Sunday, May 27, 2018
Politics

Statewide primary ballot set as clock strikes noon

TALLAHASSEE — Florida's primary election ballot became final Friday, assuring voters of four new faces on Capitol Hill this fall and spirited races for the Legislature in Tampa Bay and Miami-Dade.

Three of the hottest races for the state Legislature are in Tampa Bay, all among Republicans running for the Senate. That body that will undergo the greatest one-year turnover since voters approved term limits 20 years ago.

Two St. Petersburg GOP lawmakers, Reps. Jeff Brandes and Jim Frishe, will face off in the Aug. 14 primary for one new Senate seat, while in Hillsborough, two-term Rep. Rachel Burgin, R-Riverview, will face former Senate President Tom Lee, R-Brandon.

First-term Sen. Jim Norman, R-Tampa, has three GOP challengers, including Rep. John Legg of Port Richey for a redrawn Senate seat in Hillsborough and Pasco counties.

The state's political landscape will shift significantly by the once-a-decade redrawing of all legislative districts following the census, which also hands the state two more seats in Congress for a total of 27.

Two voter-approved amendments to Florida's Constitution prohibited legislators from protecting incumbents in drawing boundaries.

At least 14 of 40 state Senate seats and 38 of 120 state House seats will have new occupants by November.

But not everything will change.

A total of 38 lawmakers, or nearly one-fourth of the Legislature, can waltz into office without getting a single vote because no one challenged any of them, including four House freshmen who were seeking office for the first time.

They also include the next House speaker, Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, and eight senators, including two from Tampa Bay: Republican Charlie Dean of Inverness and Democrat Arthenia Joyner of Tampa.

The others are Republicans Nancy Detert of Venice and Garrett Richter of Naples, and four from Miami-Dade: Democrat Oscar Braynon and Republicans Anitere Flores, Rene Garcia and Miguel Diaz de la Portilla.

Two other Diaz de la Portilla brothers, Renier and Alex, hope to return to the Legislature as both entered races for open House seats in Miami-Dade.

Alex Diaz de la Portilla, who served 10 years in the Senate and six in the House, was one of the last candidates to file qualifying papers by Friday's noon deadline. He became the third Republican to seek House District 112 in Miami.

Democratic strategist Steve Schale said voters will have more choices this year than usual.

"Republicans and Democrats went on a recruitment tear to make sure there were not senators that are unopposed," Schale said. "I actually think that's healthy."

For the first time in decades, two members of Congress must fight each other for political survival, as redistricting pits Republican Reps. Sandy Adams and John Mica against each other in suburban Orlando.

In three other races for the Legislature, two incumbents are forced to run against each other for the same seat, a by-product of the realignment of political boundaries. Two incumbent showdowns are for House seats in Miami-Dade, between Democrats John Patrick Julien and Barbara Watson, and Republicans Jose Diaz and Ana Rivas Logan.

Two Democratic House members in Palm Beach County, Mack Bernard and Jeff Clemens, are pitted against each other for a vacant Senate seat.

Every member of the Florida congressional delegation drew opposition but one: first-term Republican Dennis Ross of Lakeland.

Seven Republicans are running for one new seat in Congress in the Daytona Beach area, while six Republicans will battle for a seat in Southwest Florida being vacated by Connie Mack IV, who's running for the U.S. Senate.

Another open seat in Congress, the 22nd District in Palm Beach and Broward counties, features West Palm Beach Mayor Lois Frankel and Broward County Commissioner Kristin Jacobs seeking the Democratic nomination against former state Rep. Adam Hasner in November.

The luckiest candidates on Friday were the four rookie state House candidates who won two-year terms without receiving a single vote, because no one ran against them.

They are Republicans Travis Cummings of Orange Park and Charlie Stone of Ocala and Democrats Victor Torres Jr. of Orlando and Shevrin Jones of West Park, in South Broward County.

Jones, 28, a chemistry instructor at Florida Atlantic University, has been campaigning since late April.

"I'm excited," Jones said. "This was just our time."

Republicans currently hold a 28-12 advantage in the Senate and 81-38 advantage in the House, with one vacancy.

The statewide primary election will be Tuesday, Aug. 14, and the general election on Tuesday, Nov. 6.

Times/Herald staff writers Mark Ellen Klas and Toluse Olorunnipa contributed to this report. Steve Bousquet can be reached at [email protected] or (850) 224-7263.

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