TAMPA — State Rep. Trey Traviesa, a staunch Republican known for his strong antiabortion views, announced Tuesday that he wasn't seeking re-election in a race where he was a clear favorite.
Just a week after telling a Times reporter that his re-election seemed certain, Traviesa said he decided to drop out of the House District 56 race, saying he needed to spend more time on his business, a health care company called the Laser Spine Institute.
"My business has grown by leaps and bounds, and I have to look the situation in the face," Traviesa said. "Politics just doesn't fit right now."
The move comes at a peculiar political moment. He had risen through the House leadership ranks after getting first getting elected in 2004, and had been tapped by incoming House Speaker Ray Sansom to take over as education chief in the house.
Traviesa, 38, often made headlines for championing antiabortion causes. He led several antiabortion measures in the House, including a recent effort to force women seeking abortions to get ultrasounds. That played well in his district, which stretches east from Davis Islands, taking in portions of Riverview, Seffner, Brandon, Boyette and Fish Hawk Ranch, where Republicans edge Democrats 40,600 to 37,600, according to August primary registration numbers.
Despite the thin margin, Florida Democrats hadn't targeted Traviesa's district. While he had raised $150,000, his Democratic opponent, Lewis Laricchia, barely eked out enough to pay his qualifying fee.
But with Traviesa dropping out, state Democratic Party spokesman Eric Jotkoff said the seat is up for grabs.
"The people of Tampa are breathing a huge sigh of relief with Rep. Traviesa's retirement," Jotkoff said.
It's unclear who Republicans will pick to take his place. Once Traviesa files his letter of resignation with the state, an executive committee of Hillsborough Republicans has little more than a week to find a replacement.
According to Sam Rashid, a Plant City Republican activist, Richard Corcoran, the brother of Traviesa's political consultant, is in the mix. Others cited Jamie Wilson, former Republican Party of Florida official who is now in-house lobbyist for the Moffitt Cancer Center; former House member Sandy Murman; Rachel Burgin, a Traviesa aide; and Tampa Bay Lightning lobbyist Ron Pierce, who was a policy director for former Senate President Tom Lee.
At a previously slated Tuesday political event with other candidates at Brandon's Bell Shoals Church, a crowd of 300 gave Traviesa a standing ovation after he told them of his decision.
Many Republicans were still trying to figure out why.
"I think everybody is surprised," said County Commissioner Al Higginbotham, the former county GOP chairman. "We all expected him to stay in the race."
Rashid said Traviesa's financial health has been rattled by the real estate slump.
"His source of income has really diminished," Rashid said, adding that he hadn't heard this directly from Traviesa. He said one of the places Traviesa worked, a real estate company called RealWorks Inc., has struggled of late.
On Tuesday night, though, Traviesa said he didn't know Rashid and had no affiliation with RealWorks. He said he had invested in it in the past because an aunt, Tanya Traviesa, is an owner.
His name doesn't appear in state corporate records of the company, but his photo is displayed prominently on its Web site, which lists him as president. Traviesa said that was a mistake and that he's no longer involved.
In his 2007 financial disclosure, Traviesa said he made $163,308 at the Laser Spine Institute, which provides endoscopic spinal procedures. He also lists his state income and $75,841 from Asturias Companies.
Minutes after Traviesa was asked about RealWorks, Rashid called a Times reporter back and said he had just been informed that Traviesa had nothing to do with the title company.
"I gave you information that wasn't correct," he said.
Times staff writers Jessica Vander Velde and Alex Leary and researcher John Martin contributed to this story.