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#19 on list of Tampa Bay’s Most Powerful Politicians — Janet Long

Since taking office after her 2012 election, Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long has been a potent force at the dais.

She’s never been afraid to speak her mind or temper her criticisms when she thinks someone is full of B.S. That said, she’s also been a key proponent of collaboration among all of Tampa Bay’s local governments in the spirit of regionalism.

“Commissioner Long has an unparalleled passion for regional solutions and isn’t afraid to fight for what she believes in. She also has the unique ability to build coalitions to get things done,” Southern Strategy Group’s Laura Boehmer said.

Though a staunch Democrat, she’s not afraid to reach across the aisle in ways that might at times vex her party. Ahead of the 2016 election, she gave $100 to state Rep. Chris Latvala, a Largo Republican (also on this list) who was facing a challenge from Democrat David Vogel. She said she contributed to Latvala because he had supported her efforts to rethink transit as a regional issue by consolidating multiple local transit agencies into one.

“Do I agree with everything he does? No, I do not,” she said at the time.

Long, 73, took office after defeating then-Commissioner Neil Brickfield, one of the Republicans who notoriously voted in favor of removing fluoride from the county’s water supply. Before that, she served in the Florida House from 2006 to 2012.

Long came in at No. 15 last year. A likely reason for her sliding down several notches? She was Pinellas County Commission chair in 2017.

For a complete explanation of how this list was created and who made up the panel that amassed it, please read here.

Ashey Moody

Grady Judd gives thumbs up to Ashley Moody for AG

Polk County Sheriff  Grady Judd is endorsing former Circuit Judge Ashley Moody for Attorney General.

Judd made the announcement at an early Tuesday morning news conference in Bartow.

Moody campaign says now there are 40 Florida sheriffs have now endorsed her for the office.

“For more than forty-five years, Grady Judd has served the citizens of Polk County and sought to keep them safe,” Moody said in a statement. “As Sheriff, he has implemented innovative approaches and programs to deal with evolving threats from human trafficking to the opioid epidemic. I am honored to add his support and his voice to my campaign.”

On Monday, Judd also endorsed Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam (also a Polk County native) in his gubernatorial campaign, and the Sheriff was prominently featured in a new 30-second Putnam ad on immigration. The ad was produced by Putnam’s political committee, Florida Grown.

Moody, who once served the 13th Judicial Circuit Court, is running for the Republican nomination for Attorney General against state Reps. Frank White and Jay Fant.

Also in the race are Democrats Ryan Torrens and state Rep. Sean Shaw of Tampa.

#20 on list of Tampa Bay’s Most Powerful Politicians — Vern Buchanan

First elected in 2006, Republican U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan of Longboat Key) has a name that’s recognizable to Floridians well outside his Sarasota County Florida’s 16th Congressional District.

His auto dealership empire and tenure as chair of the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce and the Florida Chamber of Commerce preceded his political career. A prolific philanthropist, he lists the Boys and Girls Club, Mote Marine Laboratory and Ringling Museum of Art among the entities to which he’s donated.

As the only member of Florida’s Congressional Delegation to serve on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee and chairman of the Tax Policy Subcommittee, Buchanan has been on the front lines of tax policy reform. He touts his having played a role in the controversial tax overhaul Congress passed in December 2017 as a major accomplishment. It was certainly music to the ears of Sarasota Republicans, many of whom (likely) held their noses as they voted for Donald Trump in the hope that their tax bills would shrink.

“The only Florida member on the Ways & Means Committee, Buchanan’s dedication to reform of tax policy and support of international trade are vital to our economy,” says Tampa businessman Akash Patel, a Republican candidate for Hillsborough County Commission District 7.

Although Buchanan is passionate about his fiscal conservatism, he’s also no fan of going against policies objectively popular to Floridians. His willingness to reach across the aisle on key matters has earned him praise from political observers.

Like most of Florida’s Congressional Delegation, he’s been vocally in favor of extending a moratorium on offshore drilling in federal waters off Florida’s coast.

When it faced potential expiration last year, Buchanan said he would back renewal for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). He reiterated his support of the program in May, when the Trump administration announced plans to cut the popular program.

His mixed record on guns has made him a target of gun safety advocates ahead of the 2018 midterms, including an organization helmed by Gabrielle Giffords. A beneficiary of NRA donations, he has backed multiple laws expanding gun rights, including concealed carry reciprocity. On the other hand, he supported regulating bump stocks in the wake of the Las Vegas shooting in October 2017.

In any other year, re-election would be a breeze for the well-liked incumbent. His son James Buchanan’s loss to Democrat Margaret Good in the race for the open Florida House District 72 seat earlier this year may have served as an omen that having an R behind one’s name — and name recognition itself — may not do the trick.

