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John Morroni is backing Jeremy Bailie in HD 69 race

Republican Jeremy Bailie announced Monday that Pinellas County Commissioner John Morroni endorsed his bid to replace exiting Rep. Kathleen Peters in House District 69.

“Jeremy Bailie has impressed me with his knowledge of the issues, devotion to our community, and willingness to work hard for our community. I know what it takes to be an effective legislator, and Jeremy has what it takes to get the job done for Pinellas,” said Morroni, who served in the House from 1992 through 2000.

“Jeremy is a principled conservative who will fight to improve our local economy, reduce burdensome regulations, keep taxes low, and give every student the opportunity to have a quality education.”

Bailie is running against Ray Blacklidge in the Republican Primary for the seat, which covers part of Pinellas including the communities of Redington Beach, Madeira Beach, Treasure Island, South Pasadena and Gulfport.

Past endorsements for Bailie include St. Pete Beach Vice Mayor Ward Friszolowski, Gulfport Vice Mayor Dan Liedtke, Pinellas County Property Appraiser Mike Twitty, Pinellas County Clerk of Court Ken Burke, former Pinellas County Commissioner Neil Brickfield, and former HD 69 candidate Chris Licata.

Also running are Democrats Jennifer Webb and Javier Centonzio. Webb was the Democratic nominee for the seat in 2016, but lost to Peters 57-43.

Through the end of January, Blacklidge led all candidates in the fundraising race with $76,714, followed by Webb at $57,951.

Bailie has raised a total of $35,659, while Centonzio, who filed in January, showed $21,125 raised in his first campaign finance report.

Hillsborough lawmakers pleased with changes to HART routes

As a consequence of funding issues, the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) made sweeping changes to its bus system last fall, cutting nearly 20 percent of all routes.The decision alienated some County Commissioners, unhappy with the level of service reductions in their districts.

HART staff heard those objections loud and clear, saying they intended to tweak the system after a few months.

At a news conference Monday in Brandon, officials announced that they were doing just that.

The agency is claiming the new changes will increase frequency on key routes, reduce wait times and provide faster connections for customers.

“Implementing these enhancements allows us to better align our services and routes to best meet the needs of our customers, and ensure they have a great experience when they ride HART,” said HART Interim CEO Jeff Seward. “Enhancements through Mission MAX have provided HART with a solid foundation of high-quality bus service that we can build on as our community grows.”

“I’m proud of the work and investment my colleagues on the Hillsborough County Commission took in supporting HART and realizing this round of enhancements,” Hillsborough County Commission Chair and HART board member Stacy White said in a statement.

White was among the most vocal of critics of HART’s “Mission Max” plan when it was announced last fall, declaring that many of his bus riding constituents in Eastern Hillsborough County “got hosed,” and that it was “terrible for residents in unincorporated Hillsborough.”

The proposed route cuts announced last summer expect to save HART $5.8 million annually, with a fleet reduction during peak hours from 157 buses to 121.

Some of the agency’s busiest routes in Tampa run through City Councilman Frank Reddick’s district. He said the service improvements “will greatly benefit current passengers and future passengers of HART.”

HART Board Chair and County Commissioner Les Miller has bemoaned the agency’s lack of funding and continues to say that he is supportive of the idea of raising the agency’s tax rate, while Commissioner Sandy Murman has said she intends at some point to introduce a proposal to financially support the agency over the next few years.

Commissioner Pat Kemp has argued for the county to give more funding to the board as well, though that idea has not received any traction with her board colleagues.

Route changes can be accessed online. They will go into effect Sunday, Feb. 25.

Rick Kriseman to name St. Pete library after Barack Obama, some take issue

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman announced Monday morning his administration is renaming the city’s main library after former President Barack Obama.

Not everyone was pleased.

Kriseman made the announcement on Presidents Day in front of the library at 3745 9th Avenue North. The renaming is to coincide with the library’s planned $6 million in renovations, using funds from the Penny for Pinellas sales tax recently re-upped for another decade by Pinellas County voters.

