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Lakeland Commissioner files to challenge Rep. Ross Spano in GOP primary

Scott Franklin was elected to the Lakeland City Commission in 2017. Two Democrats, Adam Hattersley and Alan Cohn, are also competing in a primary to challenge Spano.
Lakeland City Commissioner Scott Franklin (left) has filed to challenge U.S. Rep. Ross Spano, R-Dover, in a Republican primary.
Lakeland City Commissioner Scott Franklin (left) has filed to challenge U.S. Rep. Ross Spano, R-Dover, in a Republican primary. [ City of Lakeland/Courtesy of Ross Spano ]
Published Mar. 17, 2020

Lakeland City Commissioner Scott Franklin has filed to challenge U.S. Rep. Ross Spano, R-Dover, in a Republican primary.

The filing by Franklin represents another difficulty for Spano as he tries to hold onto the East Hillsborough-Lakeland congressional seat he won in 2018, despite investigations by federal authorities of financial irregularities in Spano’s campaign.

Franklin, elected to the Lakeland City Commission in 2017, is head of Lanier Upshaw Inc., a Lakeland-based insurance agency.

He’s a retired Naval aviator, a graduate of Lakeland High School and the U.S. Naval Academy, with a master’s degree from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. He’s married with three children.

Two Democrats, Adam Hattersley and Alan Cohn, are competing in a primary to challenge Spano.

The district leans significantly Republican, but Democrats have thought they had a chance to unseat Spano because of the campaign finance investigations. They arose from his borrowing $180,000 from friends and lending the proceeds to his campaign, claiming in campaign finance reports the money was his personal funds.

Spano’s fundraising in this campaign, meanwhile, has not been strong. He finished 2019 with $124,684.11 cash on hand, compared to $85,312 for Cohn and $171,314 for Hattersley. Having to fight a primary battle will be another hurdle.

Spano criticized Franklin for joining the race.

“I find it unsettling that Scott Franklin would choose to launch a campaign on the same day the City of Lakeland declares an emergency,” he said in a statement. I remain focused on serving my community: working with President Trump, talking to pastors, healthcare providers, constituents and small business owners from across the district - and politics is the last thing on everyone’s minds. Focusing on anything else right now does not reflect the values of Florida’s 15th district."

Franklin didn’t respond directly to Spano’s criticism, but a spokeswoman said he chose not to make an announcement or campaign kickoff because of the coronavirus pandemic.

In a prepared statement, Franklin said, “During my 26 years in the Navy, I fought for our rights, for our freedoms and for our families. Now I want to fight for us in Washington. I will work with President Donald Trump to Keep America Great. These are uncertain times, and we must have strong, trusted leadership representing our families, our businesses and our communities in Washington.”

Hillsborough GOP on the coronavirus: “It’s a hoax”

Daily life is grinding to a halt as businesses, schools, churches, governments and sports leagues cancel events or close their doors in the U.S. and throughout Asia and Europe.

Why?

“It’s a hoax!” according to the Hillsborough County Republican Party and its chairman, Jim Waurishuk.

Jim Waurishuk, chairman of the Hillsborough County Republican Party. [Times (2016)]
Jim Waurishuk, chairman of the Hillsborough County Republican Party. [Times (2016)]

“It’s a massive anti-Trump messaging campaign,” Waurishuk said in a Facebook post March 12, over an illustration of the virus with the headline “CORONAVIRUS HOAX.”

“The DNC, the Clintons, Obama, Soros, Schumer — all are engaged in this effort. All are coordinating the Coronavirus coverage with the mainstream news media. All have coordinated … with major sports and entertainment industry CEOs to cancel their events and seasons. … People need to stop overreacting to the hype.”

But don’t worry. The hoaxers won’t win.

“The Democrats Project Fear Will Fail,” said a March 15 post on the party’s Facebook page, linking to an article from the right-wing American Thinker website. It also blames “the global establishment class” for using virus fear to try to get rid of Trump, explaining why other nations are conspiring with U.S. liberals.

A March 14 Waurishuk post shows a hand on a button with the caption, “Impeachment is failing. Release the virus.”

Even before Trump issued new national guidelines against public gatherings Monday, numerous local political candidates and the local Democratic Party had already cancelled or postponed events of various kinds or suspended campaigning. The local Dems held their monthly meeting Monday via an online conferencing service.

But until Monday, the Hillsborough GOP planned to go ahead with a “MAGA Meetup and Watch Party” Tuesday night to celebrate Trump’s win — against almost no competition — in the Florida Republican presidential primary. It was cancelled late Monday on orders from the state GOP after Trump, who initially also called concern about the virus a Democratic hoax, advised against gatherings of more than 10 people.

More judges for Hillsborough — maybe

After years of metastasizing court dockets and pleas from local officials, the Legislature finally passed a bill this session to fund four more county judgeships in Hillsborough.

“We’ve been in desperate need for quite some time,” said a grateful Chief Judge Ronald Ficarrotta.

The state Supreme Court, which certifies the need for new judgeships, has said every year since 2005 that Hillsborough needed more, but the Legislature hasn’t funded the positions, he said.

In that time, Hillsborough’s population has gone from about 1.1 million to about 1.5 million. That’s created a problem, said Mark Proctor, Republican political consultant who specializes in judicial races.

County courts, which handle smaller cases, “have been called the people’s courts,” he said. “They handle the things the average person would go to court for, and these dockets are just backed up forever.” Some judges face 12,000-15,000 cases, he said.

But state Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, one of those who pushed the bill, said relief still isn’t certain. To deal with coronavirus costs, the Legislature may have to revise the budget it passed this week, and expenditures could be trimmed. The bill authorized six new county judges statewide for about $2 million a year.

Sen. Tom Lee, R Brandon. (AP Photo/Phil Sears)
Sen. Tom Lee, R Brandon. (AP Photo/Phil Sears) [ PHIL SEARS | AP ]

If the judgeships survive, they’ll create four plum appointments for Gov. Ron DeSantis to hand out this summer. Proctor said candidates in competitive judgeship races — at least four circuit judge races and one county judge race — may apply for the appointments as well.

DeSantis, like President Donald Trump, leans on the Federalist Society, a conservative lawyers’ group, in making judicial appointments. All his judicial appointees share its “originalist” judicial philosophy, according to reporting by the Times and the Miami Herald.

But Proctor said DeSantis also leans toward appointing prosecutors to judicial posts.

Cohen, Millan fundraising soars

Another strong fundraising month, $12,805 in February, has boosted Nancy Millan, Democratic newcomer candidate for tax collector, to $107,975 for her five-month-old campaign.

Nancy Millan, Democratic newcomer candidate for tax collector, has raised nearly $108,000 for her five-month-old campaign.
Nancy Millan, Democratic newcomer candidate for tax collector, has raised nearly $108,000 for her five-month-old campaign. [ Courtesy of Nancy Millan ]

That’s more than any other local candidate — except Harry Cohen, Democratic District 1 county commissioner candidate long known as a strong fundraiser, whose $17,000 in February bumped him up to $114,255 since his October filing.

Millan and Cohen both have contested primaries, with April Griffin in the tax collector race and Jen McDonald in District 1.

The figures don’t include Sheriff Chad Chronister, who only recently opened his re-election campaign but has amassed $767,175 in his independent political committee, and Republican county Commissioner Sandy Murman, who has about $133,000 in a clerk of court campaign account, but may not run in that race.

Contact William March at wemarch@gmail.com