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The top Tampa Bay political stories to watch in 2022

From the future of the Rays and redeveloping the Trop site, to redistricting battles, there should be plenty of debate.
The future of the Tampa Bay Rays and the Tropicana Field site should continue to be the subject of political debate in the new year.
The future of the Tampa Bay Rays and the Tropicana Field site should continue to be the subject of political debate in the new year. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Dec. 30, 2021

There’s an election year coming and signs are it won’t be pretty; plus changes are likely for the Rays and the Trop. Here are some of the local political stories to watch in 2022.

Whither the Rays, and for how much?

There are indications a proposal is coming to spend some form of public money for a new Tampa Bay Rays stadium in Tampa.

Most likely, it would come from a tourist tax or from the property tax increases from new development around the ballpark, or both.

Both the Hillsborough County Commission and Tampa City Council would have to approve. The result could be a stadium on the western edge of Ybor City where the Rays would play the first half of the season, then finish up in Montreal.

Mayor Jane Castor has promised no general fund money will be involved — that is, no property tax money from existing development or development outside the new stadium district.

Still, any use of public money on professional sports stadiums has become controversial, and opposition is likely to surface.

Bay area congressional shakeup possible

Maps proposed by the state Legislature for new congressional districts in the Tampa Bay area could produce high-profile, hard-fought races for congressional districts in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.

The state Senate’s proposed congressional map would create three districts spanning the two counties, redrawing the 13th and 14th District seats now held by Democratic Reps. Charlie Crist’s 13th District and Kathy Castor’s 14th and part of 15th District held by Republican Scott Franklin’s.

All three would be narrowly Democratic-leaning but potential swing districts that could affect the national battle for control of Congress. A billboard recently put up by the Hillsborough County Republican Party calling Castor a communist indicates what kind of campaigning can be expected.

The state House’s proposals, meanwhile, would keep Castor and Crist in Democratic-leaning seats and give Franklin a strong GOP seat. But one House proposal would extend Crist’s district across the bay into Hillsborough. All the proposals would split the city of Tampa into separate districts.

The Legislature will pick a plan early in the year; expect litigation to follow.

Taxes on the ballot

Hillsborough voters could see one or more proposed tax increases on their November 2022 ballot, and a determined campaign to defeat at least one.

Hillsborough County commissioners have indicated they will put a referendum on the November 2022 ballot for an extra penny of sales tax for transportation.

That would replace the tax passed by voters in 2018 but ruled illegal in February by the state Supreme Court, after more than $500 million was already collected. Commissioners and lawyers are still wrangling over how to refund the money.

One commissioner, Republican Stacy White, has vowed to campaign against any new tax with a spending plan like the old one, saying it favored transit too heavily over roads.

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Meanwhile, there have also been discussions about a local-option property tax to deal with the school system’s operating deficits, one of several ideas mentioned in the past by school superintendent Addison Davis. School officials, however, have been circumspect about discussing the idea publicly.

Contentious school board races

School board races throughout the Tampa Bay area promise to be more contentious than usual next year following bitter controversies that played out on school boards in 2021 over COVID-19 safety measures and teaching of the history of race relations.

Several school board candidates around the area have already filed — an unusually early start to the normally quiet races — citing those controversies as part of the reason.

Meanwhile, the Democratic majority on the Hillsborough School Board adopted a redistricting map that could make one of the board’s two Republican members, Stacy Hahn, vulnerable to a Democratic challenger.

Will Welch follow Kriseman’s lead on the Trop?

With little more than a month left in office, Mayor Rick Kriseman announced he had chosen Miami’s Midtown Development, one of two finalists, for a makeover of Tropicana Field and surrounding acreage.

But incoming Mayor Ken Welch, who takes office Jan. 6 along with three new City Council members, has made it clear he has his own priorities for the redevelopment.

Midtown’s plan, called Creekside, would cost $2.7 billion to $3.8 billion, and include 36 acres of open space, parks and walkways along Booker Creek, plus other public amenities, workforce housing, market-rate housing, office and retail space and a conference center hotel.

Welch said during his campaign that Kriseman’s groundwork won’t go to waste, but also said the decision “is going to fall to the next mayor.” In a statement after Kriseman’s announcement, he said he intends to evaluate both finalists’ plans “as well as new ideas.”

Welch has also said that keeping the Tampa Bay Rays in St. Petersburg is secondary to revitalization of the former Gas Plant neighborhood around the Trop.

But will he be able to heal relations with the City Council, which deteriorated on the subject of the Trop under Kriseman?

Possible challenge for Hagan

A redistricting map adopted by the Democratic majority on the Hillsborough Commission raises the potential for a challenge to long-term incumbent Ken Hagan, one of the seven-member board’s two Republicans.

The map makes his district somewhat more Democratic; Democrat Angela Birdsong came within five points of beating Hagan in 2018 and says she might be interested in trying again.

But she shouldn’t expect it to be easy. Hagan, known for tireless, in-person campaigning, had already raised $188,055 by November, and local real estate development interests have shown willingness to spend millions backing Republicans in county races.

Pasco, Hernando may see hot primaries

Republican primaries in a county commission race and a state Senate contest are likely to be the marquee local races in Pasco and Hernando counties in 2022.

In the Pasco County Commission’s District 4, incumbent Christina Fitzpatrick is being challenged by Police Benevolent Association lobbyist Gary Bradford and community activist Shannon Wittwer.

A controversial apartment complex adjacent to Tanglewood could figure in the campaign. Fitzpatrick has cast preliminary votes in favor; Bradford and Wittwer have said they would be opposed.

Meanwhile, the proposed redistricting maps for the state Senate are expected to set up a battle between two sitting GOP House members who want to move to the Senate — Blaise Ingoglia of Spring Hill and Ralph Massullo of Lecanto.

The map, proposed by the Senate for its own districts, replaces the district held by outgoing Senate President Wilton Simpson with one covering Hernando and Citrus counties and northwest Pasco.

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