While naming public buildings after past presidents is hardly unusual, the move sparked controversy on the internet, with Tampa Bay Times political editor Adam Smith weighing in on his Facebook page, saying Obama has nothing to do with St. Pete.

“Mayor embracing his hyper-partisan image,” Smith wrote. “What if next mayor changed the name to Donald J. Trump Library?”

Predictably, the decision set off an exchange of responses (both pro and con) on the Times website as well, with some comments hinting of racism.

Detractors complained the library should be named for a local figure; supporters noted that Martin Luther King Jr. was not a local figure either. King, of course, has a major street named after him in St. Pete.

“It’s not like anyone is going to forget about Barack Obama (whether your opinion is positive or negative),” wrote Cliff Perkins. “So why waste resources to name a local library after him? He has no connection to St Petersburg. If it needs a name, pick someone local who has contributed to literacy or scholarship in the region.”

Pinellas County Democratic Executive Committee Chair Susan McGrath thought the decision to name the library after the nation’s 44th president makes perfect sense. One of Tampa’s main streets is named after former President John Kennedy, she noted, and McGrath often flies a few times a year into Reagan-National Airport in Washington D.C., which is named after former President Ronald Reagan.

While partisanship divides the country (as well as some quarters of St. Pete, apparently), the controversy honestly surprises McGrath.

“It’s not an issue before that we expect the legacies of presidents to be carried forth and reflected in the naming of buildings,” she said, adding the election of the first black president in the U.S. was historic and significant.

The Kriseman administration began discussing with community leaders as far back as last spring about renaming of the main library, and the enhancement of the library’s programming to include an emphasis on presidential history, civics, and the contributions of both Obama and Michelle Obama.

Obama endorsed Kriseman in his bid for re-election last August, just days before the primary. In the race against former Mayor Rick Baker, Kriseman took home the most votes in the Aug. 29 primary, going on to win re-election over Baker by two points in November.

Hillsborough Republicans choose new chair Tuesday

For years, the Hillsborough GOP dominated local politics.

However, over the past few years, their grip has begun to loosen.

Long known as a bellwether in presidential elections, Hillsborough went big for Hillary Clinton in 2016, while the rest of the state went for Donald Trump.

And while local Republicans won all of the county’s legislative elections, former federal prosecutor Andrew Warren defeated incumbent Mark Ober in the State Attorney’s race by running on a reform agenda, while Pat Kemp easily defeated Tim Schock in the only countywide race for commissioner.

The collective energy levels of the two local parties have been evident since the 2016 election, with the Hillsborough Democrats having signed up a record 270 precinct members in recent months, while the GOP meetings are not nearly as well attended.

On Tuesday night, members of the Hillsborough County Republican Executive Committee will choose a new chair to succeed Deborah Tamargo, who resigned last month over what seemed to be a relatively trivial matter.

Then again, Tamargo had been constantly fending off critics ever since she defeated former chair Debbie Cox-Roush in December 2014.

In December 2016, she was challenged by Jonny Torres, who was backed by Republican state House members Jamie Grant, Dan Raulerson (since retired), and Ross Spano, in an ultimately losing effort.

“Out of respect to Chairwoman Tamargo, not everyone is willing to step forward,” Torres said in a debate regarding unhappiness some party members felt about her leadership. “What I keep hearing from the campaigns and the consultants time and time again is that they saw little to no members from the REC supporting their efforts.”

Party members will choose a replacement for Tamargo Tuesday night. GOP consultant April Schiff will be running against Jim Waurishuk, a former deputy intelligence chief of U.S. Central Command.

Waurisuk was one of four members of the party’s executive committee to file a grievance last year against Tamargo, accusing her of violating state party rules, specifically in her manner of discussion over the site of the party’s monthly meetings.

At St. Pete vigil for Parkland shooting, calls for political action

Charlie Crist hopes things will be different this time around.

