LAKE BUENA VISTA — Among the many red-meat speeches delivered at the Florida Democrats' 2013 state convention this weekend, several names popped up over and over again. Rick Scott, of course, and Ted Cruz to draw boos and jeers. Barack Obama, and Amanda Murphy, for cheers.
Murphy, the recent winner of a special election in Pasco County for the Florida House, is one of the rare success stories Democrats have seen in recent years and one of the main rays of hope that the party's fortunes are turning.
State Party chairwoman Allison Tant cited Murphy's narrow win over Republican Bill Gunter as a sign that Democrats are energized and ready to get organized in an off-year election when Democratic turnout is usually low.
"You just saw in Pasco County the Amanda Murphy race, and you saw the turnout there. The turnout numbers were higher there than ever in a special election. That is because Dems are very, very anxious to participate," Tant said. "Amanda Murphy's election was the first step toward unseating Rick Scott."
Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz cited Murphy's win as evidence of how tarnished the Republican brand is, both nationally and in Florida.
"Take Amanda Murphy's race, which was going on in the middle of a shutdown," said Wasserman Schultz, who represents a U.S. House district in South Florida. "It is a classic example of how voters in a swing area like Pasco — which has consistently leaned more center right than center left — and they elected Amanda Murphy. And Mike Fasano, the Republican tax collector who I served with (in the Florida House) and was one of the most conservative Republicans that I've ever served with, endorsed the Democratic candidate. That's how far gone the Republicans are."
Murphy drew booming applause from delegates. So did the name of another Tampa Bay Democrat not present and facing a looming election: St. Petersburg mayoral candidate Rick Kriseman.
"When we control St. Pete, we will have the major cities along the I-4 corridor, and that will help us make sure that from the bottom up, we will take back from Rick Scott the Governor's Mansion," said Democratic Orange County Tax Collector Scott Randolph, urging delegates from across the state to donate money and work phone banks for Kriseman.
Rep. Thurston in race
State Rep. Perry Thurston tells Buzz that he will run for the Democratic nomination for attorney general, taking on George Sheldon in a primary.
"I think we can drive up turnout, but more importantly, Pam Bondi is vulnerable and we can win. I have a proven track record of raising funds and winning races," said Thurston, a Lauderhill lawyer and outgoing Florida House Democratic leader.
Meet Nancy Watkins
Check out Political Connections today on Bay News 9, where one of the leading Republican campaign finance experts in the country makes a compelling argument rarely heard these days: "There is not enough money in politics," says Nancy Watkins of Tampa.
Political Connections airs at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m.
Is Crist ready for NFL?
We're just days away from Charlie Crist announcing his campaign for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, and it's not entirely clear whether Crist will be playing like he's in the NFL or the Pop Warner League.
On Friday, Crist launched a website, CharlieCrist.com, that lacked any text saying who paid for it, as is required for campaign sites. Crist is in gray area as an unannounced candidate, of course, but apparently the campaign felt a little uneasy about the disclosure rules, too. The site was later amended to say: "Paid for Personally by Charlie Crist."
Then the Tampa Bay Times found that blogger and a political consultant Peter Schorsch was the one who pulled the city permit for Crist's Nov. 4 announcement event at Straub Park in St. Petersburg. I'm a big fan of Schorsch's website, and he is paid to advise numerous politicians, including Republican state Sens. Jack Latvala and Jeff Brandes.
But Crist already has a history of lousy judgment in leaning on heavily dubious supporters (Scott Rothstein, Jim Greer, Alan Mendelsohn, Greg Eagle) who have a knack for winding up in prison. Count on that to be part of the campaign against him over the next 12 months.
And yet for their very first campaign event, Crist's team turned to Schorsch who routinely and unapologetically lies publicly to the press, who owes nearly $68,000 in outstanding fines to the Florida Elections Commission, who six years ago pleaded no contest to grand theft and scheming to defraud charges. Schorsch has rehabilitated his reputation considerably since his legal troubles, but given Crist is about to face a torrent of negative attacks from Scott allies determined to gut him, turning to Schorsch for campaign help was hardly a logical choice.
Do you have something to say about gambling? The Florida Senate Gaming Committee has scheduled the second of four public hearings on the future of the gambling industry for Wednesday in Lakeland and it is hoping Tampa and St. Petersburg area residents will travel to the event to give their opinions.
"Gaming is a well-established business sector in Florida with roots stretching back to the 1890s. In the past 25 years, gaming industries have been transformed, not just in Florida but all around the country,'' said Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples and chairman of the committee.
With the decline of parimutuel wagering and the emergence of the state lottery, cruises, card rooms and slot machine-based casinos, Richter said, "our state laws and tax policies have not kept pace, and layers of exceptions and patches are not working well to promote Florida's overall economic and social welfare.''
It's a candid admission from the Legislature, which has cobbled together the patchwork quilt of regulation over the past several decades and has collected millions in campaign contributions from industry leaders.
The committee is urging the public to react to the two-part "Florida Gambling Impact Study," commissioned by the Florida Legislature earlier this year. It's available at flsenate.gov/topics/gaming. It also is urging the public to preregister for the meeting scheduled from 3 to 6 p.m. at George Jenkins High School Auditorium, 6000 Lakeland Highlands Road.
Times/Herald staff writer Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this report.