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William March: Florida Dems seeking options in Senate race against Dana Young

By William March, Times Correspondent
Published: December 1, 2017 Updated: December 4, 2017 at 10:28 AM
Tampa Bay Times Correspondent William March

Florida Democrats apparently are seeking an alternative to Bob Buesing to challenge state Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa, in 2018.

Insider talk is that the party considers Young’s seat its top Senate priority in 2018, and wants an Hispanic candidate.

City Council member Mike Suarez confirmed he was contacted recently by someone representing the state Democratic Party about the race. He wouldn’t say who, but he wasn’t interested — Suarez is a likely 2019 mayoral candidate.

Buesing, a prominent lawyer known for volunteer work on child welfare, lost to Young by 7 percent in 2016 while Joe Redner, running as an independent, got 9.5 percent.

Some Democrats say Buesing would have won absent Redner. Others say Buesing and Young might have split the Redner votes, and that Buesing’s campaign wasn’t aggressive.

Buesing will decide soon on a rematch, but any Democrat will face a tough challenge.

Young’s campaign and independent committee spent about $2.7 million in 2016, and Democrats estimate the Republican Party added another $2 million. Young said she doesn’t know the party’s spending total.

Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, head of the Democratic state Senate campaign arm, couldn’t be reached for comment.

Buesing said he’s serious about the race, and, "I want the cause to get the best possible candidate."

Sink backs Lee’s

CFO amendment

Former state Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, a Democrat, agrees with the idea for a constitutional amendment proposed by Republican state Sen. Tom Lee — who hopes to be a future CFO — on the duties of the office.

But Lee’s proposal is mired in what he calls "a turf war" among Republicans.

Currently, the CFO pays all the state’s bills but has little say over whether the spending is proper or how much should be spent.

The Legislature makes budgets based on estimates from the state Revenue Estimating Conference, which includes only representatives of the Legislature and governor. State agencies then contract with vendors for purchases of goods and services.

That means, Lee said, "The only people who decide how much to spend are the people who are going to spend it, and they want to produce as rosy a fiscal picture as they can."

If an agency then produces a faulty contract, there’s nothing the CFO can do.

"If the contract was poorly written, didn’t have the appropriate requirements in it, or maybe it was a sweetheart deal, you still can’t withhold payment," said Sink, who said she saw that happen frequently as CFO.

Lee has proposed making the CFO part of the Revenue Estimating Conference and giving them authority over contracts of $10 million or more.

But a committee of the state Constitution Revision Commission rejected the idea after it was opposed by the current CFO, Jimmy Patronis, and his ally Gov. Rick Scott. Patronis will be Lee’s opponent if Lee runs in 2018.

Scott and Patronis argue it would create an unnecessary new bureaucracy and set the CFO against other elected officials in charge of state agencies — the governor, attorney general and agriculture commissioner.

Lee notes that Republican former CFO Jeff Atwater also favored the concept and said he’ll keep trying in both the CRC and the Legislature to get an amendment on the 2018 ballot.

Wicker announces campaign team

Republican Joe Wicker’s campaign staff for state House District 59:

•Tom Piccolo of Strategic Image Management, general consultant.

•Audie Canney of AIM Consulting, former chief legislative aide to Lee, political adviser.

•Treasurer Anibal David Cabrera, financial adviser and Tampa Bay and Florida Young Republicans treasurer.

Gonzalez runs for state chair

Two Tampa Democratic Party activists have made announcements about the race for state party chairman: Alma Gonzalez is running, and Alan Clendenin is not.

Both are on the Democratic National Committee; Gonzalez has also been state party treasurer. An employee relations lawyer, she works for the county Civil Service Board.

Also running in the Dec. 9 election are Brevard County party Chairman Stacey Patel, union leader Monica Russo of Miami, and Palm Beach County Chairman Terrie Rizzo.

The winner will take over a party in disarray after the resignations of Chairman Stephen Bittel over sexual harassment allegations, and President Sally Boynton Brown.

Clendenin ran twice, nearly winning in 2013.

Contact William March at [email protected]