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David Straz makes first public appearance as potential Tampa mayoral candidate

Philanthropist and former banker David Straz Jr. had a coming-out party (of sorts) Sunday, hosting a spaghetti lunch for more than 250 people in West Tampa.

It was his first public appearance since forming an exploratory committee two months ago for a potential run for Tampa mayor in 2019.

The 74-year-old Wisconsin native already had enjoyed a long and distinguished career before becoming a much better-known quantity in the Tampa Bay-area in November 2009. That’s when he made a substantial financial contribution (rumored to be as high as $25 million) to the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center which resulted in the facility changing its name to the Straz Center.

He’s also been involved for over a decade with individuals like Al Fox to advocate for closer relations between Tampa and Cuba.

A political independent, Straz was an ally of former mayor Dick Greco, supporting him when he ran for yet another reign as Tampa mayor in 2011. After Greco lost to Bob Buckhorn in the primary, Straz backed Buckhorn and then became in charge of his transition team.

Since announcing that he was forming an exploratory committee in late September, Straz has refused interviews with inquiring reporters about his possible candidacy. When confronted by this reporter shortly after the doors opened at the Sons of Italy hall on Sunday, he initially said it was “not a media event” before succumbing to answer a couple of questions.

“What I’m doing right now is getting around to various constituencies around the community,” he said. “I’m listening to what they have to say and what their priorities are.”

On Friday, Straz met with members of the black community. Councilman Frank Reddick is onboard with a Straz candidacy and said the meeting went well.

“In order to get my support, you’ve gotta put a plan together that the people can benefit from,” the District 5 representative said, adding that there’s been too much emphasis on downtown in the Buckhorn years.

Reddick wants the next mayor to engage more in developing both east and west Tampa.

“We need someone who understands the lack of resources and economic development in that area,” Reddick said. “David Straz will look into that and see what he can do to improve those areas.”

Straz is a political independent who has given substantial campaign contributions to both Republicans and Democrats over the years.

“Honestly, I thought he was a registered Democrat,” joked Travis Horn, a member of the Hillsborough Republican Party. “I’m involved in Ybor City and as a businessman. I don’t go around asking people for their party ID.

“Money is green, and we want to see the city succeed.”

The most problematic event for Straz since forming his exploratory committee was the revelation last year that he supported Donald Trump for president. That led to some comments on social media that he already disqualified himself in such a Democratic-leaning city, but prominent Hillsborough County Democrat Patrick Manteiga defends Straz over his support for the president.

“I think he would not vote for him again, he’s already told me that, and mistakes happen,” said Manteiga, who is editor/publisher of La Gaceta. Last year, a lot of Manteiga’s friends surprised him by opposing Hillary Clinton and choosing Trump.

Manteiga pushes back on the theory that Straz is an unknown political quantity.

“We do know where he is on a lot of things,” he said. “The guy gave a lot of money to the performing arts and a lot of money to education, so you’re talking about somebody who’s obviously has made a decision before he was running that this was a city that he wanted to invest in, this was a city that he wanted to put his name on.”

What excites Mario Nunez about a potential Straz candidacy is his alliance with Fox in promoting the liberalization of Cuban relations.

“I’m going all in on the Cuba conversation,” Nunez said. “That’s where my heart is.”

Where Straz’s heart is at when it comes to putting together a campaign to lead the city in 2019 is still being determined.

Before announcing last month that he would not pursue the Democratic nomination for governor, Orlando attorney and entrepreneur John Morgan told a Tiger Bay Club audience in St. Petersburg he wanted to see how much interest the public had in him before decided to upend his life to pursue a run for elected office.

Reddick said Straz is also currently assessing if there is sufficient support in Tampa for him to go all out in a run for the mayor’s office in 16 months.

“He wants to see what type of support base he’s going to get, that’s what he’s looking at now,” the councilman said. “And if the community really wants a visionary, David’s that person and I’m just hoping that people reach out to him, and say ‘do this.'”

