Saturday, May 26, 2018
Politics

Republicans coast to victories in Pinellas legislative races

Republican Chris Latvala and Democrat Steve Sarnoff will face off on Nov. 4 for a Clearwater-Largo state House seat, after scoring victories Tuesday in the only Pinellas County legislative race that had contested primaries for both major parties.

In most other Pinellas legislative races, candidates easily glided to primary victories, with wins by Republicans Chris Sprowls, Bill Young and Jack Latvala. The exception was House District 64, where votes were not even counted because of an ongoing lawsuit. The district covers Oldsmar, Safety Harbor and parts of Hillsborough County.

In House District 67, Chris Latvala was the clear front-runner among Republicans. With a father in the state Senate, he has wide name recognition and also raised more than $250,000 in campaign contributions. He easily beat Christopher Shepard, 26, a veteran and college student.

"I appreciate the confidence that the Republican voters have shown in me and, starting tomorrow, I look forward to winning the votes of Republicans, Democrats and independents alike," said Latvala, 32. He spoke at a raucous GOP celebration at Quaker Steak & Lube in mid Pinellas, where other candidates included his father and County Commission candidate Ed Hooper.

Three Democrats sought the same seat, but the outcome was not as certain. In the end, Sarnoff, a Clearwater city worker and union president, pulled away from fellow Democrats Shawna Vercher and dairy worker Thomas Ryan.

"I am overwhelmed with gratitude to everyone who helped me accomplish this," Sarnoff said. "I'm also appreciative of the fact that the voters, given information, were willing to do a little research … and decided that voting for me was the way to go."

Sarnoff, 61, also thanked his opponents "because going through the primary process, I believe, has made me a better candidate and will lead to my success in November."

Vercher, 37, who waged a vigorous campaign and also wrote a book blasting the local legal system after losing a $1.5 million lawsuit, said late Tuesday that she was "extremely proud" of the campaign.

"I hope that I have inspired more progressive women to dive in and run for office," she said, "and I will continue to find ways to serve my community."

In the House District 68 Republican primary, Bill Young easily defeated Joshua Black, 32. Now Young, 30, hopes to unseat incumbent state Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg. The district includes much of northeast St. Petersburg and eastern Pinellas Park. Black was best known, and widely criticized, for saying in a Twitter message that President Obama should be hanged for treason.

Young thanked his supporters and said, "I'm not going to let them down, and on Nov. 4 we're going to take this seat back." He added that "I'm going to continue a positive message of job creation and making sure that our economy keeps going in the right direction." Young said he was inspired to public service by his father, the late longtime Republican U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young.

In House District 65, which includes Palm Harbor, Tarpon Springs and Dunedin, Assistant State Attorney Chris Sprowls easily beat tax attorney Debbie Faulkner, 28. He now will face incumbent state Rep. Carl Zimmermann, D-Palm Harbor, a high school teacher, in the Nov. 4 general election.

"We're excited about the win. I think it's indicative of the fact that we knocked on 20,000 doors," said Sprowls, 30. "Overwhelmingly, voters said they want to have somebody who talks less and does more, who is a strong advocate for them."

State Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, amassed a crushing lead over Zahid Roy, an auto body shop owner who ran unsuccessfully against the senator in 2012. Jack Latvala, 62, is the father of Chris Latvala. In the general election, Jack Latvala will face Libertarian Tony Caso in Senate District 20, which stretches from Largo to Tarpon Springs.

Jack Latvala was recovering from hip surgery and left early from the election celebration. But before leaving, he said he was grateful for the support and said, "I love serving Pinellas County in the Florida Senate."

Although many people voted, don't expect to see vote totals in House District 64 any time soon. Votes for Republican contenders James Grant and Miriam Steinberg were not tallied Tuesday, even though they appeared on the primary ballot for voters in Carrollwood, Citrus Park, Oldsmar and Safety Harbor. A legal tangle involving a write-in candidate is still pending. District 64 could be decided in the Nov. 4 general election or through a special election, although paper ballots from Tuesday's votes still exist and could be counted, according to the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Office.

Times staff writer Elisabeth Parker contributed to this report.

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