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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

March: Dominoes set to fall after Sen. Tom Lee decides what to do



Political dominoes could start falling Monday in East Hillsborough, Pasco and Polk counties.

That could be when politicos learn whether state Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, has decided to run for re-election. If he doesn't - he's pondering whether to run instead for a Hillsborough County commission seat - five Republican House members could be among those who jump into the scramble to replace him.

The worst-case scenario for Republicans - five House members leaving their seats to chase one Senate seat - isn't likely to happen. Several said they'd likely negotiate among themselves to avoid it.

Incoming House Speaker Richard Corcoran, the Land O'Lakes Republican who controls party campaign money and committee assignments, could create incentives to avoid such a scenario.

If Lee doesn't seek re-election, time is short for a potential replacement to mount a Senate campaign. Monday starts a new monthly campaign finance reporting period - a good time to open a campaign - and the qualifying period is rapidly approaching, starting at noon on June 20. Some expect Lee's decision by Monday or soon after.

State Reps. Danny Burgess of San Antonio, Neil Combee of Polk City, Shawn Harrison of Tampa, Dan Raulerson of Plant City and Ross Spano of Dover all live in Senate District 20, where Lee is currently filed. All have said they may be interested in replacing him.

In addition, former Plant City Mayor Randy Larson, who also sits on the Tampa Sports Authority board, said he plans to run for the Senate seat if Lee vacates it.

"We're all waiting with great anticipation" for Lee's decision, said Spano. He said the House members have discussed the situation among themselves, but there's no plan as to which one should run for the seat.

"That would be premature," Spano said.

Burgess would have a geographical advantage. His seat in House District 38 includes the largest share of Senate District 20, which covers the corner where Hillsborough, Pasco and Polk meet. Spano's House District 59 gives him the least geographical advantage.

But in a short primary campaign with little time for fundraising, Harrison has the largest campaign war chest and would have a financial edge. He's raised $113,535 in this election cycle.

Harrison and Spano also face the strongest Democratic opposition for re-election in their House districts.

And of course, if any of the House members leave their seats vacant, it will set off an intense competition from a crowd of comparatively little-known candidates to replace them.

Buesing for Senate District 18

Look for Bob Buesing, a commercial litigator and child welfare advocate who lives in Davis Islands, to file Monday for state Senate District 18.

So far, Republican state Rep. Dana Young of Tampa is the only candidate filed for the seat, but local adult entertainment and real estate magnate Joe Redner has said he's also considering it.

Easier referendum petitions in Pinellas?

The Pinellas County Charter Review Commission has rejected demands of term limits advocates for a referendum on their issue. But it is poised to recommend another charter change referendum on the November ballot that would make it easier for citizens' groups to use petition drives to get their own charter revisions on the ballot.

The charter review group has given preliminary approval, and is likely to give final approval later this summer, to a referendum to cut the number of petition signatures required from 10 percent of the county's registered voters to 8 percent, and lengthen the time allowed to gather the signatures, said commission member Todd Pressman.

Pressman said he proposed change isn't intended to help term limits advocates.

"They're looked at as separate issues," he said.

"A lot of other counties are lower than 10 percent. You don't want it to be a hindrance to democracy, but you also don't want anybody to be able to put anything they want on the ballot."

Farkas not interested in House District 68

Since state Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg, announced he won't run for re-election in House District 68, there's been speculation on whether the open seat could encourage a Republican challenger, and some of that discussion focused on former Rep. Frank Farkas.

Farkas ran a competitive race against in 2012, but said this week he's not interested in trying it again.

Republican Joseph "JB" Bensmihen, home health care company founder who recently moved to Pinellas from Palm Beach County, has filed for the seat. Bensmihen said he's willing to put a substantial amount of his own money, $50,000 to $100,000, into his campaign.

Pinellas GOP chairman Nick DeCeglie said he doesn't know of another interested Republican.

Nelson fundraising for 2018

Florida Sen. Bill Nelson will hold a re-election fundraiser May 5 at the restaurant that serves as Tampa's culinary Democratic headquarters, Mise en Place, said organizers Alex Sink and John Fitzgibbons.

There have been questions about whether Nelson, 73, would run again, but the prospect that presidential race coattails will help Democrats retake the U.S. Senate - likely leading to a committee chairmanship for Nelson - is a powerful enticement.


[Last modified: Friday, April 29, 2016 8:56am]


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