DADE CITY — Wilton Simpson is no stranger among the movers and shakers of eastern Pasco County.
He's backed political leaders including state Rep. Will Weatherford (whom he employs as a client relations specialist), School Board vice chairman Allen Altman and County Commissioner Ted Schrader.
His name came up when Republicans briefly sought a replacement candidate for Jim Norman in the 2010 Senate District 12 election.
He's served on the Pasco-Hernando Community College Board of Trustees, led the County Fair Association, contributed heavily to the Boys and Girls Club and the Dade City downtown redevelopment efforts.
Now Simpson, a 44-year-old father of two, has decided to seek a bigger political forum.
He's submitted initial paperwork to seek election to the Florida Senate as a Republican. He filed for the seat currently held by Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, even though the district as currently drawn does not include Simpson's east Pasco base.
"I chose to file in the seat where there was not a sitting senator, knowing they were going to be redistricted," Simpson said. "We felt like it was the right thing to do to file in the open seat and to start the campaign."
Fasano will leave office because of term limits.
With redistricting coming for the 2012 elections, no one knows what the districts will look like. But if the Legislature follows the newly approved constitutional amendment requiring "fair" districts, Fasano said, "Pasco County has enough people in it to qualify for its own Senate seat."
He called the odds better than 50-50.
Even if the new districts put Simpson head to head with an incumbent, Simpson said he intends to run.
Weatherford, the House Speaker designate, serves on the legislative redistricting panel, which will influence the outcome. Simpson said that while he respects and likes Weatherford, he had not even consulted him before announcing his candidacy.
Rep. John Legg, who also is seeking Fasano's seat, said he did not worry that Weatherford would act to favor one candidate over another.
"Will is going to make sure the lines are drawn to the letter of the constitution and the districts will be fair," Legg said. "There's no conflict of interest at all."
Besides, he added, the greatest likelihood is that the Florida Supreme Court will end up creating the districts amid lawsuits by candidates who attack the process.
Either way, Legg said, he welcomed a competitive primary.
"Hopefully there will be more people," he said, suggesting that voters need to hear the various candidates' ideas and decide who would best represent them.
Fasano called Simpson a "formidable candidate" and, even though he backs Legg, said he is encouraged that viable hopefuls are getting into the race.
"Primaries are healthy, very healthy," he said.
Simpson is considered a strong voice for agriculture, something Schrader said is needed in Tallahassee as the state's ag base shrinks. Simpson runs an egg farm in Trilby, along with an environmental services business that specializes in asbestos removal and indoor air quality issues.
I think I bring a unique perspective from my background," he said, adding that he would back an agenda that supports business and job creation as well as agricultural interests.
Qualifying dates for the state Senate are June 18-22, 2012.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.