Wednesday, June 20, 2018
Politics

Two Republicans square off Tuesday in Florida House District 67 primary

The two Republicans vying to represent Clearwater and Largo in Florida's House of Representatives are spending this weekend before Tuesday's election walking precincts and ringing doorbells.

Rep. Ed Hooper, an incumbent who's best known in his home base of Clearwater, is introducing himself to the district's new voters in Largo and a portion of Pinellas Park who don't know him.

Meanwhile, his challenger, Christopher Shepard, who lives in Largo, is hitting neighborhoods in Clearwater where he hasn't campaigned yet.

The race for state House District 67 is being shaped partly by the district's shifting boundaries. Redistricting has moved its borders southward. The district now includes most of Clearwater and Largo except for the westernmost parts. This year the district lost Safety Harbor, Feather Sound and a bit of Dunedin, but it picked up more of Largo and a slice of northern Pinellas Park.

The changes have also made District 67's mix of voters slightly more Democratic. The winner of Tuesday's Republican primary will face a Democratic opponent, Ben Farrell, in the November general election.

The two Republican candidates offer a study in contrasts.

Hooper, 64, is an incumbent who is running a well-financed campaign for his fourth and final term in office. He has been endorsed by groups representing police, firefighters, Realtors, doctors and teachers, as well as the local chambers of commerce.

"I've been getting out and about, knocking on doors," Hooper said. "I'm trying to meet the district's new voters, concentrating on the southern part that we picked up."

His primary opponent, Shepard, is a 24-year-old Iraq War veteran, St. Petersburg College student and tea party activist. He has been endorsed by Pinellas tea party groups.

"I'm walking different precincts, trying to talk to as many repeat Republican voters as I can," Shepard said. "Most of them are focused on federal issues. At the state and local level, their main concern is that their property taxes are going up all the time, without regard for the fact that their property values are going down."

Hooper has a big fundraising advantage over Shepard.

Both Republicans say their top priorities are job growth and less government regulation. Both take tough stances on illegal immigration. Neither is in favor of eliminating Florida's "stand your ground" law.

But they have some different views.

Hooper supports an Internet sales tax for Florida, saying it's not fair to require local brick-and-mortar retailers to charge sales tax if online retailers don't have to. Shepard opposes an Internet sales tax: "Just because there's a new market to tax doesn't mean you should tax it," he said.

Shepard wants to make it easier for coastal homeowners to insure their homes through a company other than state-run Citizens Property Insurance. Hooper doesn't think that's realistic: "Allstate and State Farm are not going to come back to Pinellas County," he said.

The two candidates have debated only once — at a meeting of the North Pinellas Patriots tea party group.

That was Shepard's home turf, but Hooper said he didn't mind. "I didn't gain any votes," he said, "but I didn't lose any either."

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

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