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Challenge shaping up for Hillsborough GOP chairwoman

Critics have said the local Republican Party shares the blame in the win by Democrat Andrew Warren, left, over State Attorney Mark Ober. [Times file]

Critics have said the local Republican Party shares the blame in the win by Democrat Andrew Warren, left, over State Attorney Mark Ober. [Times file]

Hillsborough County Republican Party Chairwoman Deborah Tamargo is seeking re-election in the party's Dec. 20 election, but has an opponent, 2nd Vice Chairman Jonathan Torres of Riverview, who's backed by some people disappointed at the level of party support for local candidates in the Nov. 8 election.

Torres, a digital marketing specialist in private business and politics who worked with the 2012 Republican convention in Tampa, said he's running because "Hillsborough County has been handed to the Democratic Party in the past three presidential election cycles" and because Republicans lost local races including the state attorney's race.

Torres may have backing from Deborah Cox-Roush, who ran against Tamargo last year and is currently riding high after playing a key role in Donald Trump's Florida campaign.

Tamargo's response: "Jonny's talking fiction, not facts."

Tamargo said the party gave more money to local candidates and did more calling and canvassing than in the past, and blamed the loss by Republican State Attorney Mark Ober on "George Soros money that came in at the last minute."

An alternative for Buckhorn?

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn won't get an expected job offer in the Hillary Clinton administration and his chances in a race for governor look slender, but he may have a third option.

In the past, insiders say, Buckhorn has told people he wasn't interested in the state chief financial officer post, which some party leaders had hoped he would consider.

But asked about it recently, he didn't rule it out.

"Have not given it that much thought although certainly the argument could be made that much of what a big city mayor does every day, managing revenue, issuing debt and interacting with Wall Street rating agencies, is great preparation for the CFO job," he said via email.

Miller hopes to stay as commission chair

County Commissioner Les Miller hopes to hang onto the position of chairman of the Hillsborough County Board of Commissioners in this week's election, and has a couple of important allies — Republican commissioners Al Higginbotham and Victor Crist.

As one of only two Democrats on the board, Miller's election last year seemed improbable, and it angered some local Republicans – but the five Republicans on the board couldn't unify around a candidate.

Could the same thing happen again?

Insiders are saying Commissioners Ken Hagan, Sandy Murman and Stacy White are interested. Hagan and Murman couldn't be reached for this column, and Murman said she hasn't thought about it and isn't sure she's interested.

But the other Democrat on the board, Pat Kemp, who just replaced Kevin Beckner, wouldn't commit last week to supporting Miller, whom she disagreed with on the controversial Go Hillsborough transportation proposal.

Higginbotham credited Miller's leadership with helping avert civil unrest in the aftermath of a fatal sheriff's office shooting in Clair-Mel on Aug. 30 and with running the board meetings in a fair and impartial manner.

"I think it's important for a chairman to serve two years," Higginbotham said. "I didn't vote for Les but I think he's done an excellent job."

"I hope the Republicans on the board have seen I acted in a non-partisan manner and respected everyone and was fair," Miller said. "I'd like to have another year to finish off some things we're doing," including transportation issues.

Crist also praised Miller's performance, but said, "There's a lot of gamesmanship going on behind the scenes, maneuvering among the friends. There are several who want it."

Crist predicted a win for White, who will be viewed as a "non-competitive neutral" by other commissioners.

But, he added, "I think it's ridiculous because there's no real power in this position. I don't want it."

Whither Beckner, Montelione, Reddick

Outgoing County Commissioner Kevin Beckner and outgoing City Council member Lisa Montelione both lost races for other offices and are now out of public jobs.

But the future beckons. Both acknowledged they could be interested in county commission races in 2018.

Beckner may have to rebuild relationships with fellow Democrats after his bitter primary campaign against Clerk of Court Pat Frank; Montelione lost narrowly to state Rep. Shawn Harrison, R-Tampa, in a race many Democrats thought they should have won.

But she could face competition from another Democratic City Council member who backed Harrison — Frank Reddick.

Reddick couldn't be reached on deadline for this column, but insiders say he's putting out word he expects to run.

Neither Montelione nor Beckner was willing to focus on a particular seat. Four will be up in 2018. Countywide Commissioner Al Higginbotham and District 4 Commissioner Stacy White can run for the same seats they now hold, and commissioners Victor Crist and Ken Hagan could run for each others' seats.

Pressure off council chairman election

One result of the Nov 8 election will be to remove some of the pressure over the race for the next chairman of the Tampa City Council.

It was widely thought that Mayor Bob Buckhorn would leave his seat for a position in the Hillary Clinton administration, giving the council chairman a promotion to mayor, and it was widely thought that current Chairman Mike Suarez was backing Luis Viera in the council's District 7 special election to get another vote in the chairman's race.

Now, of course, there won't be a Clinton administration.

"I was a little happy about the presidential race because it would take that speculation away," said Suarez.

Contact William March at

Challenge shaping up for Hillsborough GOP chairwoman 11/18/16 [Last modified: Friday, November 18, 2016 4:59pm]
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