Before a public appearance at Williams Park Saturday, the St. Petersburg Democrat said he was still unconvinced the Republican-led Congress will support gun control legislation, even after 17 people were massacred last week at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

Several hundred people gathered in downtown St. Pete for a vigil to remember the victims of the shooting.

“It’s different because those students have been speaking out about it,” Crist said, “very strongly and passionately from the heart.”

Crist, joined by other Pinellas Democrats, wanted to convey the message that the hurt and anger people are feeling over this latest tragedy must be transformed into political action at the polls this November.

St. Petersburg Councilwoman Darden Rice said it was the power of gun control groups like Moms Demand Action that helped defeat former New Hampshire Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte in her bid for re-election in 2016.

Ayotte paid a political price for voting against the 2013 bill that would have expanded gun background checks. Ayotte ultimately lost to Democrat Maggie Hassan by just 716 votes.

“Let me tell you, those groups were total ‘badasses’ and they stood up to the gun lobby,” Rice said to cheers. “And that’s what we have to do, again and again. It’s a lot of work. We gotta stick to it. We can’t snap our fingers and have something happen overnight right after a tragedy.”

Pinellas County School Board Chair Rene Flowers explicitly called out Republicans and rallied for more Democrats elected in November.

“Put (Marco) Rubio out of office!” she shouted as the audience continued to cheer. (However, it is something not likely to happen anytime soon — Rubio doesn’t come up for re-election until 2022.)

“Do not shuffle, shake and jive to hide behind the Second Amendment, ” she added. “If you want to protect your home, that’s fine, but there is no place to want to kill a deer, a coon or a possum with that kind of weapon fare. It’s not being used to eat!

Flowers then referenced Tuesday’s special election in Sarasota County, where she knocked on doors and made phone calls to help Democrat Margaret Good, who defeated Republican James Buchanan by seven points in a traditionally GOP-leaning district.

“We can do it!” she shouted.

In his brief remarks to the audience, Crist also referred to Good’s victory, as well as other recent elections in Florida that saw Rick Kriseman get re-elected mayor of St. Pete and his 2014 running mate Annette Taddeo win a special election state Senate seat in Miami-Dade County last year.

“Another red to blue,” he said referring to the Democrat taking over a seat formerly held by a Republican. “You see the trend. It’s coming, but only if we stay engaged.”

Crist told the crowd that he supports “comprehensive and significant ” background checks, a ban on all assault weapons and measures to keep schools safer.

“Now is the time. And I hope and pray that we can get some of these things passed, quickly, like yesterday. I’m an optimist, but I am somewhat pessimistic about the leadership in Congress, and how could you not be?  What have they done? How many does it take? When is enough enough?”

One Florida Republican lawmaker who said Sunday he would support such bills is Miami U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, considered one of the most vulnerable Republican members of Congress in the nation as he fights for re-election in Florida’s 26th Congressional District.

“What we need is congressional leaders, specifically in my party, to allow some of these bills to come to the floor for debate,” Curbelo told Martha Raddatz on ABC’s This Week. “There are a lot of Republicans who are prepared to support reasonable, common-sense gun safety laws, new laws, stronger laws that protect rights for responsible citizens, people who are responsible gun owners, but will prevent those who want to do harm to innocent people from obtaining these weapons.”

Rice said the time for activists who want to see gun control laws change is to get active right now. “Congress is where the work ends, it’s not where it begins. It begins here. It begins now, and we stick to it.”

Josie Tomkow dominates fundraising in HD 39 primary

Preparing for a special primary election Tuesday in a seat vacated by former state Rep. Neil Combee, Polk City Republican Josie Tomkow has dominated fundraising in her race against Bartow Republican Jennifer Spath.

Tomkow raised $44,025 from Dec. 29 through Thursday for the campaign in House District 39, which includes parts of Polk and Osceola counties, according to a report posted Friday on the state Division of Elections website. That brought Tomkow’s overall total raised to $119,180.