Lawsuit shows Tampa Fire Marshal retiring days after accusations of super-pervy behavior

Charles Owen

Four days after accusations of extensive sexual harassment, a Tampa City Fire Marshal took retirement — as well as nearly $68,000 in final pay.

Charles Wesley Owen III is a 54-year-old Tampa resident and a licensed real estate agent. Tara Crawford is an African-American woman who lives in Hillsborough County.

On Feb. 28, After 21 years in the City of Tampa Fire Department, Owen retired as Fire Marshal.

In July 2017, the Tampa Bay Times reported on the hiring of Owen’s successor, John Reed, with Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn quoted as saying: “That department needs a shake-up, and I think it needs a culture change.”

In a lawsuit filed Nov. 22 in Hillsborough County Circuit Court, Crawford says she worked for the City of Tampa as an administrative assistant. While the suit does not say what agency, legal website Baylawsuits confirmed Crawford served in the Fire Marshal’s office — with Owen as her direct supervisor.

According to Kimberly Crum, Tampa’s director of human resources, the city hired Crawford as an Office Support Specialist IV starting June 23, 2014. The Tampa Fire Marshal’s office is at 3402 W. Columbus Blvd.

Beginning 2016, Crawford contends Owen began harassing her and pressuring her for sex.

Baylawsuits also obtained a copy of Crawford’s complaint to the Florida Commission on Human Relations and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In it, Crawford outlined explicit allegations against Owen, who allegedly told her that “he liked black women and always wanted to have sex with one.” (However, Crawford’s lawsuit makes no mention of her race or Owen’s supposedly racially-tinged comments.)

Other examples in the document include Owen bragging daily about the size of his penis and once showed Crawford a photo of it. He also showed Crawford photos of naked women on his phone and tablet. Owen bragged of his sexual exploits and offered to show Crawford a video taken by a girlfriend of him having sex with another woman.

In addition, Owen claimed he had sex with younger married women and regularly traded sex for goods and services. For example, Owen allegedly boasted of having sex with his maid in lieu of payment.

One day, Owen demanded Crawford “go to his house with him so he could change his shirt after something was spilled on it.”

Crawford also accuses Owen of pestering her to go into his home until she agreed to do so, but she refused his request to lay on his bed.

On Feb. 24, 2017, Crawford had verbally reported the alleged harassments, and “was forced to take an extended and unpaid medical leave.” Four days later, Owen resigned, taking $67,994 in “final pay,” which included accrued annual leave and sick leave.

Crawford is seeking damages for sexual harassment.

Over 6,300 people already voted in HD 58 special election

More than 6,300 registered voters in Florida House District 58 special election have already cast a ballot through the mail ahead of the Dec. 19 special election.

Republican Lawrence McClure, Democrat Jose Vazquez, Libertarian Bryan Zemina and non-party-affiliated Ahmad Saadaldin are the choices for the voters in the district, which encompasses Plant City, Temple Terrace, Dover, Mango, Seffner, Thonotosassa, and parts of Tampa and East Lake-Orient Park.

As is customary before every election, Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer conducted Friday what is known as a logic and accuracy test of the county’s voting equipment.

SOE employees took a stack of pre-filled ballots and scanned them through machines to ensure they’re reading every position on the ballot accurately.

“This is kind of the first step in assuring for accurate elections because we’re testing machines to make sure that, in fact, they are counting correctly,” Latimer said.

During the test, ballots with either under votes or over votes were quickly scanned and placed into a different bin. If they were real ballots, the Hillsborough County canvassing board would ultimately inspect them to determine if they were legitimate, and if so would need to detect the intent of the voter if they would ultimately be counted.

The canvassing board was also assembled to compare the voter check-ins with the number of ballots scanned and would also perform a manual audit by hand, counting the ballots to verify reported results.

After the test, the machines were locked up until. They’ll be deployed to the 39 different voting sites that will be open on Election Day.

