Sunday, May 20, 2018
Politics

State Rep. Ed Hooper takes on a Democratic challenger

Ed Hooper hasn't lost an election in more than a decade. But it has been years since he faced a challenger like Ben Farrell.

Hooper is a veteran Republican legislator who's running a well-financed campaign for his fourth and final term in the Florida House. He crushed a relatively weak and underfunded opponent in the 2010 election, and he ran unopposed in 2008.

But his current Democratic challenger, Farrell, is raising more campaign funds and attracting more support than Hooper's last opponent. And Hooper's district — District 67, which includes most of Clearwater and Largo — now has a more Democratic mix of voters due to redistricting.

On the stump, Hooper touts his experience in the Legislature. Meanwhile, Farrell talks of his years as a small business owner and says it's time for new blood in Tallahassee.

Hooper, who has raised a huge $216,000 campaign war chest, plans to be aggressive in sending multiple mailers to voters' homes, touting his own qualifications and questioning Farrell's.

"I encourage you to look at the records of those who think that incumbency is some horrible thing," Hooper said at a candidates forum in Largo last week. "I will do my best in the next five weeks to educate you on my qualifications and my opponent's qualifications. That's my job, and I intend to do that very well."

Some of those mailers will likely call voters' attention to Farrell's financial history as well as allegations his ex-wife made against him during a messy divorce six years ago. Farrell hopes it won't come to that, but he says he's prepared to defend himself.

The race

Hooper, 64, is a retired Clearwater fire lieutenant and paramedic, and a former Clearwater city commissioner.

Farrell, 50, is a manager at Lenny's Restaurant, a well-known Clearwater gathering spot that was founded by his late parents and is owned by his brother.

Both candidates talk relentlessly about the same thing — growing good-paying middle-class jobs in Florida.

"We're doing what is necessary to attract industry to this state," Hooper said at last week's forum. "We're going all over the country and the world, trying to entice companies to come here and create jobs."

The incumbent has a solidly Republican voting record and routinely votes with the House leadership.

Hooper voted to require women seeking abortions to submit to an ultrasound first. He voted to abolish teacher tenure. He voted to repeal decades of growth management law and hundreds of environmental rules in the name of economic development. He voted to create Florida Polytechnic University.

However, the low-key Hooper sounds a moderate tone and is not a favorite of the local Tea Party crowd.

He departs from GOP dogma on some issues: He's not a fan of the FCAT or more private school vouchers. He voted against oil drilling in Florida waters. He voted against random drug testing of state workers. He opposed an NRA-backed bill to let employees keep guns in their cars at work.

The challenger

Who is Ben Farrell? He's a U.S. Navy veteran who grew up in Clearwater and studied theology at the College of Charleston.

In their mid 20s, he and his brother Dan started Two Brothers Pickles, a Largo business that supplied pickles to restaurants and produce distributors. After seven years, they sold it to Chicago food manufacturer Vienna Beef Co.

Farrell moved to Scotland and learned to make fine furniture. He helped open furniture schools in South Carolina and Oregon. He moved back here in 2003 and went to work at Lenny's. He has three sons in public school.

"Like so many folks I talk with, I'm extremely unhappy with the current crop of career politicians in Tallahassee who rule unanswered, on behalf of large corporations, with a virtual stranglehold on power on the hard-working people, families and small businesses of Florida," he said.

War chest

Hooper has a massive fundraising advantage over his opponent. That campaign war chest will buy local television commercials on Bright House Cable, as well as several rounds of glossy mailers.

Some of those fliers will say that a credit card company sued Farrell for nonpayment, and a bank foreclosed on a house he owned. And during a 2006 divorce, Farrell's then-wife took out a domestic violence restraining order against him and accused him of having mental health issues.

Farrell says he settled the credit card lawsuit, and the foreclosed house was his ex-wife's. He says his ex-wife made false accusations against him during their divorce, which featured a lengthy child custody struggle.

