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March: Beckner-Frank tussle starting to boil

The Kevin Beckner vs. Pat Frank Democratic primary for Frank's Hillsborough clerk of court seat, likely to be the most interesting race on the local scene in 2016, is heating up.

Frank partisans are criticizing Beckner over a May 27 fundraiser at the Columbia Museum. Their argument: It's being hosted by a group consisting mostly of land-use attorneys.

Land-use attorneys don't normally have a lot to do with the clerk of court's office, but they do have a lot to do with county commissioners, who make rezoning and land use decisions. So why would they be raising money for Beckner for clerk of court? Because he'll be on the board of commissioners until November 2016.

"That is an age-old way to raise money," said Frank partisan and former Mayor Sandy Freedman. "You always go to your friends, your family, and then some people go to those people who appear in front of them.''

Beckner called the criticism "ludicrous."

"Those who have followed my work know that I've strongly opposed inappropriate development," including voting against the Bass Pro incentive deal and a Walmart in Carrollwood opposed by neighbors.

Beckner blasts back

Beckner has said he doesn't believe Frank's age should be an issue in the campaign — "As long as you're qualified, you're entitled to run for office," he said in an interview.

Frank is 85.

But he also raised the issue indirectly.

He said several Democrats have told him, "They are extraordinarily concerned about whom Gov. Scott would appoint to this office" if Frank were unable to complete her term.

He noted that in 2009, when Phyllis Busansky died while in office as county elections supervisor, then-Gov. Charlie Crist appointed Earl Lennard. Lennard, a Republican former county school superintendent, was known as non-ideological and acceptable to both parties.

"We were fortunate then," Beckner said, but Scott would be unlikely to make a bipartisan choice.

Going bipartisan

Tiger Bay Clubs, bipartisan political discussion groups that pride themselves on lobbing tough questions at public officials, are a significant source of political news in Florida.

But the Tampa club has long been smaller and less influential than its St. Pete counterpart, the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club.

One reason, at least in the view of some Republicans, is that the Tampa Club is too Democratic. Attendees usually are mostly Dems.

Rising legislative star Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa, says she hasn't been interested in speaking at what she considered "a Democratic club."

"I know a lot of people that have been asked to speak from a more conservative viewpoint have been treated rudely by the attendees," she said.

The club's new president, Chris Ingram, a Republican with mavericky views, says he wants to change the image. He's recruiting new members, particularly Republicans. GOP State Attorney Mark Ober and Tax Collector Doug Belden just joined.

Young called that "excellent news."

The Tampa club meets on third Fridays at the Ferguson Law Center downtown.

William March can be reached at [email protected]

March: Beckner-Frank tussle starting to boil 05/20/15 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 20, 2015 7:10pm]
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