State Sen. Jack Latvala, who appeared poised to win re-election without opposition, got a last-minute surprise Friday morning: a challenge from a Democratic candidate, Sue Humphreys.
With that development, the legislative picture in Pinellas County became especially crowded. Democrats and Republicans will battle for seven of the 11 open seats, in contrast to past years, when incumbent legislators had won re-election without opposition.
Latvala, who represents District 19, said he knows Humphreys from her work with the League of Women Voters, during which she has discussed legislative matters with him. Humphreys is from Dunedin.
Although the Pinellas Democrats had trouble recruiting candidates for countywide races, they did better in the legislative arena. Only two GOP incumbents will be re-elected without opposition in this traditionally Republican county.
One candidate, Joseph A. Smith, may have made history. Pinellas Republican Chairman Paul Bedinghaus said he believes Smith is the first African-American candidate the Republican Party has nominated to an elective office in Pinellas County.
"He is an excellent candidate," Bedinghaus said. "The fact that he is an African-American is an additional benefit, the way I see it, but I also see his candidacy as the culmination of the efforts that we have been making in the local party to be diversified."
Smith said he has been a Republican for 16 years and has always felt welcome in the party. He is challenging Rep. Lars Hafner, D-St. Petersburg, a legislator since 1988. They are candidates in District 53, which is centered in St. Petersburg.
Hafner, meanwhile, avoided a primary. Troy Krotz, a fellow Democrat, had announced plans to run, but did not file by Friday's deadline.
Only one race in Pinellas County has contested primaries on both the Democratic and Republican sides. It is House District 52, where the incumbent is House Speaker Peter Wallace, D-St. Petersburg, who is not seeking re-election.
On the Democratic side, Margo Fischer will face former St. Petersburg City Council member Martha Maddux, and on the Republican side, Cary Burns will battle Frank Farkas. All four have actively campaigned for months.
In a rematch of a close 1994 race, Rep. Rob Wallace, R-Tampa, will face a challenge from fellow Republican Will Craig. A Democrat, Mary Dunkle, also has filed to run in the district, which contains a sliver of northern Pinellas county but mostly is centered in Hillsborough County.
In other races, Republican Paul Crumrine, who ran as a Libertarian in a house race in 1994, is challenging Rep. Mary Brennan, D-Pinellas Park, in District 51.
First-time candidate Kevin Mulford, a Democrat, is challenging Rep. R.Z. "Sandy" Safley, R-Clearwater, in District 48. And another new Democratic candidate, John McGuire of Clearwater, will run against Rep. John Morroni, R-Clearwater, in District 50.
_ To pass on news tips about Pinellas county politics, call 445-4174 or send e-mail to Curtis Krueger at kruegersptimes.com
Senators serve four-year terms.
Representatives servce two-year terms.