Early in-person voting begins Saturday, Dec. 9 and ends Dec. 16. There are four early voting sites available in this contest: The County Center at 601 E. Kennedy Blvd. in Tampa; the Robert L. Gilder Elections Service Center at 2514 N. Falkenburg Road in Tampa; The Bruton Memorial Library at 302 W. McLendon St. in Plant City; and the Temple Terrace Library at 202 Bullard Parkway in Temple Terrace.

Unlike the intense Republican primary between McClure and Yvonne Fry, there has been little controversy during the general election process between the four men vying for the office.

The four candidates will participate in a debate on Monday, Dec. 4, at the Islamic Society of Tampa Bay, beginning at 6 p.m.

Moderating the event are representatives of the Hillsborough branch of the League of Women Voters, with a straw poll on the race taken at the end of the evening.

Larry Sabato ‘Crystal Ball’ moves Charlie Crist seat to ‘likely Democratic’

With the way U.S. congressional districts are apportioned, any representative who wins their seat by less than five points is considered to be in a swing-seat district.

That makes them potentially vulnerable in a re-election bid.

Other (sometimes unforeseen) variables also determine the political landscape in an electoral cycle, such as a “wave” election that can result in dozens of seats switching parties.

For example, wave elections took place in 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2014.

In 2016, Charlie Crist defeated David Jolly by 3.8 points. And while that makes the former Florida governor potentially vulnerable to a 2018 challenge, that is growing less likely by the day.

In the latest Sabato Crystal Ball (the prediction newsletter named after University of Virginia political science professor Larry Sabato), managing editor Kyle Kondik now moves Crist’s 13th Congressional District from “leans Democratic” to “likely Democratic.”

“Both Crist and (New Jersey Democrat Josh) Gottheimer represent ‘swingy’ districts, but these freshmen members are also raising boatloads of cash and benefit from the environment,” Kondik writes. “Crist does not have a viable challenger at the moment.”

Jolly has previously said that he would declare whether he would run again for his former seat in January, but the odds look less likely that will occur. Never a prolific fundraiser, there is still considerable doubt whether the National Republican Congressional Campaign (NRCC) would come to Jolly’s financial aid next year.

The NRCC opted not to help out Jolly when he truly needed it in his 2016 bid to maintain the seat against Crist, still indignant over the Pinellas Republican outing the organization for placing an emphasis on the need for members of Congress to fundraise every single day.

The district was also substantially redistricted in 2015, making it much more Democratic in voter registration, as well as much harder for any Republican to win.

Add to the fact that Crist had more than $1.4 million cash on hand, and it does seem a safe bet to move the St. Petersburg Democrat into the “likely Democratic” category.

Other Sabato predictions include Republican Mario Diaz-Balart moving from “likely Republican” to “safe Republican” in District 25; Republican Brian Mast in District 18 staying “likely Republican”; Carlos Curbelo‘s District 26 seat being a “tossup” against an eventual Democratic nominee and Florida’s 27th Congressional seat — vacated after 30 years by Republican Illeana Ros-Lehtinen — leaning Democratic.

Qualifying period begins for St. Pete Beach City Commission

The qualifying period for two St. Pete Beach City Commission seats opened Thursday and would-be commissioners have until Dec. 8 to put their name down for the March election.

The Pinellas County town of 10,000 pays commissioners $5,400 a year to meet twice a month.

Up for grabs are the District 1 seat held by Terri Finnerty and the District 3 seat held by Ward Friszolowski. Commissioners are elected to two-year terms

To make the ballot, candidates must have lived within the district they’re looking to represent for at least a year at the close of the qualifying period.

Candidates need to pay a $40 filing fee when they submit their paperwork for the March 13 general election. More information, including district boundary maps, can be found on the St. Pete Beach website.

Chris Latvala goes to class

Like his father, state Rep. Chris Latvala of Clearwater is a proud Republican who doesn’t always toe the GOP line – a contrarian streak which sometimes gets him into trouble.

Not that Latvala, son of longtime state Sen. Jack Latvala, is that worried about that perception.

“My grade with the NRA is a ‘D.’ And I’m proud of that,” the second-term lawmaker told students attending an American National Government class at the University of South Florida’s St. Petersburg campus Wednesday afternoon.

