Scionti leaving Florida House for Defense Department post

TAMPA — State Rep. Michael Scionti, D-Tampa, has been appointed by President Barack Obama to a position in the Department of Defense and will resign his post in the Florida House, effective Sunday.

He reports for work at the Pentagon on Dec. 14.

"I'm excited beyond words," said Scionti, a 41-year-old attorney and veteran of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. "It is a true honor. I'm just looking forward to doing great things for our Department of Defense and for our soldiers."

Gov. Charlie Crist will schedule a special election to replace him.

First elected in 2006 and again in 2008, Scionti represents parts of Hillsborough County, including West Tampa, Town 'N Country and Seminole Heights.

In his new job as a deputy assistant secretary, he will serve as a liaison between the Department of Defense, state governments and their national guards, and other federal agencies, such as the Border Patrol, FEMA and Homeland Security.

Scionti, who helped Obama win Hillsborough County, said he was contacted within the past four months by the White House.

"They felt like I would be a very good fit because I have a lot of military experience and a lot of policy-making experience," he said.

Scionti joined the Army Reserve in 2000. He spent more than a year in Iraq, and during his first term in office served for six months in Afghanistan.

As a Florida lawmaker, he sponsored legislation that gave tuition assistance to Reserve combat veterans. This year, he sponsored a bill that would provide housing assistance to the families of National Guard veterans who are unemployed because of the bad economy.

"We're finding more and more vets becoming homeless," Scionti said, "And it's not just individuals, it's families."

Scionti said he hopes the bill becomes law.

"It would be wonderful if whoever follows me in the House in District 58 were to be a champion for this bill," Scionti said.

Historically, District 58 voters have preferred Democrats for decades.

Almost immediately after Scionti announced his departure on Monday morning, potential candidates began lining up to succeed him.

Janet Cruz, 53, a Democratic fundraiser, community activist and businesswoman who lives in South Tampa, announced her candidacy in the afternoon, along with a long list of endorsements. Among them: U.S. Reps. Kathy Castor of Tampa and Kendrick Meek of South Florida; Alex Sink, a candidate for governor and Florida's chief financial officer; state Rep. Betty Reed; and state Sen. Arthenia Joyner.

Cruz is the wife of Dr. Stephen Rifkin. The endorsements include a handful of people who were also listed as co-hosts of a fundraiser at Cruz's house Monday evening for attorney general candidate Dave Aronberg.

Scionti's legislative aide, John Rodriguez, said he also may run for the seat.

Rodriguez, 46, has worked for Scionti since 2006. He previously worked eight years for Bob Henriquez, the Democrat who held the seat before Scionti until term limits ended his tenure.

And Mike Suarez, who in 1998 made a bid for the District 57 House seat, said he might appear on the ballot.

Suarez, 45, is an insurance salesman and former chairman of the Hillsborough County Democratic Party.

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.

Scionti leaving Florida House for Defense Department post 12/07/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 8, 2009 12:09am]

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