In the bay-crossing state House District 62, Wengay Newton is getting some substantial Republican help in the Democratic primary.
The heavily Black district in covering parts of southern St. Petersburg and eastern Tampa would be certain to elect a Democrat even if the only Republican running, Jeremy Brown, weren’t in jail on charges from the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
A former House member, Newton built a reputation as Republican-friendly, while his leading opponent, incumbent Rep. Michele Rayner, calls herself “Ron DeSantis’ worst nightmare.”
He sided with Republicans on issues including education funding, vouchers and charter schools, and has been a political ally of Republican former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker.
He left the House seat in 2020 and ran unsuccessfully for county commissioner and then in 2021 for mayor of St. Petersburg.
In this race, he’s endorsed by the Florida Chamber of Commerce, which reliably backs Republicans, and received contributions from charter school and voucher interests and political committees associated with former state Sen. Jack Latvala and his son, Rep. Chris Latvala, both Republicans.
Jack Latvala’s Florida Leadership Committee has sent out mailers backing Newton, and a GOP-linked committee called 21st Century Florida has sent out mailers attacking Rayner because she was once briefly registered as a Republican.
That, she said, was because when she lived in Duval County in 2010-11, she and other Democrats switched parties to try to elect a moderate Republican as state attorney.
Asked about his GOP support, Newton responded, “What support are you talking about? All I know is I got a mailer that Michele Rayner was a registered Republican.”
Jack Latvala said he backs Newton because, “I’ve served with Wengay. He had a remarkable ability to work with legislators of both parties and take home the bacon to his district.”
Florida Chamber officials didn’t respond to email and phone messages for comment.