Noticing a reporter was observing the appearance, Latvala held his tongue on his true feelings on venerable NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer. 

Hammer “does not like me very much,” he simply said.

Latvala opposed the gun rights organization’s push during recent legislative sessions to repeal a state law that bars people from openly carrying firearms in public (coincidentally, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled earlier this week that it would not hear a legal challenge to the ban).

The 35-year-old Latvala is serving his second term representing Clearwater and Largo residents in House District 67, which he first won in 2014 by defeating Democrat Steve Sarnoff.

He told the students he aspired to become a sportscaster while still in high school, but in his senior year was discouraged by a teacher. That resulted in him getting into politics, beginning with the presidential recount year of 2000.

Latvala attended the University of Central Florida where he became involved in some Young Republican activities, and then in 2006 was asked by newly elected House Republican Ed Hooper to become his legislative aide, a job he fulfilled until Hooper was forced to step down due to term limits in 2014. That’s when Latvala opted to run for the seat himself at the age of 32.

Latvala told the class that he is also a champion for the LGBTQ community, referring to the fact that he has co-sponsored the Competitive Workforce Act for the past three years. That bill would prohibit anyone from being discriminated against at work, in housing or in public places like restaurants because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

And he admits he’s still learning about those issues, confessing that when he first met with officials from Equality Florida, he wasn’t sure of everyone’s gender.

“All the people in that meeting who I thought were men were women, and all the women I thought were men,” he said, acknowledging that he learned a lot about transgendered people at that event.

He also said he differed from the majority of his Republican colleagues when it comes to the environment, specifically his opposition to fracking and offshore oil drilling.

But liberals are no fans of Latvala’s support for the “Schools of Hope” provision in the controversial education bill passed earlier this year. HB 7069 accelerates the timetable for school districts to turn around schools that continue to struggle academically.

Latvala said charter schools that would take over failing public schools would have to show they’ve been successful in areas of poverty throughout the country.

Nevertheless, thirteen different school districts in Florida filed suit last month to stop the $419 million, K-12 public schools law from going into effect. They contend it is unconstitutional because the measure eliminated districts’ ability to negotiate charter school contracts, instead requiring a standard state contract.

The suit also contends that the law creates a separate parallel system of schools which might violate the constitutional guarantee of “a uniform, efficient, safe, secure and high-quality system of free public schools.”

Latvala encouraged the students to follow lawmakers they support, and if possible, inquire about getting an internship. One student was disappointed after asking if he or other state legislators offered paid internships (they don’t), but Latvala did note how Janine Kiray, his district secretary, started out as an intern before ultimately hired to work with Latvala after his election.

None of the students asked about his father, state Sen. Jack Latvala, whose campaign for governor has been stopped in its tracks after revelations earlier this month that six women had accused him of sexual harassment.

One of those women, Rachel Perrin Rogers, went public Wednesday as one of his accusers.

In the immediate aftermath of the story, an attorney representing Perrin Rogers claimed Chris Latvala was not acting in the public interest.

Tallahassee attorney Tiffany R. Cruz wrote a letter to House Speaker Richard Corcoran to complain about comments made by Latvala and Rep. Kathleen Peters. Chris responded that he had no idea what Cruz was referring to, saying when it came to this story, he was making an effort to stay off social media.

Chris Latvala did tweet to Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam immediately after the story broke, saying the accusations against his father “are not true.”

Wednesday’s session was held in the class taught by USFSP government professor Judithanne McLauchlan. Last month, McLauchlan — a former state Senate candidate — invited Rick Baker and Rick Kriseman to visit her American Government class before the St. Pete mayoral election. Kriseman did appear; Baker did not.

 

Rick Scott visits Tampa Police following arrest of Seminole Heights killer

Updated

Gov. Rick Scott came to Tampa early Wednesday to thank the officers involved in the arrest of 24-year-old Howell Emanuel Donaldson III, the man suspected of killing four people in Seminole Heights over the past six weeks.

