Last year, Democrat Adam Hattersley won the state House seat vacated by Ross Spano when the Republican made the jump to Congress. Now Hattersley wants to take down Spano.
Hattersley on Monday will officially announce he’s running for Congress after months of speculation that he would challenge Spano for the District 15 seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
National Democratic organizations see a rising star in Hattersley — he’s an engineer, small business owner and Navy veteran who earned a Bronze Star during the Iraq War — even though he said he only officially declared as a Democrat a week before he announced his campaign for the Florida House. He won the red-hued district with 51.5 percent of the vote over Republican Joe Wicker.
Hattersley said he was compelled to run for the U.S. House in part because of scandals and potential investigations that have hovered over Spano since before he took office.
“Something they teach you in the Navy is not just service but service with integrity and honor," Hattersley told the Tampa Bay Times in an interview Sunday afternoon. “Ross Spano has been in it for himself. As a resident of his district, I’m embarrassed. This district deserves someone who is ready to serve with honor and integrity.”
Spano entered Congress under a cloud of controversy. He didn’t file the financial disclosure forms required of all candidates running for Congress on time, and when he did it showed he had received $94,500 in loans from two friends. It later came out that Spano then lent that money to his campaign, which Spano’s lawyer acknowledged “may have been in violation of the Federal Campaign Finance Act."
Spano’s problems with campaign finance regulators have continued. His latest report doesn’t include forms experts say are legally required concerning a bank loan he says he used to repay what may have been illicit loan funds that fueled his 2018 race, the Times reported last week.
Spano has said little about the controversy, but it has hurt his financial position heading into his reelection fight. His debts exceed his cash on hand by about $17,000, which lead to a lampooning from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
“Regardless of whomever his opponents are, Congressman Spano will continue his laser focus on serving the people in District 15,” said Spano campaign spokeswoman Sandi Poreda. “The Congressman has kept his finger on the pulse of the District and is proud to report that the economy is showing continued signs of growth, unemployment is at historic lows, and optimism is spreading across District 15.”
The DCCC targeted Spano’s seat months ago as one it aimed to flip in 2020. Still, it’s a Republican district that Spano won in 2018 by a 6-percent margin despite a wave election for Democrats.
It’s the second time this month Democrats have unveiled a strong challenger for a Republican-held Tampa Bay Congressional seat. State Rep. Margaret Good announced last week she will run against seven-term incumbent Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota.
In both cases, the gain comes at a loss for the super minority state House Democrats, who now lose two proven winners in districts recently represented by Republicans. Hattersley said he is confident the party has made enough inroads in his district to keep the seat blue.
Hattersley is mirroring Good on two key Democratic positions du jour: health care and climate change. Like Good, Hattersley supports a government alternative to health insurance often called the “public option,” but not Medicare for all, the nationalized healthcare plan championed by Sen. Bernie Sanders. He said the country needs to get aggressive to address climate change, but called the Green New Deal plan to fight climate change “one proposal and there are several out there that we need to look at.”
As is almost always the case with an incumbent president on the ballot, Donald Trump promises to loom large over the race. Hattersley said he has thought hard as to whether he would vote to impeach Trump, and ultimately said he trust the process House Democrats are undergoing.
However, he has decided who he thinks is best to Democrat to challenge Trump: South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
“He has personified this new generation of leadership,” Hattersley said. “He’s brilliant, and he has a lot more executive leadership than other people. And it’s hard not to back another Navy guy.”
Hattersley took on veteran issues in the Florida Legislature. For example, he sponsored a bill to give college credit to certain military members for their training, and he said it’s a cause he would take up in Congress.
“This congressional district has a high concentration of veterans, more so than Florida overall,” he said. “That has always been close to my heart.”
Florida House District 15 includes a large swath of east Hillsborough County and parts of Polk and Lake counties.