Spath, meanwhile, raised $23,325 during the most-recent period, bringing her overall total to $27,325, her report shows. Spath has also loaned $31,500 to her campaign.

The seat became open when Combee resigned to take a federal agriculture job.

The winner of Tuesday’s primary will face Democrat Ricky Shirah in the May 1 special general election.

Jennifer Webb rolls out new list of community members backing her HD 69 campaign

House District 69 Democrat Jennifer Webb unveiled a new list of endorsements on Friday in her bid to win a south Pinellas County legislative seat.

Webb was the 2016 Democratic nominee in the district and is giving it another go in 2018. She faces attorney Javier Centonzio in the Democratic primary, while Ray Blacklidge and Jeremy Bailie are running on the GOP side.

Webb had previously announced a slew of endorsements from elected officials in late December. Friday’s announcement was dotted with public support from grassroots activists and small business men and women.

“Jennifer Webb is a passionate, effective, and tireless champion for a strong economy, a clean environment, and a democracy un-beholden to powerful special interests,” said Mark Ferullo, executive director of Progress Florida.

“Jennifer understands the relationship between our environment and our industry and has been a champion of protecting our gulf beaches,” said Gary Renfow, president at Alden Beach Resort.

“As a former candidate for the same office, small business owner and a 27-year member of the Florida Bar, I feel that Jennifer will represent all of the people of District 69 and their issues, not just one segment or geographic area,” said Scott Orsini, who opposed Kathleen Peters in 2014. Peters is stepping down from the seat later this year to run for the Pinellas County Commission.

There’s no question that Webb is the preferred choice among the Florida Democratic Party establishment. House Victory, the campaign arm of the Florida House Democrats, is unofficially backing her candidacy against Centonzio, a St. Petersburg attorney making his first run for public office.

Centonzio raised over $20,000 in January, his first month on the campaign trail, giving him some instant credibility. While lower than Webb’s take of $25,000, the fundraising total indicates that he intends to stick around for awhile. The primary election does not take place until late August.

Blacklidge continues to lead all the candidates in the race in fundraising.

Here’s the full list of locals who endorsed Webb Friday: Helen Bailey, Larry Biddle, Linda Craig, Caroline Duvoe, Mario Farias, Mark Ferrulo, Steve Fields, Winnie Foster, David Hastings, Steven Hoe, George Hunt, Jennifer Joern, Howard Johnston, Lucinda Johnston, Brian Longstreth, Judithanne McLauchlan, Ramsey McLauchlan, David Monroe, Scott Orsini, Lisa Perry, Gary Renfrow, Mary Ann Renfrow, Wanda Grubbs Schwerer, Shane Socash, Cindy Stovall, Scott Turner, Amy Weintraub, Matt Wiseman.


Chris Hunter, CD 12 Democratic Candidate, with Family (Photo pulled from official campaign website)

Chris Hunter fundraiser set for Feb. 23 in Tampa

Democrat Chris Hunter is holding a fundraiser in Tampa next week for his campaign against Republican U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis in Florida’s 12th Congressional District.

The Feb. 23 event is slated to run from 5:30 pm to 7:30 pm at The Tampa Club, 101 E. Kennedy Blvd, and the host committee includes Joseph Swanson, Erin Aebel, Matthew Mueller and Thomas Vacca.

Former CFO Alex Sink is also listed as a “special guest for the event.”

Those looking to attend can send an RSVP over to Swanson at jswanson@carltonfields.com or Vacca at vacca.tcc18@gmail.com.

Hunter filed for the seat at the beginning of the year and has not yet filed his first campaign finance report. He joined Robert Tager, Matthew Thomas, and Stephen Perenich in the Democratic Primary for the seat. A fifth Democrat, Kimberly Walker, opened a campaign account in earlier this month.

Bilirakis is currently in his fifth term in the House and has held the seat since it was redrawn.

At the end of 2017, Bilirakis incumbent had raised $695,000 for his 2018 re-election, with about $370,000 on hand heading into the new year.