“To the families of Benjamin Mitchell, Monica Hoffa, Anthony Naiboa and Ronald Felton, my heart goes out to you,” Scott said addressing reporters who gathered outside the Tampa Police Department headquarters shortly after 8 a.m.

“Because of the hard work of law enforcement, justice will be served.”

TPD Chief Brad Dugan and Mayor Bob Buckhorn announced that Donaldson was the suspect in the killings late Tuesday night, approximately eight hours after they arrested him at an Ybor City McDonald’s.

An employee at the fast food establishment said that Donaldson, who worked at the restaurant, came up and had given her a food bag with a .40 caliber Glock inside. The witness also told a TPD officer that Donaldson said he wanted to leave the state. Donaldson had since left the restaurant, but returned and was detained by officers.

Scott, Buckhorn, Dugan and other law enforcement officials were effusive in celebrating the collaborative effort between law enforcement agencies to help bring Donaldson into custody — just fifty-one days after he allegedly killed Mitchell, the first of the four people slain in the neighborhood.

Scott directed the Florida Highway Patrol to deploy additional troopers to Seminole Heights last week. Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents had also been involved in the manhunt, as well as sheriff deputies from Hillsborough County and officers from the St. Petersburg Police Department.

“We would not be here today having apprehending this individual had it not been for the team effort that’s been taking place for the last fifty-one days,” Buckhorn said.

Chief Dugan said at a press conference later on Wednesday that his investigators still have work to do on the case, though he said definitively that Donaldson is the culprit in the murders. He added that he had spoken briefly with Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren on Wednesday, but said it was too early to determine what penalty to seek.

Buckhorn surprised some residents a month ago when he asked Tampa Police officers who were working on finding the killer to “bring me his head on a platter.”

His rhetoric was toned down Wednesday, though he couldn’t resist offering his opinion about Donaldson’s fate.

“Today we begin the healing process, and today the judicial process starts,” the mayor said. “And it will end, and I will promise you that when it does end, that this community will be a better place because I know where this guy is going to spend his eternity.”

When asked what should happen to Donaldson, Buckhorn said he wanted the process to take its place. And once it does?

“If he is found to be guilty, he should die. It’s that simple,” the mayor said.

Dugan said the arrest of Donaldson gave him a feeling of relief. The longtime Tampa policeman was named interim chief earlier this year, and then was officially given the title of chief just a few weeks ago. He said it was hardly an ideal way to start off his career.

“To start off as chief of police and to have four unsolved homicides on your watch? That’s a tough pill to swallow. That is something that I’ll carry the rest of my life,” Dugan said.

Scott said he couldn’t understand why anyone would want to murder someone in cold blood.

“Why somebody would have it in their mind to go take four individuals lives? I don’t get it, and I don’t know if we’ll ever understand it,” he said.

Dugan said there is no apparent motive for the murders at this time. He said Donaldson was cooperative with officers once he was taken into custody, but has only admitted that the gun he was found with on Tuesday was his. He has not admitted to the murders.

Tampa Police ‘optimistic’ on possible break in Seminole Heights murders

Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan is “optimistic” a man with a gun at a McDonald’s restaurant in Ybor City Tuesday afternoon could be linked to four recent killings in Seminole Heights.

Dugan said his agency received a tip at 2:45 p.m. of a man was brandishing a gun at the McDonald’s on E. 13th Avenue. The unidentified man was confronted, and taken in to be interviewed.

The man was not put in custody at the time, the chief pointed out.

The TPD has received over 5,000 tips since the four murders began last month in Seminole Heights, but Dugan admits he is “optimistic” that Tuesday’s tip about the man could be linked to the killings.

“We have to be very careful about what we release because this person might be completely innocent,” said Dugan, who met with reporters at Tampa Fire Rescue Station #4, south of the McDonald’s.

As of 5 p.m., the man had been arrested.

The suspect in the Seminole Heights killings is described as an African-American male with a light complexion. Officials believe he is approximately 6′ to 6’2″ tall, with a thin build. He was armed with a large black pistol.