He faces Democrat David Shapiro, assuming Shapiro wins the Democratic primary against Jan Schneider, in November.

Buchanan did not make the 2017 list.

For a complete explanation of how this list was created and who made up the panel that amassed it, please read here.

Ed Hooper edges out Amanda Murphy in May fundraising

Clearwater Republican Ed Hooper narrowly outraised New Port Richey Democrat Amanda Murphy in her first month running for Senate District 16.

Hooper raised $43,575 in hard money and tacked on another $24,590 through his committee, Friends of Ed Hooper, for a total of $68,165 raised in May.

After about $12,000 in spending, Hooper’s accounts ended the month with a combined $412,760 in the bank.

As previously reported, Murphy brought in $50,000 last month through a political committee established during her time in the Florida House. She has since reported $11,240 in campaign fundraising and another $5,000 raised through a newly formed political committee, Working Towards Florida’s Future.

Those three reports combined show $66,240 raised in May. None of the accounts reported any spending, so that entire balance was in the bank on June 1.

Both candidates showed several recognizable donors on their reports, including some substantial contributions from current lawmakers.

The Friends of Ed Hooper ledger showed a $10,000 check from a committee tied to Wauchula Republican Rep. Ben Albritton, who is running for SD 26 in the fall. Anheuser-Busch distributor Great Bay Distributors chipped in $5,000, followed by a $2,000 check from red-light camera company American Traffic Solutions.

Hooper’s campaign account received 30 checks for $1,000, the maximum donation for a state legislative race. Disney and its subsidiaries were the sources of four, while Florida East Coast Industries and Great Bay Distributors each gave twice via the main company and an affiliated group. The Sembler family showed up with three checks, one apiece from Brent Sembler, Debbie Sembler and Mel Sembler.

The report for Murphy’s new committee only showed one contribution, a $5,000 check from auto dealer and philanthropist Frank Morsani. He also showed up on the campaign report with a $1,000 contribution, as did political committees tied to newly elected Sen. Lori Berman, Plantation Sen. Lauren Book, Miami Gardens Sen. Oscar Braynon and Ft. Lauderdale Sen. Gary Farmer.

Further down the list was a $250 check from Tampa Democrat Bob Buesing, the 2016 Democratic nominee in neighboring Senate District 18. He recently ended his 2018 bid in that battleground district to clear the way for House Minority Leader Janet Cruz in the primary.

Hooper, who was a member of the Florida House from 2006 through 2014, faces Palm Harbor restaurateur Leo Karruli in the primary. Karruli filed for the seat in February and had pulled in about $18,000 in campaign funds through May 31, including $14,025 in candidate loans. He has $2,660 in the bank.

Murphy, who served in the House from 2013 through 2016, doesn’t have a primary challenger.

SD 16 covers northern Pinellas and southwestern Pasco counties. The seat has a Republican edge — it voted plus-12 for Trump in 2016 — but Florida Democrats are hoping Murphy, who has a history of outperforming expectations in red-leaning seats, can turn it into a “swing seat.”

A recent poll of the November contest backs that up. It found Murphy with a slim lead over Hooper, partly due to nearly a fifth of Republicans saying they would cast a vote for her.

#21 on list of Tampa Bay’s Most Powerful Politicians — Andrew Warren

As the prosecutor in a place as diverse as Hillsborough County, State Attorney Andrew Warren has managed to strike a balance between encouraging dialogue on hot-button issues and doing his job.

A Democrat who surprisingly beat popular Republican incumbent Mark Ober in 2016 on the promise of criminal justice reform, Warren pushes the envelope on criminal justice issues — but not to the point where he shoots himself in the foot.

Following the arrest and assessment of suspected Seminole Heights killer Howell Emmanuel Donaldson III, Warren announced his office would seek the death penalty for Donaldson. It was a highly anticipated announcement some found startling but tempered the proclamation by vowing only to pursue such consequences in the most heinous of cases.

It was clearly a difficult decision for Warren but had he gone the route of Orlando prosecutor Aramis Ayala (e.g., eschewing the death penalty entirely), Gov. Rick Scott could have penalized him.

Yet Warren has also sought to take part in the debate on gun violence — and has offered a perspective that counters those of many policymakers at the state level.

He’s challenged the status quo on Stand Your Ground and youth arrests.

As Democrat supported by Tampa liberals, Warren’s progressive leanings don’t make him unique — it’s that he’s in a rare position to apply his reforms when he deems it appropriate to do so. While Democratic Representatives and Senators at the state and local level can really only deliver fiery remarks at the podium with the hope they’ll move the needle, Warren can direct his office to operate in a way that reflects his thoughts on criminal justice and challenge the likes of Jeff Sessions — but only after careful deliberation.

