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John Legg switches Senate districts, will challenge Jim Norman

Sen. Jim Norman of Tampa got another challenger Wednesday as state Rep. John Legg announced he is switching Senate districts.

The move averts a showdown between two well-funded Pasco County candidates, but sets up a potentially bigger race against an incumbent some see as vulnerable.

For months, Legg was running in the west Pasco seat being vacated by Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey. But he said he plans to switch to an adjacent seat so he doesn't uproot his family. He and his wife, Suzanne, have been splitting time between her home in Trinity and another home Legg owns in Port Richey.

"We sat down, we talked and we said, 'What do we want to do for our family?'" he said. "Bottom line is, that's where we want to live and raise our kids."

The Port Richey home is in Legg's old district, while his wife's home is in the new one.

Norman currently represents about two-thirds of the redrawn District 17, which includes a swath of south Pasco and the Carrollwood and Westchase areas in Hillsborough County.

Norman could not be reached for comment Wednesday evening.

Legg will be vying for an entirely new collection of voters, as his new Senate district does not overlap with the state House seat he has represented for eight years.

But staying in District 18 would have meant a potentially heated battle with east Pasco egg farmer Wilton Simpson, who raised $220,000 through the first three months of the year and has released a television commercial and several mailers.

Through the first quarter of the year, Legg has raised $146,000 and Norman has raised $177,000. The Republican primary also includes former Rep. Rob Wallace of Tampa and John Korsak, a homeland security consultant from Lutz. Wesley Martin Johnson, a Democrat, is also running.

About 55 percent of the district's voters live in Hillsborough, with the remainder in south Pasco. The seat is also reliably Republican: 52 percent of voters went for Rick Scott in the 2010 governor's race, compared with 44 percent for Alex Sink.

Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Trinity, declined to address the specific match-up between Legg and Norman. But he said, "To have two senators who reside in Pasco County would be great for Pasco."

Fasano added: "I'm not aware of a time when Pasco had two sitting senators. Not only two sitting senators, but the next speaker of the House and then a speaker-to-be after Will Weatherford. Pasco will have great leaders for many years to come."

The switch could nullify a potential attack against Legg. He's faced questions for years that he doesn't actually live in the Port Richey home on his voter registration and financial disclosure forms and instead lives in his wife's home in Trinity.

Legg began phoning Senate leaders Tuesday to let them know of his decision. Now the question is whether the Republican Party will remain true to its tradition of supporting incumbents in all cases — in this case, Norman.

Though he's a tough campaigner with 18 years of experience on the Hillsborough County Commission, Norman could be seriously wounded, political observers say.

In February, Norman signed an admission of guilt in an ethics case for not disclosing a $500,000 gift to his wife from a local businessman. His attorney said he wanted to move on from the matter.

The case attracted the attention of federal authorities, who ultimately did not file charges.

Even if Norman wins, one of the first acts of the Don Gaetz-led Senate next fall would be to decide what punishment to give him for his ethical lapses.

Said Legg: "Those are his issues that he has to resolve for himself and the voters have to decide."

Legg is an ally of Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who is angling to be Senate president in the 2016-2018 term. Norman is also considered a Latvala supporter.

Times/Herald staff writer Steve Bousquet and Times staff writer Robbyn Mitchell contributed to this report. Lee Logan can be reached at llogan@tampabay.com.

John Legg switches Senate districts, will challenge Jim Norman 05/23/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 23, 2012 11:12pm]
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