the hardworking families in our district and the state should always come before personal ambitions,” said Smutko in the statement from the Stahl campaign. “C.S. Lewis once noted that, ‘True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.’ It is in that spirit that I have decided to end my campaign and support Heather Stahl to represent District 64 in the Florida House of Representatives.

“Ms. Stahl has an extensive record of success in driving growth and innovation in the Tampa Bay area and I believe she is the best person for the job.”

Stahl is the former CEO of the Tampa Bay Technology Forum, and currently works in sales training.

House District 64 covers parts of northeastern Pinellas and northwest Hillsborough County.

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