The Florida Legislature faces critical challenges, from improving transportation to expanding health care to protecting the environment. While the economy is improving, the state has yet to adequately invest in public schools, higher education and aging infrastructure.
House District 36,
James Mathieu, the chairman of the Pasco Republican Executive Committee, is making his third run at this seat based in west Pasco County. He faces Chris Gregg, who ran unsuccessfully for Pasco County Commission in 2012 and for the Legislature 14 years ago. The winner faces Rep. Amanda Murphy, D-New Port Richey, who won a 2013 special election. The best choice for Republicans is Mathieu, a former Port Richey city attorney and interim city manager. Mathieu, 61, is a lawyer and mediator who is a volunteer board president at a charter school. That gives him greater knowledge of education issues than Gregg, 44, whose education platform can be summed up as free market. He wants more vouchers and less Common Core. Mathieu would accept federal Medicaid expansion money to help cover uninsured Floridians. Gregg, who does business development for a health care company, would not. The New York Times estimated nearly 30,000 people in Pasco County fall below the poverty line but do not qualify for a federally subsidized a health plan because they make too little.
In the Republican primary for Florida House District 36, the Tampa Bay Times recommends James Mathieu.
Edwin 'Ed' Narain
House District 61, Democrats
The contest for this seat has evolved into a fight over whether local or state connections matter most.
Edwin "Ed" Narain, 37, is a regional sales manager and recent law school graduate who has lived in Tampa for 20 years. He wants to bring jobs and training programs to the area. He would repeal the nuclear cost recovery law, opposes tuition vouchers for private schools and supports accepting federal Medicaid expansion money.
Sean Shaw, 36, is a lawyer and former insurance consumer advocate who would increase higher education funding and focus on health care and the economy. He is the son of former Florida Supreme Court Justice Leander J. Shaw Jr. and moved to Tampa in 2010 to work on Alex Sink's gubernatorial campaign.
Also in the race: Sharon Carter, 49, a project manager, and Tatiana M. Denson, 35.
Much of Shaw's support comes from power brokers who live outside the district and tout his ability to leverage his Tallahassee experience for Tampa. Narain's backers are homegrown leaders, including people who have spent decades in public service within the district. Shaw is familiarizing himself with Tampa and talks more about Tallahassee than the district and its unique needs. Narain's firm grasp of local concerns, sustained volunteerism and deep community roots reflect a commitment to the district that would translate well in Tallahassee.
In the Democratic primary for Florida House District 61, which covers east and central Tampa, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Edwin "Ed" Narain.
House District 64, Republicans
Rep. Jamie Grant takes his small-government mantra to the extreme. His views on road and school funding, health care and consumer protections do not serve his district or the future of his state. Miriam Steinberg has a pragmatic view and the personal skills to be more effective in Tallahassee.
Steinberg, 54, is a production engineer making her first run for public office. Like Grant, she favors small government, school choice and conservative fiscal policies. But Steinberg is more practical in her approach to the state's challenges. She would accept federal Medicaid expansion money to extend health care coverage to the uninsured. Her background in science enables her to appreciate the need for managing growth. She would invest more in renewable energy but understands that fossil fuels play a role in the economy. Like Grant, she is concerned about the safe implementation of a constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana. Grant, 31, is a lawyer who was first elected to the House in 2010. He talks in broad sweeps about innovative approaches to transit, education and other issues. But his proposals sound doctrinaire. Steinberg better appreciates the real problems people face and the challenges ahead.
In the Republican primary for Florida House District 64, which extends from northwest Hillsborough County to Oldsmar and Safety Harbor in Pinellas, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Miriam Steinberg.
House District 65, Republicans
In this North Pinellas district, two bright, young and engaged lawyers from Palm Harbor are seeking the Republican nomination to take on Democratic Rep. Carl Zimmermann in November. Debbie Faulkner and Chris Sprowls have deep roots in the area and share many views, including support for school vouchers and opposition to accepting Medicaid expansion funds. Both want to repeal the nuclear cost recovery fee. The edge goes to Sprowls for a more nuanced understanding of state policy and more extensive experience in public service.
Sprowls, 30, is a Pinellas-Pasco assistant state attorney prosecuting gang-related crimes. In the past year, he helped establish the 6th Judicial Circuit's Veterans Treatment Court, a program aimed at intervening in the lives of veterans charged with certain crimes that resulted from substance abuse or mental health issues.
Sprowls would fully fund the state's prescription drug database, which he has seen play a role in curtailing prescription drug abuse. He opposes private prisons, wants strong standards for public schools and wants to focus on enhancing the state's appeal to manufacturers. Faulkner, 28, worked about a year in the state attorney's office, and her law firm specializes in tax and estate law. She would improve the state's infrastructure and water conservation efforts.