“We have a gun,” said Dugan. “We don’t know if it’s our gun.”

It has been 51 days since the TPD began searching for the killer of Benjamin Mitchell, killed October 9.

Mitchell’s death was followed by the killings of Monica Hoffa on October 11, Anthony Taino Naiboa on October 19, and Ronald Felton on Nov. 14. Each of the murders was within 10 blocks of each other in the neighborhood of southeast Seminole Heights.

“It’s been a long time for the families and for the cops, and so I’m guarded on the whole thing, but I’m optimistic,” Dugan said, adding it would be a long night for police.

Jeff Brandes on how criminal justice reform can address generational poverty

At an anti-poverty conference, state Sen. Jeff Brandes said that, if possible, he thinks it could be beneficial for the Legislature to work on policies that encourage millennials to marry before having children, though he acknowledged that’s unlikely to occur.

“The regulatory effects from that would be game-changing,” the St. Petersburg Republican said during the Florida Chamber Foundation’s “Less Poverty, Through More Prosperity Summit” Tuesday in Tampa.

Brandes cited the “Success Sequence” as a formula that can help reduce Florida’s poverty rate, which among those under the age of 18 is a staggering 30 percent.  Success Sequence is an anti-poverty process first endorsed by officials with the Brookings Institute and has since been adopted by folks with the American Enterprise Institute. It calls for people born into poverty to get at least a high school degree, work full-time and marry before having any children, in that order.

That’s easier said than done, Brandes admitted.

“That is one that is frankly, not well suited for the Legislature to address, but it needs to be part of the overall conversation about addressing prosperity and poverty in the state,” he said.

The conversation then veered into criminal justice reform, which has become one of Brandes’ major passions over the past couple of years.

Florida prisons incarcerate approximately 100,000 people, with another 30,000 in urban county jails, Brandes said. But there are not nearly enough people to staff those prisons, hurting the chances those in custody to avoid recidivism.

There are currently 2,100 job vacancies in our state prisons, he said, and not a huge demand to take those positions, which pay a measly $31,000 annually. That contributes to increasing contraband in prisons and inmate violence.

Brandes talked about creating a prison “off-ramp,” such as opportunities to offer civil citations instead of arrests. The state has made major progress on that with juveniles, but Brandes says that opportunity needs to be presented to adults for certain offenses.

“You steal an item in Florida that costs $300. You’re a committed felon in the state,” he said, noting that law hasn’t changed since 1986, as opposed to most of Florida’s neighboring states, where the felony threshold is stealing an item worth $1,500.

“Steal an iPhone; you’re in prison for five years. You could lose your right to vote. Good luck getting a job,” Brandes said, calling it a “scarlet letter” that will be with someone for the rest of their life.

Other policies Brandes specifically addressed include providing inmates with an opportunity to study and acquire occupational licenses while incarcerated, so they have skills in an industry where they’d be eligible to work once released from prison.

Those arrested in, say, Tampa shouldn’t be placed in a prison in the Panhandle, Brandes added, citing how important family interactions are to prisoners in giving them hope about their future.

When Bob Rohrlack, president and CEO of The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, asked what the business community could do to help, Brandes mentioned mentoring and certificate programs tied to an employer or another career source. He said the Legislature could play a part in offering incentives to businesses and released inmates.

“Can I create a certified inmate program?” he mused, suggesting a look at what other states or doing to encourage businesses to get involved.

Brandes also weighed in on the state’s affordable housing crisis; the current model was broken, he said, and a “radically different approach” needs to be adopted to help the public.

 

A warning for Democrats eyeing Jeff Brandes’ SD 24 seat in 2018

A word of warning for Florida Democrats in 2018; be cautious about eyeing Pinellas County Sen. Jeff Brandes’ District 24 seat.

After the somewhat surprising success of Rick Kriseman, who edged out former mayor Rick Baker, Florida Democrats are starting to think a “blue wave” will give them a legitimate shot at Brandes, the incumbent Republican in SD 24.

