First-day focus of Florida House 38 campaigns: Restaurant patrons and that one pesky mobile home park near Zephyrhills

The June 18 special election pits Republican Randy Maggard against Democrat Kelly Smith.
State House of Representative District 38 candidates Democrat Kelly Smith and Republican Randy Maggard. The special election is June 18.
State House of Representative District 38 candidates Democrat Kelly Smith and Republican Randy Maggard. The special election is June 18.
Published April 15

Kelly Smith tried four restaurants in a single day. At the same time, Randy Maggard had a hunger for the business-related matters he’d been ignoring.

So began the general election campaign for the Florida House of Representatives District 38 seat. Election Day is June 18 to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Danny Burgess, who became chief of the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs.

It was the day after Maggard’s April 9 Republican primary win over David “Mac’’ McCallister. Smith, the Democrat from Wesley Chapel, visited Pizza Mania in Wesley Chapel, Commandoughs in Zephyrhills, Franchesco’s in Dade City and Poncho’s Villa in San Antonio. The motivation wasn’t an overwhelming hankering for Italian or Mexican fare. Smith, 44, talked to patrons as a way to kick her campaign into high gear.

Maggard, after thumping McCallister by winning 62 percent of the GOP vote, said he would take care of the things he’d been putting off — he is vice president of Sonny’s Discount Appliances in Dade City. He also planned to meet with his strategists to determine if he had shown any weak spots among the 43 precincts in the district.

Apparently, there was just one. Maggard, 55, of Dade City might have to plan a visit to Shady Acres Mobile Home Park, near Zephyrhills. Precinct 86, which casts its ballots in the park’s civic club, is the only one in which McCallister emerged victorious.

By one vote, 76-75.

Maggard’s typical schedule during the 10-week primary campaign saw him attending two to three breakfast gatherings each week and as many evening civic functions as the calendar could hold. He was at the barbecue and blues festival in Zephyrhills, the Pasco County Fair in Dade City and the Pasco Economic Development Council’s Netfest in Wesley Chapel. Otherwise, he walked neighborhood precincts six days a week.

“We’re not slowing down,’’ he said about the campaign’s next phase.

The primary’s precinct walks, he said, didn’t just focus on Republicans. He said he knocked on all doors, figuring he would have to appeal to Democrats and non-affiliated voters, too, if he made it to the general election.

One of the public’s top concern, he said, is transportation. Maggard, a member of the Southwest Florida Water Management District’s governing board, also wants to focus on water-related issues.

Smith, operations manager for an engineering firm and a prior small-city zoning administrator, agreed that transportation infrastructure is a key issue. She advocated for more rigorous state oversight of local and regional development planning that faded under Gov. Rick Scott, when he restructured the Department of Community Affairs into the Department of Economic Opportunity.

Smith she said she also is focusing on “issues that are kitchen table issues: education and the economy.

“We need to be properly funding public schools. The (Florida) Constitution requires the Florida Legislature to balance the budget and provide a safe, equitable high-quality public education, and they’re not doing that right now.’’

Smith, who ran unsuccessfully for the Pasco County Commission in 2018, is repeating one of her earlier platform planks. She wants a $15 per hour minimum wage to help families struggling to cover the costs of basic needs.

Both candidates worry about voter turnout. Just 7,304 of the district’s 44,379 registered Republicans, 16 percent, voted in the primary. And that turnout was boosted by a municipal election in the city of Zephyrhills. A general election in mid-June doesn’t portend for much of an improvement.

“So many people still don’t know that there’s an election,’’ said Smith. "A lot of our conversation is letting people know there is an election and letting them know they have choices on the ballot.’’

Maggard holds a distinct fundraising advantage. He still has $47,000 left from his more than $170,000 primary campaign account. That reflects the $50,000 he loaned the campaign in its early weeks. Smith had raised just more than $13,000 through April 4, and had less than $5,100 remaining.

The state House District 38 seat is based in east Pasco and includes Wesley Chapel, Zephyrhills and Dade City.

Contact C.T. Bowen at ctbowen@tampabay.com or (813) 435-7306. Follow @CTBowen2.

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