In the Republican primary for Florida House District 65, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Chris Sprowls.
House District 67,
Three Democrats are running in this competitive open district that includes most of Clearwater and Largo. Steve Sarnoff, a longtime city of Clearwater employee and union leader, knows the issues best and is the clear choice.
Sarnoff, 61, has worked for the city for nearly 25 years in a variety of jobs, and most recently has focused on code enforcement. He is president of the Communication Workers of America Local 3179 and decided to run after working against the Legislature's unsuccessful efforts to change the pension system for state and local employees. He says he is accustomed to building coalitions and supports investing more in public education and transit, expanding the sales tax to Internet sales, and accepting federal Medicaid expansion money. He opposes tuition vouchers to attend private schools and would vote to repeal the "stand your ground" law.
Shawna Vercher, 37, is an energetic author and professional speaker who has similar views on state issues. But she also is driven by her negative experiences in the court system that critics say she embellishes. She also is appealing a $1.5 million court judgment against her for breach of contract involving a book she wrote about a former NBA referee. That judgment prompted her to file for bankruptcy.
Thomas D. Ryan, 61, works for an ice cream mix provider. He supports investing in public education, but he lacks a basic understanding of key state issues.
In the Democratic primary for Florida House District 67, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Steve Sarnoff.
House District 67,
Chris Latvala says he learned the importance of constituent service as he worked as an aide to the lawmaker he hopes to succeed, Rep. Ed Hooper. He learned the value of passion and hard work from his father, Sen. Jack Latvala. His experience in state politics makes him the obvious choice for Republicans in this district.
Latvala, 32, was born in Dunedin, grew up in Jacksonville and returned to Pinellas after college. He has worked for his father's consulting and printing businesses, and as an aide to Hooper. He supports extending in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants who graduated from Florida high schools and collecting sales tax on Internet sales. He opposes accepting federal Medicaid expansion money and supports tuition vouchers for low-income students. He wants to focus on generating jobs and improving the economy, but has vague ideas beyond reducing regulation.
Christopher Shepard, 26, is a tea party activist who lost to Hooper in the 2012 primary. The Iraq war veteran has opposed collecting sales tax on Internet sales, government efforts to respond to climate change that do not raise revenue and the Affordable Care Act. He is not a credible choice for voters in this district. Latvala has seen the Legislature up close and says he would chart his own course. He knows the issues and the district.
In the Republican primary for Florida House District 67, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Chris Latvala.
House District 68,
Bill Young shares the name of his late father, longtime U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, and works in business development for the National Forensic Science Technology Center in Largo. He wants to reduce government regulation and promises never to support a tax increase. He supports Florida collecting sales tax on Internet sales — but only if it results in a lower overall sales tax rate so the state collects no additional money.
Young, 30, advocates broadly for school choice, including tuition vouchers. But he is short on specifics about holding private schools to account or what should replace the state's version of the Common Core standards that he opposes. He also opposes accepting Medicaid expansion money.
Joshua Black, 31, is a taxi driver who sees only two roles for government: criminal prosecution and border security. He says government should get out of road building and maintenance, and advocates eliminating the state's constitutional requirement for a free public education. Months after the Secret Service interviewed him after inflammatory remarks about President Barack Obama, he is unrepentant. Black is not a viable candidate. Young much better reflects the sensibilities of Republicans in this district that stretches from downtown St. Petersburg to Pinellas Park.
In the Republican primary for Florida House District 68, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Bill Young.
Senate District 20, Republicans
Jack Latvala remains Tampa Bay's most effective state senator, and the Clearwater Republican would become one of the state's most powerful politicians if he can nail down the Senate presidency for 2016. That contest is expected to be settled after this November's elections, and Latvala's moderate leadership would be good for Florida and the region.
Latvala, 62, remains one of the best at gathering votes to pass smart legislation and kill bad ideas. He helped lead this year's effort to enable undocumented immigrants who graduate from Florida high schools to pay in-state tuition at colleges and universities. He passed legislation to create a fair process for professional sports teams to compete for state money for stadiums, ensure state inspector generals have greater independence and force developers to disclose to home buyers if the seller is retaining the mineral rights.
The veteran lawmaker supports gun rights, but he helped kill a dangerous bill that would have allowed gun owners without a concealed weapons permit to carry their guns during emergencies. Last year, he helped lead a coalition that blocked unneeded changes in the state pension system. He previously opposed Republican attempts to privatize more prisons, split the Supreme Court in two and dismantle growth management. Zahid Roy, 47, a Clearwater auto body repair shop owner, ran against Latvala in 2012. He still is not a credible candidate.
District 20 generally covers Pinellas County north of Seminole, including Largo and Clearwater. In the Republican primary for Florida Senate District 20, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Jack Latvala.