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Hillsborough Commissioner Sandy Murman gears up her campaign machinery – but for what?

Indications from some political insiders suggest she may be gearing up for a challenge to countywide Commissioner Pat Kemp.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman has restarted her political campaign machinery – but it isn’t clear what race she’s aiming at.

Indications from some political insiders suggest she may be gearing up for a challenge to countywide Commissioner Pat Kemp, with backing from the real estate development industry that opposes moves by Kemp and other commissioners for increased impact fees and limits on growth.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Kemp. [ Courtesy of Pat Kemp ]

In February, Murman pulled in $47,500 in her independent political committee, For the Future of Tampa Bay Families, which had sat dormant since she founded it in late 2017. Then in late April, she hired a Tallahassee-based campaign fundraiser, Samantha Blair, formerly of Tampa.

Murman didn’t respond to email and phone messages about the reasons.

Murman is term-limited in her seat representing commission District 1, based in Tampa and extending from northwest Hillsborough to South Shore. Winning a countywide seat would restart her term-limit clock.

She is still filed as a candidate for clerk of court, with a campaign fund of more than $130,000, but isn’t expected to run in that race. Instead, Murman is widely thought to be parking money there that she raised during an abortive campaign for a 2018 countywide commission race.

The campaign fund could be transferred to another race, and the independent committee could aid Murman in any local or state race.

The committee’s money came in six large contributions, mostly from development industry individuals or companies. One, Homes by West Bay, is the company of Willy Nunn, who has also founded a PAC heavily funded by the industry to support candidates it considers business-friendly in the coming election.

The Tampa Bay Business Coalition was formed in November, starting with a contribution of $10,000 from homebuilider Willie Nunn’s Riverview-based company, Homes by WestBay. [ Courtesy of Willie Nunn ]

Another came from public relations consultant Beth Leytham, who has been working with the industry on the issue of impact fees.

Both Nunn and Leytham said Murman didn’t specify what race she was aiming at when she sought the contributions, but Leytham said she “would not be surprised” if it was the Kemp race.

There has also been talk among insiders that Murman, a former state House member, could be aiming at a legislative race in 2022, but it isn’t clear which one.

Republicans would love to regain the Tampa state Senate seat won by Janet Cruz in 2018, but Rep. Jamie Grant is thought to be their favored candidate for that race.

Driskell out of D20 race as Burgess announces

State Rep. Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa, said this week she won’t be a candidate for the District 20 state Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosasssa, and local Democrats appear to be coalescing behind the hope that Alex Sink will run.

Rep. Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa. [ OCTAVIO JONES | Times ]

Meanwhile, former state Rep. Danny Burgess, R-Zephyrhills, announced as expected that he’ll seek to replace Lee.

Support for Burgess from Sens. Wilton Simpson of Trilby and Kathleen Passidomo of Naples, the next two Republican designated Senate presidents, appears to have cleared the field. Both county Commissioner Stacy White and former state Rep. Shawn Harrison of Tampa have both said they won’t run.

Rep. Danny Burgess, R-San Antonio.

Sink said this week she remains undecided.

Driskell said she wants to “remain committed to serving the needs of (her House) district in Tallahassee,” and would support Sink — “Alex would be amazing,” she said.

Democrats are awaiting the results of polling in the district. Some insiders said that polling also includes not only Sink’s name but the names of other Democrats now running against each other in primaries for local offices — apparently in hope that a well-known candidate could be convinced to avoid a primary and challenge Burgess if Sink doesn’t run.

Lee undecided on clerk race

In an interview shortly before he filed Friday to run for clerk of court, while he was still considering the decision, state Sen. Tom Lee said that if he did run he would begin his campaign with $100,000 of his own money.

“I don’t want to have to go out there right now” for political fundraising during the coronavirus pandemic, he said. “It’s not a time to be hammering on people for money.

Senator Tom Lee on the floor of the Florida Senate on the 60th day of the 2020 session in Tallahassee. [ SCOTT KEELER | TAMPA BAY TIMES ]

That would immediately put Lee near the top of the fundraising race – Democrat Kevin Beckner led with $104,937 at the end of April.

But it might be only the start of an intimidating campaign war chest.

Lee said he could also use the money remaining in his now-closed PAC, The Conservative, which still holds more than $2 million. That money can’t be spent by his campaign, but under certain conditions can be used for activity to benefit Lee, he said.

In the interview, the Thonotosassa Republican talked at length about how his experience dealing with the state budget, particularly the ongoing funding problems facing clerk of court’s offices, could make him productive in the office, calling it “a great opportunity.”

But he also noted the job could pose family difficulties. His wife, Secretary of State Laurel Lee, lives full-time in Tallahassee with their 7-year-old daughter.

He said running for clerk was not the reason he decided to leave his Senate seat with two years left on his term -- “I’m not looking for a job – my decision to resign from the Senate was independent of this.”

He spoke at length but was vague at times about his reasons for leaving his seat.

But denied that it was because of any clash with incoming Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby – “He and I had a chuckle over that,” he said.

He acknowledged he’s been disappointed that he’s been unable to press for structural reforms in the Legislature, which Lee has complained has become too partisan and too dominated by special interests. But also denied that’s the reason he’s leaving.

“I’ve been wanting to do something else – it’s been apparent to me this wasn’t a great fit for me for a while,” he said. “I want to do something where I feel like I can have a greater challenge and have a greater impact.”

But he also noted that with redistricting coming up after the 2020 Census, leaving now will give his replacement – which he assumes will be a Republican – a leg up when all 40 senators have to run for re-election in 2022.

Rodriguez-Person files

Laurie Rodriguez-Person has filed as expected in the race for the state House seat from District 62 in West Tampa and Town ‘n’ Country, but instead of challenging incumbent Democrat Rep. Susan Valdes in a primary, Person has filed as a no-party candidate.

Laurie Rodriguez-Person. [ Courtesy of Laurie Rodriguez-Person ]

Rodriguez-Person, a public school special education teacher, is the wife of Bill Person, a retired public school educator and former candidate for School Board.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with the news that State Sen. Tom Lee filed to run for Hillsborough Clerk of Court on Friday.

Contact William March at wemarch@gmail.com.

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