William March: Attorney Fentrice Driskell challenges Rep. Shawn Harrison

Published February 9
Updated February 9

Prominent Tampa attorney Fentrice Driskell has filed to run against state Rep. Shawn Harrison, R-Tampa, in the highly competitive state House District 63.

Driskell, 38, is a Lakeland native and a graduate of both Harvard University, where she was the first black female student government president, and the Georgetown University law school. She’s a business litigator at the Carlton Fields law firm, in her first run for public office.

Driskell is president of the George Edgecomb Bar Association for black Tampa lawyers, involved in other bar groups, and has been active in local charities.

District 63 in New Tampa, Carrollwood and Lutz has swung back and forth between the two parties, voting Democratic in presidential years that draw out University of South Florida student voters. But Harrison held it in 2016 even as Hillary Clinton won the district by 10 points.

"Tallahassee is broken – the tables are tilted in favor of the powerful and politically connected instead of our hardworking Florida families, small business owners and seniors," Driskell said.

She has party backing, with endorsements from Alex Sink, Pat Kemp, Betty Castor and House Democratic Leader Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa.

Bob Buesing promises tougher 2018 race

Democratic state Senate candidate Bob Buesing promised at a campaign kickoff he’ll run a tougher race this year against Republican Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa, in a contest considered one of the Democrats’ two best hopes of flipping a Senate seat.

Buesing quickly started that approach by questioning the increase in Young’s net worth during her time in the Legislature, from 2011 to now. Young "has managed to do really well by one family in Hillsborough County — her own," he told the crowd of more than 100 donors. "In her first six years in office her net worth went from $452,000 to more than $4.7 million."

He said he will donate his Senate salary to the Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA if elected.

Sarah Bascom, spokeswoman for Young’s campaign, responded via email that "almost all the increase in her net worth during her time in office" has come from her husband transferring assets previously in his name into joint accounts. Young’s husband, Matt Young, is a partner in Mangrove Equity Partners, which buys and manages manufacturing, service and distribution companies.

Buesing also blasted Young for opposing Medicaid expansion and favoring "gutting public education."

In 2016, Buesing lost the District 18 seat to Young by seven points, with no-party candidate Joe Redner taking almost 10, after a campaign in which Young and the Republican Party spent more than $5 million.

Some Democrats thought Buesing would have won without Redner in the race; others said Buesing wasn’t aggressive enough. This year, Redner has endorsed Buesing and told him, "Don’t be so nice," Buesing said.

Asked whether he plans a more aggressive race, he said, "I have to. The times demand it."

Hillary Clinton won District 18 by five points in 2016, but after three terms in the House and two years in the Senate, Young is solidly established. She has raised $271,194 in her campaign and has about another $700,000 in a political committee.

District 5 council race getting crowded

A crowded Tampa City Council District 5 race seat is already shaping up for the 2019 election.

Community activist Ralph Smith already filed and several other candidates considering it or about to file.

But that has the current, term-limited council member, Frank Reddick, worried.

If the field includes too many black candidates, he said, they could split the black votes in the only majority black district, resulting in a council with no black members.

Funeral home owner Jeffrey Rhodes said he intends to file this week.

Other potential candidates include Orlando Gudes, retired Tampa police officer and youth football leader; Lynette Judge, school social worker who ran for the school board in 2016; Walter Smith, environmental engineer and consultant; and more.

Gentrification is shrinking the district’s proportion of black voters, from 61 percent in 2015 to 54 percent now.

Reddick said he doesn’t know any non-black candidates so far, but, "I’ll continue to make the situation known."

Bell files against Wengay Newton

St. Petersburg lawyer Keisha Bell has filed in the Democratic primary for state House District 70, challenging incumbent Rep. Wengay Newton and Vito Sheeley.

Bell, 43, is a columnist for The Weekly Challenger and secretary of the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg.

The southern St. Petersburg district crosses the bay to take in parts of southern Hillsborough and northern Manatee counties.

Contact William March at [email protected]

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