Monday, January 22, 2018
Politics

William March: Chamber's Mike Griffin in question as Hillsborough commission candidate

Republicans have been speculating, or assuming, that Tampa Chamber of Commerce board Chairman Mike Griffin would be the heavyweight GOP contender in next year's race for the District 1 County Commission seat that Commissioner Sandy Murman plans to leave open.

But suddenly there are complications.

Griffin just got a surprise appointment by Gov. Rick Scott to the Port Tampa Bay board, raising questions about whether he would or could run.

At the same time, another prominent Republican, lawyer Todd Marks, confirmed he's interested in the race, as well.

Aakash Patel has already filed on the GOP side, as has Democratic Tampa City Council member Yolie Capin. State Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, is also expected to file soon.

Griffin has said he could be interested, but won't consider it until his term as chamber board chairman expires at the end of this year.

Meanwhile, the port faces controversy over a report by WFTS-Channel 28 about expense-account spending by top port officials on trips, restaurant meals and golf.

Those officials said it was a necessary part of port marketing. But Scott wasn't happy, and said he expects to see the board "reviewing policies to prevent wasteful spending by employees."

The port imposes a small property tax, saying it uses the proceeds only for construction and maintenance.

Asked whether the port appointment could affect his political plans, Griffin said that's not his focus right now.

"There are challenges at the port that need to be addressed and that's my focus," he said. "This is an immediate situation that the governor asked me to help clean up. Elections are nowhere near the top of my list."

Griffin said he and Scott didn't discuss the possibility of Griffin running for office in connection with the appointment, and he doesn't know whether there would be any legal prohibition.

By law, the port board includes a county commissioner appointed by the other commissioners, currently Murman.

Spokesmen for the port board and the county attorney's office couldn't immediately say whether the law prohibits a sitting port board member from running for or holding elective office, although county attorney Chip Fletcher said there's a possibility it could.

Marks, long active in the Republican Party, operates a law practice and a title firm in Westchase and is starting a local affiliate of a national company to produce and distribute medical marijuana.

He said whether Griffin is running won't affect his own decision on the race.

Carlson will likely seek council seat

Public relations executive and civic activist Bill Carlson said this week he's "very likely" to run in 2019 for the South Tampa City Council seat of term-limited Councilman Harry Cohen.

Carlson is known for pushing expansion of international flights at Tampa International Airport and for popularizing the Café Con Tampa program of speakers on political and civic topics.

But he's also been somewhat controversial as a political opponent of Mayor Bob Buckhorn and the most outspoken member of a group of Democrats disillusioned with Buckhorn.

Carlson said a few weeks ago that he had no plans to seek public office, but said this week that he changed his mind because friends asked him to run.

GOP reps take no stance on trans service members

Democratic U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, was strongly opposed, and Republican congressmen representing Hillsborough County didn't take positions, when asked about President Donald Trump's tweets saying he intends to ban transgender people from the military.

A Castor spokesman responded by pointing to her social media post saying, "Discrimination and prejudice in America's military has never served our country well … Every patriotic American who meets all physical requirements and is qualified to serve, should be allowed to serve."

She said Trump "chose to lash out today in a harsh, intolerant fashion against transgender individuals who would like to serve America. … Does he understand that thousands of transgender individuals already serve honorably?"

Reps. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, and Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland, didn't respond to email inquiries this week.

Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, sent an email statement: "I would like to hear directly from our military leaders" on the idea. "Depriving people of the right to serve in the armed forces is a serious action that requires deliberate consideration."

Another Tampa fund- raiser for Kriseman

Another fundraiser by Tampa Democrats for the re-election campaign of St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman is scheduled for next week.

The host list for the Aug. 10 event includes Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Kemp, former Commissioner Ed Turanchik and big-name donors like Tom Scarritt.

It also includes a couple of Democrats, like public relations executive Bill Carlson, who missed a previous Kriseman funder June 20.

Democrats were also calling for party volunteers to do phone banking and canvassing for Kriseman this weekend.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this column incorrectly stated the marital status of potential county commission candidate Todd Marks.

Contact William March at [email protected]

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