"It's time to get your campaign out of the gutter," Farrell wrote in an open letter to Hooper.

Hooper counters that voters have a right to know: "I think it's important."

Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Mike Brassfield can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

Comments
By David Nakamura, The Washington Post.

By David Nakamura, The Washington Post.

WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump lashed out Sunday at "the World’s most expensive Witch Hunt," trashing a new report in the New York Times that said an emissary representing the governments of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates offered help...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Obama’s education secretary: Let’s boycott school until gun laws change

Obama’s education secretary: Let’s boycott school until gun laws change

Former Education Secretary Arne Duncan pushed a radical idea on Twitter: Parents should pull their children out of school until elected officials pass stricter gun control laws.His tweet came hours after a shooting rampage at a Houston-area high scho...
Updated: 5 hours ago
China offers to buy more US products to reduce trade imbalance

China offers to buy more US products to reduce trade imbalance

WASHINGTON - China offered to boost its annual purchases of U.S. products by "at least $200 billion" Friday as two days of talks aimed at averting an open breach between the two countries ended in Washington, a top White House adviser said.Larry Kudl...
Published: 05/19/18
Hillsborough candidate falsified contract for fund-raising gospel concert, lawsuit says

Hillsborough candidate falsified contract for fund-raising gospel concert, lawsuit says

TAMPA — A concert organizer is accusing Hillsborough County Commission candidate Elvis Piggott of falsifying a contract and prompting the headline act to pull out of a gospel show.In a lawsuit filed in Hillsborough Circuit Court, Corey Curry claims h...
Published: 05/18/18
Gina Haspel confirmed as CIA chief despite scrutiny of her role in interrogation program

Gina Haspel confirmed as CIA chief despite scrutiny of her role in interrogation program

WASHINGTON - The Senate voted Thursday to confirm Gina Haspel as the next CIA director after several Democrats were persuaded to support her despite lingering concerns about her role in the brutal interrogation of suspected terrorists captured after ...
Published: 05/17/18
GOP pushes for speedy confirmation vote for CIA nominee

GOP pushes for speedy confirmation vote for CIA nominee

WASHINGTON — Republicans are pushing for a speedy confirmation vote as early as Thursday after the Senate intelligence committee endorsed President Donald Trump’s CIA nominee Gina Haspel to lead the spy agency. But opponents concerned about Haspel’s ...
Published: 05/16/18
Gina Haspel, Trump’s pick to lead CIA, wins support of Senate Intelligence Committee

Gina Haspel, Trump’s pick to lead CIA, wins support of Senate Intelligence Committee

WASHINGTON - The Senate Intelligence Committee moved Wednesday to recommend Gina Haspel for CIA director, setting up a floor vote that her opponents say will signal to the world whether the United States condemns or condones torture.The committee vot...
Published: 05/16/18
Carlton: Time for Hillsborough’s Uncle Tom Road to go — but artfully.

Carlton: Time for Hillsborough’s Uncle Tom Road to go — but artfully.

In Hillsborough County — where one of the world’s largest Confederate flags still flies near a busy interstate — you may not be surprised to learn there’s an Uncle Tom Road.The name is a flash point and a slur, shorthand for a black person who will d...
Published: 05/16/18
Clearwater Vice Mayor Doreen Caudell drops out of Pinellas Commission race

Clearwater Vice Mayor Doreen Caudell drops out of Pinellas Commission race

With six months to go before the Nov. 6 election, Clearwater Vice Mayor Doreen Caudell on Monday dropped her bid against Pinellas County Commissioner Pat Gerard for the at-large District 2 seat.Caudell said she decided she’d better be better suited f...
Published: 05/14/18
Romano: Hey Gov. Scott, could you hire me, too?

Romano: Hey Gov. Scott, could you hire me, too?

To: The Honorable Gov. Rick ScottDear Governor,It has come to my attention that your administration has recently made some, dare I say, innovative hires for important government positions in the months before you leave office.At the risk of sounding ...
Published: 05/14/18