Warren did not make last year’s list.

For a complete explanation of how this list was created and who made up the panel that amassed it, please read here.

Jeff Brandes adds $187K for re-election, Carrie Pilon sputters

St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes recorded another six-figure haul in his Senate District 24 re-election bid, while Democratic challenger Carrie Pilon saw a massive drop-off in fundraising in only her second month on the trail.

In a Monday press release, the Brandes campaign celebrated raising nearly $187,000 in May, the third month in a row recording a six-figure haul.

“I am truly grateful for the amount of support our campaign continues to receive each and every day,” Brandes said in a press release. “It’s a testament to the level of excitement for our message and what we want to accomplish for our community and our state. I look forward to continuing to take our message to the voters.”

The Pilon campaign stayed quiet about their comparatively meager haul, a stark change from a month ago when the first-time candidate and her team were loud and proud about their slim April fundraising win.

The trial lawyer indeed outraised Brandes by a few thousand dollars in her inaugurals, but her May reports measure in at a quarter the size of her April ones — $26,680 for her campaign and zilch for her committee, Moving Pinellas Forward.

That brings Pilon to about $131,000 raised and $124,000 on hand 60 days into her campaign.

Brandes’ campaign report wasn’t viewable via the Florida Division of Elections Monday afternoon, though his committee, Liberty Florida, reported receiving $143,000 in its new report.

Heritage Property & Casualty Insurance Company topped the committee report with a $25,000 check. The Florida Chamber of Commerce showed up with a $15,000 check, followed by Duke Energy and Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson’s Jobs for Florida political committee at $10,000 apiece.

Brandes’ release didn’t mention his overall on hand total. However, Liberty Florida entered June with $237,743 in the bank. By the end of April, the campaign account had $457,782 on hand.

On April 30, Brandes had $568,000 on hand compared to $102,000 for Pilon. Depending on how much his campaign spent, that $450,000-plus cash advantage could balloon well past $600,000.

Janet Cruz and Dana Young, SD 18

Dana Young more than doubles Janet Cruz in May fundraising

House Minority Leader Janet Cruz boasted a $78,975 haul in her second set of fundraising reports since entering the Senate District 18 race but was again overshadowed by Republican Sen. Dana Young, whose reports show $203,550 raised.

“I’m so energized by the outpouring of support and investment in the most flippable seat in the state. We are going to win this so we can pay teachers what they deserve, invest in our schools, expand access to healthcare, and stand up to the gun lobby in Tallahassee,” Cruz said Monday.

Her tally included $48,000 raised via her committee, Building the Bay PC, and $30,975 raised for campaign account. She has now raised $364,670 between the two accounts, including committee funds she raised before filing for SD 18 April 10.

Cruz’s fundraising reports are not yet viewable on the Florida Division of Elections website, though the campaign press release said the two accounts had a combined $341,113 at the ready heading into June.

Young’s haul included $179,500 in fundraising for her affiliated committee, Friends of Dana Young, and another in hard money fundraising 24,050.

OD-EYEPAC sat atop the committee report with a $25,000 contribution. Following at the $15,000 level was Comcast Corporation, Realtors Political Advocacy Committee, Eli Global CEO Greg Lindberg, the Florida Medical Association, Disney Worldwide Services and Floridians for a Stronger Democracy, a political committee linked to the Associated Industries of Florida.

The campaign report included nearly two dozen checks for $1,000, the maximum allowable contribution for state legislative races. It also showed more than $50,000 worth of “in-kind” contributions from the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, most of it paying for campaign staff.

After $82,720 in combined spending, Young had $933,000 on hand in her committee account and another $288,000 banked for the campaign, giving her well over triple the cash on hand of Cruz.

Neither Young nor Cruz faces a primary challenger in the race. The election is Nov. 6.

#22 on list of Tampa Bay’s Most Powerful Politicians — Darden Rice

After cruising to re-election in November, St. Petersburg City Councilwoman Darden Rice continues to bring an activist’s passion to the dais.

Her outspokenness on the environment and economic issues has helped brand St. Pete as a forward-thinking, diversity-embracing city. Among some of the more gutsy measures she’s championed over the last year are proposed bans on plastic bags and straws as well as a move to ban PAC spending in municipal elections — all measures that boldly defy the status quo.

The current political climate — namely, the Trump backlash — is lending momentum to her agenda. A talented speaker, she was an obvious fit as a headliner for the Women’s March.

Yet along with this passionate advocacy comes a thoughtful, detail-oriented approach to policymaking. Rice listens to people on all sides of the issues, is willing to have a dialogue and is even capable of changing her mind — or at least call out her own side when accountability is lacking.

