With the primary more than 15 months away, two first-time candidates have already tossed their names into the House District 57 race.
Republicans Todd Marks and A.J. Matthews want to succeed state Rep. Faye Culp, R-Tampa, who has held the seat for 11 of the past 15 years and is term-limited.
Historically a South Tampa stronghold, District 57 also takes in Town 'N Country and parts of Westchase. Marks' candidacy is significant because no one from Westchase has ever sought the two-year post.
"I acknowledge that, traditionally, it's been a South Tampa seat," said Marks, an attorney and small-business owner. "However, most of the people that have been very involved in Rep. Culp's races in the past are supporting me because they have a belief that I can do an effective job and work hard for the district."
He joined the race on Feb. 5 and, in less than two months' time, raised nearly $20,000 in campaign contributions and received endorsements from county Commissioners Mark Sharpe and Jim Norman, as well as top South Tampa Republicans, such as activist Greg Truax and attorney Gil Singer.
He also drew his first challenger: Matthews, the Hillsborough County Republican Party state committeeman who helped Culp and her predecessor, Chris Hart IV, get elected.
"I've lived in the district since 1978, and I knew I could make a difference," said Matthews, who lives in South Tampa's Virginia Park neighborhood and filed candidacy papers on April 21. "I told Faye, 'When you're termed out, I'm going to run.' "
Other names being batted around political circles include Republican LeRoy Collins III, the 42-year-old grandson of the legendary former governor, and Democrat Stacy Frank, the 54-year-old daughter of Clerk of the Circuit Court Pat Frank, and retired 2nd District Court of Appeal Judge Richard Frank.
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Todd Marks: Marks, 38, thinks people are disillusioned with the political process and desperate for a fresh perspective.
"We need someone who isn't entrenched, who doesn't know the way things are supposed to work, who doesn't go along to get along," he said. "We need someone who can go in and make tough decisions about the same things that Main Street has had to do."
Marks said he's that person. A graduate of the University of Cincinnati and George Mason University School of Law, the Ohio native and his wife only moved to Westchase four years ago.
Shortly after that, he established Westchase Law, P.A., a community-based private law firm, and Westchase Title, LLC, which performs residential and commercial closings, and escrow services.
Marks also started the Westchase Republican Club and was one of the first in the party to denounce a racist e-mail that resulted in the resignation of longtime Republican state committeewoman Carol Carter in February.
"I've shown through community involvement and my life that I have the capacity to confront tough challenges," he said.
As a father of three small children and a business owner, Marks said he has confronted issues important to many Floridians.
"I've experienced what it's like to be facing a crushing tax burden and excessive regulations," Marks said. "I have a background in business, government and law, and in this time in history, those three areas are intricately interwoven and it gives me a unique perspective to be able to address them."
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A.J. Matthews: Matthews, 49, was an undergraduate at the University of South Florida when his political science professor delivered the dare:
"Go find your party of choice," he said the professor told him. "Doesn't matter which one. Volunteer."
Since that day in 1987, Matthews has held nearly every position in the Hillsborough County Republican Party Executive Committee.
Along the way, he became a Tampa police officer, retired, then enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve at age 39. He patrolled the waters of Tampa Bay after Sept. 11; assisted with Hurricane Katrina rescue efforts; and supervised waterborne security operations in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, from July to December 2008.
Public safety and defense will be central to his campaign. "The cornerstones of society, of government in my opinion," Matthews said. "We can't forget that. If we do, we risk another 9/11."
Currently a Republican state committeeman representing Hillsborough County, he has stumped and raised money for District 57's past two representatives. But "supporting the political process, you can't have a real say unless you are in fact in that process," he said.
Matthews said his work with the Republican Party has allowed him to see what works in government and what does not. He is not, however, a part of the establishment, he said.
"I know a number of the players," Matthews said. "I work well with the people in Tallahassee, but I don't see myself as an insider."
Nor is he an extension of Culp.
"She and I don't share the same philosophies in government," Matthews said. "I consider myself to be very pro-business, pro-public safety. I've got my own ideas. I've got a direction that I see we need to take this state."
Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Rodney Thrash can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 269-5303.