They may have to rethink that strategy.

But first, a few facts.

One of the most visible distinctions between Brandes’ SD 24 and the City of St. Petersburg is voter registration.

Republicans make up 38 percent of SD 24, and hold a five-point advantage over Democrats (33 percent), while ‘Other’ and no-party-affiliated voters make up the rest (29 percent).

In contrast, St. Pete is 46 percent Democratic — an 18 percent registration advantage over Republicans (28 percent) while ‘Other’ party affiliation voters make up 26 percent of the electorate.

One of the main reasons Baker found success as a Republican in the mostly Democrat-leaning city of St. Pete was his popularity in the African-American community, where he spent a good amount of time.

Sixty-nine percent St. Pete voters are white, 20 percent are African-American, a significant (and influential) portion of the electorate.

In the primary, Baker bested Kriseman 51 to 38 percent in precincts with over 80 percent African-American registration. This came despite Kriseman’s support and endorsement from former President Barack Obama and tying Baker to Trump as much as possible.

And while Trump proved a winning strategy in St. Pete’s general election, it only resulted in a three-point victory for Kriseman, 51.62 to 48.38 percent.

In comparison, SD 24 is 85 percent white, 5 percent Hispanic. Only 4 percent of voters are African-American.

Republicans hold a five percent registration advantage over Democrats in SD 24 but outperform them by much higher numbers. In the 2014 Governor’s race, Republicans turned out +9 over Democrats, giving Brandes a victory by nearly 14 percent.

In 2016, SD 24 Republicans performed +6 over Democrats, where Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton by 7 percent and Marco Rubio beat Patrick Murphy by 8 percent.

Those two elections played out very differently in St. Pete. Democrats outperformed +18 over Republicans in 2014, where longtime St. Petersburg resident (and Republican-turned-Democrat) Charlie Crist beat Rick Scott by 33 percent.

Similarly, Democrats outpaced Republicans +18 in 2016, when Clinton beat Trump by 23 percent and Murphy beat Rubio by 19 percent.

Turnout in presidential cycles historically tends to favor Democrats, and SD 24 had a Republican advantage of 7.5 percent at the top of the ticket.

In a midterm gubernatorial race in 2018, where Republican performance historically is even better (+9 percent for 2014), Democrats would face a very steep uphill climb. This means Democrats would need to boost turnout by double of that in the St. Pete mayoral race — as well as siphon off some of the broad support for Brandes among both Republicans and independent voters.

As a family man with four young children (including a newly adopted daughter), an Iraq War Veteran, businessman and Republican who leans libertarian, Brandes appeals to a Republican base as a fiscal conservative. He is a staunch believer in limited government and Second Amendment rights.

But even more importantly, especially to a broader electorate: Brandes isn’t afraid to shake things up in Tallahassee.

As a Republican in a GOP-majority Legislature, Brandes has been a longtime advocate for some traditionally un-Republican issues, such as the legalization of medical marijuana for those who need it. He also led the charge for prison and criminal justice reform, questioning the effectiveness of mandatory minimum sentences.

Brandes is also a staunch supporter of cutting-edge technologies in Florida, both in the classroom, on roads, and in the everyday lives of citizens. He sponsored legislation for increased autonomous vehicle technology in the state and to develop digital driver’s licenses. Brandes also spearheaded the expansion of ride-sharing services statewide and pushed for the repeal of red light cameras.

From his first House victory in 2010, unseating incumbent Democrat Bill Heller by 999 votes, Brandes has won solid victories (or ran unopposed), with arguably one of the most organized campaigns structures in Pinellas County history.

Employing a robust ground game, strong fundraising and willingness to commit personal resources, Brandes defeated fellow House member Jim Frishe in the Senate race by more 14 percent. In 2014, he beat Democrat Judithanne McLauchlan by 13.9 percent in the general election and went unchallenged in 2016.

With a mix of demographics, organization and support, any Brandes challenger in SD 24 will find themselves facing a rough road — Democratic “blue wave” or not.

Be forewarned.

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