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Prominent local Republicans call for resignation of Hillsborough GOP chairman

Jim Waurishuk’s inflammatory comments on Facebook have drawn national attention.

A few prominent local Republicans said this week they believe Jim Waurishuk, chairman of the Hillsborough County Republican Party, should resign his position following inflammatory Facebook posts about the protests against George Floyd’s killing.

But most local Republican officeholders and candidates contacted by the Times, plus state Sen. Joe Gruters of Sarasota, who’s also chairman of the state GOP, didn’t respond to inquiries about Waurishuk.

Meanwhile, Waurishuk’s Facebook page became unavailable this week. He said via email that Facebook “took it down because of violent threats directed against me.”

He didn’t respond to a question about the calls for his resignation.

In the posts, Waurishuk falsely construed an article by former President Barack Obama to claim the demonstrations were “coordinnated mayhem” orchestrated by Democrats and were “all about energizing their base to get out the vote.”

“This leaves no doubt remaining that the Progressive Political-left Communists are willing to destroy and kill to achieve their goals?” he wrote.

He said Trump supporters can expect to be “dragged from your burning home and be beat to death.”

“Obama and the Democrat Party leadership’s are all over the riots, destruction and brutal beatings of innocent people and deaths,” he wrote. “This is SOCIALISM. … in a short period of time they will come to your house, drag you out and beat, disembowel and cut off your head … in front of your family and then do the same to them.”

In fact, in his article, Obama condemned violence by protesters and said anger over Floyd’s death should be channeled into voting and participation in local government, where most law enforcement policy is made.

Waurishuk has a long history of inflammatory political posts, including suggesting that prominent Democrats and FBI and Department of Justice officials involved in investigations of Trump should be hanged for treason, and equating Democrats with Nazis and Islamic radicals.

Hung Mai, head of an engineering firm and local GOP political donor, who has clashed with Waurishuk before, this week renewed his call for Waurishuk to resign, citing “poor judgment, racism, and incompetent leadership,” and the party’s poor performance in the 2018 Hillsborough elections.

Hung Mai, head of an engineering firm and local GOP political donor. [ Times (2009) ]

This week, Tampa Republican state Reps. Jamie Grant and Lawrence McClure also said Waurishuk should go; Rep. Jackie Toledo also has been quoted by the Florida Politics blog as saying so but didn’t respond to Times inquiries.

Besides Gruters, local Republicans who didn’t respond or refused to comment included U.S. Rep. Ross Spano, state Sen. Tom Lee, state Rep. Mike Beltran, county Commissioners Ken Hagan, Sandy Murman and Stacy White, Sheriff Chad Chronister and state legislative candidates Jim Boyd, Danny Burgess, Danny Kushmer and Mike Owen.

Partly because of Tampa’s prominence on the national political scene, Waurishuk’s comments have drawn national attention, including a Tweet by conservative, anti-Trump political commentator William Kristol.

Sink won’t run for state Senate

In a disappointment to local Democrats, Alex Sink said this week she won’t run for the state Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Tom Lee.

Alex Sink said this week she won’t run for the state Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Tom Lee.

Democrat Kathy Lynn Lewis, who ran against Lee in 2018, losing 53-46 percent, has filed in the race, along with Republican Danny Burgess, who has the backing of GOP legislative leaders. Lewis won in the Hillsborough County portions of the district but lost in the Pasco and Polk portions.

Another possible Democratic candidate, former Plant City Mayor John Dicks, has been mentioned by local Dems but couldn’t be reached for comment on deadline. Qualifying for the office is next week.

Sink said her decision was for personal reasons – “My head is wrapped around many other things right now -- I love working on my non-profit activities, my tech startup activities, my political activities helping multiple other candidates.”

Chronister raises nearly $200k in May

At a time when the pandemic has slowed or halted campaign fundraising by most political candidates, Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister added $97,750 to his campaign account in May, plus $100,000 to in a single contribution from his father-in-law, Eddie DeBartolo Jr., to his independent political committee.

Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister. [ Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office ]

Chronister had already raised far more than any other local candidate for office. His May 31 totals: $979,385 in the committee and $202,365 in his campaign.

The campaign contributions included 75 contributions of the legal maximum $1,000, several of them also from DeBartolo family members or companies.

Myers gets big-name backers

In the highly competitive Hillsborough District 3 county commissioner’s race, Gwen Myers has announced endorsements from several prominent Democratic women — local Democratic power Betty Castor, former state Rep. Mary Figg, county Commissioner Pat Kemp, and former Florida Supreme Court Justice Peggy Quince, who was the black female chief justice of the court.

(From left) Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, Gwen Myers and former Mayor Pam Iorio pose for a photo after the 2019 dedication of the Alfred Barnes Jr. mural at Alfred Barnes Park in Tampa. [ OCTAVIO JONES | Times ]

Ruth’s List, a state organization that backs Democratic women candidates, also recently backed Myers.

Kemp cited Myers’ work on the All for Transportation campaign, and other endorsers cited her experience in local government.

Myers faces Rick Fernandez, Frank Reddick, Tom Scott and Sky White in a Democratic primary that is likely to decide the race.

Rubio backs Spano

U.S. Rep. Ross Spano, seeking to fend off a primary challenge from Lakeland city Commissioner Scott Franklin, this week announced an endorsement from Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

Contact William March at