CD 12 covers all of Pasco County as well as part of northern Pinellas County and a small tract of northwestern Hillsborough County. The district voted 57-39 in favor of President Donald Trump in 2016.

The invite is below.

Chris Hunter Invitation

Business leader pitches Tampa Bay light rail, but not on backs of local taxpayers

There are a lot of issues in the Tampa Bay area, but it’s almost universally accepted that lack of transportation options is the dominant one for 2018.

A 41-mile Bus Rapid Transit plan running from Wesley Chapel to St. Petersburg was introduced to the public last month to decidedly mixed reviews.

Meanwhile, Tampa Bay Republicans in Tallahassee are pushing to get a guaranteed $25 million a year for transportation beginning in 2021, but only for alternative transit projects, not light rail.

On Friday, Gary Sasso pitched a pilot project for light rail in Tampa — without taxpayer funding — to an audience at the weekly Cafe Con Tampa meeting at the Oxford Exchange.

Sasso is president and CEO of the national law firm Carlton Fields. He also chaired the board of the Tampa Bay Partnership in 2010 when it took a leading role advocating for the passage of Moving Hillsborough Forward, the one-cent transit tax in Hillsborough County designed to fund a light-rail system. For several years after, Sasso led the Partnership’s Transportation Task Force.

Sasso’s advocacy for a light-rail system in Hillsborough County has always been based on making and keeping the Tampa Bay area competitive from an economic perspective, and not just with the Charlottes, Austins and other communities that Tampa business leaders always compare them to, but now also with Miami and Orlando.

Four separate transit tax referendums have gone before the voters in the Bay Area since 2010; all four went down in decisive defeats. Sasso believes political leaders need to accept that for a variety of reasons, voters in Bay area counties aren’t going to turn around and approve them anytime soon.

“We’ve asked the voters to exercise vision and make business decisions about what’s best for transportation in the Bay area, and that’s not fair,” he said. “Voters aren’t equipped to do that. They shouldn’t be asked to do that.”

The political and business establishment in recent years have emphasized that the governments in the Tampa Bay area need to embrace regionalism, and frequently speak about how parochialism is a thing of the past, and good riddance. But that’s become the problem when it comes to trying to find transit and transportation solutions, Sasso said.

“We’ve got to stop trying to approach this with these gargantuan projects that can be funded only with these countywide referendums,” he added.

Critics contend light-rail is too expensive and has now become a dated form of public transportation, notions with which Sasso vehemently disagrees. Transportation and infrastructure are expensive, he said, mentioning how the Florida Department of Transportation spent $1 billion to expand I-275, and the Tampa Bay Next project (formerly TBX) is estimated to cost between $3 to $9 billion. There was also the proposed baseball stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays, which could cost anywhere between $750 million to $1 billion.

Looking at it from a business-oriented prism, Sasso embraces light-rail because it would bring transit-oriented development to the community.

“It’s about redeveloping already impacted areas,” he said. “It’s about telling developers where they can safely put a stake in the ground and invest. It’s about bringing capital, investors, talent into this region. Creating energy, having a transformational impact. “

He cites the gas tax, as well development rights, private-public projects (aka “P-3’s) and tax increment financing districts as alternative sources of transit funding instead of going to the taxpayers.

In the audience were Tom Rask and Sharon Calvert, two anti-tax activists who over the past decade have been prominent in advocating against transit tax proposals in the region. Rask said that it appeared to him that political leaders failed to heed the lessons learned in a post-mortem report written about Moving Hillsborough’s failure, such as people not trusting local government. Sasso agreed.

Sasso also touched on All Aboard Florida, the country’s first private high-speed rail service that began offering service in December from West Palm Beach to Fort Lauderdale, with Miami and ultimately Orlando expansions planned.

“We’re this little backwater operation here on the west coast,” he lamented, saying that there will be no expansion of that train to the Tampa Bay area until rail system that connects from Tampa to Pinellas County.