“Always doing her homework, Councilwoman Rice has my vote as President. She’s smart, thoughtful, passionate and always willing to listen to every side of the story,” said Southern Strategy Group’s Laura Boehmer.

Last year, Rice was a pivotal ally to Mayor Rick Kriseman in his at-times challenging quest for re-election and had helped much of his agenda become policy, namely the nascent but sweeping effort to make the city run on 100-percent renewable energy.

A rising star in the Democratic Party, there’s already speculation over what Rice might do next when she terms out in 2021: County Commission? Mayor? Something grander?

Stay tuned, politicos say.

“She is doing great things and is just getting started — keep your eyes out for her,” Boehmer added.

Those polled this year seem to agree she’s on the rise. Rice came in at No. 24 last year.

For a complete explanation of how this list was created and who made up the panel that amassed it, please read here.

Melissa Howard HD 73

Melissa Howard raises more than $20K in May

Sarasota Republican Melissa Howard raised more than $20,000 last month for her bid to replace exiting Rep. Joe Gruters in House District 73.

Howard raised $10,550 through her campaign account and raised another $10,000 through her affiliated political committee, Citizens for Transparency in Government.

The campaign haul came in via 26 contributions, including five for the maximum allowable donation of $1,000. Those donors included Johnny Budslick, Lisa Budslick, Mary Gratehouse and Pamela Hughes, all of whom made the host committee for Howard’s upcoming fundraiser in Sarasota.

The committee money came in through two $5,000 contributions, one apiece from Myakka City agribusiness man John Falkner and Sarasota retiree James Frauenberg.

The two accounts spent a combined $14,192 last month, including more than $8,500 in payments to Clearwater-based Direct Mail Systems and $1,325 to the Coates Law Firm for legal services. Howard started June with more than $130,000 at the ready, including $100,000 in loans she used to kickstart her campaign in April.

Howard faces fellow Republican Tommy Gregory in the Aug. 28 Republican Primary.

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

Democrat Liv Coleman is also running for the seat, though Gruters’ replacement is likely to come out of the Republican Primary — GOP voters make up nearly half of the HD 73 electorate compared to a 25 percent share for Democrats.

Gregory had not filed his May reports as of Monday afternoon, though as of April 30 he had $85,000 banked in his political committee, Friends of Tommy Gregory, and another $56,000 in the bank for his campaign account. His campaign total includes $25,000 in self-funding.

#23 on list of Tampa Bay’s Most Powerful Politicians — Chad Chronister

Had he not been appointed interim Sheriff of Hillsborough County last year to replace retiring Sheriff David GeeChad Chronister has said in interviews that he would have run for Sheriff in 2018 regardless.

A veteran officer who has served with the department since 1992, Chronister has had a busy year as the top cop in Hillsborough.

His tenure began with the threat of Hurricane Irma, and it was only weeks later that his department assisted the Tampa Police Department in its search for the Seminole Heights killer.

Given the caustic political climate, it’s probably impossible for a sheriff not to be pulled into the debate — especially on the issue of immigration.

Chronister was the target of pro-immigrant activists’ ire earlier this year for his decision to enter into an agreement, along with 16 other Florida sheriffs and Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hold undocumented immigrants who are arrested for up to 48 hours after their scheduled release to allow time for ICE to pick them up for possible deportation.

Like most sheriffs, Chronister is a Republican, but his politics are largely middle-of-the-road.

Post-Parkland, he has said he’s against arming teachers but included the addition of armed school resource officers in his school safety plan.

Earlier this year, he oversaw the rollout of a new adult diversion program for offenders who commit certain nonviolent misdemeanors.

He faces re-election in November and has been fundraising at a healthy clip. Since taking office, he’s issued endorsements in numerous local races, which suggests potentially helpful alliances down the road.

Chronister qualified for the ballot by petition in March.

“Reaching this milestone is a testament to the strong grassroots network of volunteers and community leaders that we’ve assembled in just a short period of time. It is also a reflection of the deep respect voters throughout Hillsborough County have for our brave deputies who serve this community with dedication and professionalism each and every day,” he said at the time.

So far, he has one opponent in Democrat Gary Allen Pruitt, a retired Tampa Police Department corporal.

“As a member of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Honorary Deputy Program, I’ve seen what Officers do daily — Sheriff Chronister leads the law enforcement community with integrity and the utmost respect for everyone,” says Tampa businessman Akash Patel, a Republican candidate for Hillsborough County Commission District 7.

Chronister was not in office at the time of the 2017 list and thus did not place.

For a complete explanation of how this list was created and who made up the panel that amassed it, please read here.

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