“There are economic consequences of this. It’s about attracting business. It’s about attracting investment,” Sasso said.

The last attempt at a transit tax in the Tampa Bay area, Go Hillsborough, never made it to the ballot in 2016, having been rejected on a 4-3 vote by the Hillsborough County Board of Commissioners. There are no plans underway to bring a similar measure to the polls to any Bay area county at the moment.

An early look at the Vern Buchanan-David Shapiro CD 16 showdown

For Sarasota-area Democrats, hope springs eternal.

Tuesday night, Margaret Good won a decisive seven-point victory over Republican James Buchanan in the House District 72 special election.

Now Democrats are eyeing much bigger prey — Florida’s 16th Congressional District held by Vern Buchanan, who made millions owning car dealership before turning to politics in 2006, winning a hugely controversial victory over Democrat Christine Jennings.

Since then, Buchanan has never faced a serious threat.

Sarasota Republicans openly mocked the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee last spring when they added CD 16 to the list of seats that they were targeting for recruiting and potential investment.

“The Democrats have zero chance at winning this seat,” quipped Sarasota Republican Party Chairman Joe Gruters after that announcement was made. And while not sounding so bravado immediately after Good was declared the victor on Tuesday night, still vowed that he was “confident” that the GOP will win the seat back in November.

Democrats have found the man they believe can topple Buchanan in the fall in attorney David Shapiro, who in the last quarter of 2017 received more than 500 contributors totaling more than $250,000.

Shortly after Good’s victory Tuesday night, Shapiro’s campaign team fired off a memo to reporters (available on his campaign website) laying out the predicate on how they believe Buchanan is now very vulnerable.

However, it appeared that some of the data employed in the original memo to reporters was inaccurate.

The memo begins by asserting, HD 72 makes up 21.6 percent of the 16th Congressional District and is “a full 10-points more Republican by party registration” than CD 16 as a whole.

Where HD 72 saw a 12-point swing between 2016 and 2018, the memo asserts CD 16 will put Shapiro in “a strong position to win in November.”

According to a graph in Shapiro’s memo, HD 72 party registration is 50 percent Republican, 29 percent Democrat and 20 percent independent. Comparing it to the CD 16 political party breakdown, the memo claims HD 72 is a “full 10 points” more Republican.

Not exactly. A check of the closing book on party registration on HD 72 as of last month shows — courtesy of the Division of Elections website — that is in fact, 42 percent Republican, 33 percent Democratic, and 25 percent NPA. That breakdown is extremely close to the CD 16 demographics of 41 percent Republican, 32 percent Democrat and 27 percent independent (HD 72 makes up 21.6 percent of CD 16).

When contacted, Shapiro campaign manager Jason Ascher acknowledged the error and has subsequently corrected it on the website.

The highest-profile Democratic candidate on the ballot in 2016 and 2014 also fared much better in HD 72 than in CD 16.

In 2016, Donald Trump won HD 72 by 4.8 percent over Hillary Clinton but took CD 16 by 10.8 percent (Buchanan also defeated Democrat Jan Schneider by 19.6 percent).

In 2014, Charlie Crist won HD 72 by 1 percent over Rick Scott. Nevertheless, Scott took CD 16 by 6 percent.

So recent elections bear out the assumption that, statistically, CD 16 will be a harder road to hoe for Democrats than HD 72 was.

Not that it can’t (or won’t) be done in 2018.

The Sarasota GOP establishment still believes Buchanan’s hegemony in the district can’t be broken.

“I don’t think there’s any chance that the Democrats can beat him, just because he’s done such a great job,” says Sarasota Republican Committeeman Christian Ziegler, a former longtime aide to Buchanan. “When you look at his record, he’s right in line with the district, and if you look at his hustle, I don’t think know if there’s a congressman that works more aggressively and does more outreach to the community than Vern.”

“Our argument still holds,” counters Ascher. “These two districts are very similar and what happened Tuesday night bodes very well for David’s campaign heading into November.”
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