TAMPA — Events in 2020 and 2021 led a pair of first-time candidates to the 2022 ballot in search of the Republican nomination for a Hillsborough County Commission seat.
Joshua Wostal, 38, and Chase Harrison, 62, face off in the Aug. 23 GOP primary, with the winner challenging Democratic incumbent Commissioner Kimberly Overman in November for her countywide District 7 seat.
Wostal, who lives in the Westchase area, pointed to the county’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic as his political motivation. He criticized the county’s mask-wearing requirements, regulations on bar and restaurant patrons and the weekly extension of the emergency orders administratively rather than by elected commissioners.
“Lockdowns are a violation of liberty,” he said five times in an Aug. 4, 2021, appearance before commissioners after the county had instituted a new mandate for facial coverings inside all county facilities to combat the delta variant of the coronavirus.
Harrison, who lives in downtown Tampa, was at the same meeting. He, too, put the focus on extending the emergency order administratively and said it should be reviewed since it had been written 17 months earlier, prior to the availability of COVID-19 vaccine.
Harrison said his get-off-the-couch moment actually came in February 2021 when the Florida Supreme Court voided the voter-approved 1% sales tax for transportation and he realized more than a half-billion dollars had been collected in a little over two years the tax had been in place.
“How much can they collect? They said it was only a penny, I figured like $900,000 or a million bucks. When I heard it was $512 million, it was kind of like, ‘Time to do something,’ " Harrison said.
Both candidates oppose the transportation sales tax referendum on the November ballot and both said they believe the county should better its road network with existing revenue.
There are other similarities. Both are military veterans who settled in the Tampa Bay area after late-career assignments at MacDill Air Force Base. Wostal served 10 years in the U.S. Navy and now owns a UPS store and is a shareholder in another business. Harrison served 20 years in the U.S. Air Force and later retired from the Tampa Police Department. He is a semi-retired pilot.
Both are critical of the county’s land-use decisions, tax policies and government spending.
Both also might be construed as late-comers to local Republican politics. Wostal said he didn’t become politically active until Hillary Clinton ran for president in 2016 and he disputed her account of the 2012 Benghazi attack on two U.S. government facilities in Libya. Public records show Wostal didn’t vote in Florida until November 2018.
Harrison, meanwhile, made three campaign contributions totaling $300 to Democrat Gary Pruitt in 2020 during his unsuccessful campaign against Republican Sheriff Chad Chronister. Harrison said he served with Pruitt on the Tampa Police force and the contributions shouldn’t matter in the current commission race. Later, Harrison said he offered support to Pruitt because he was concerned Chronister could consider Hillsborough County as a sanctuary city for immigrants.
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A significant difference between Wostal and Harrison can be found in their campaign bank accounts. Through late June, Wostal had raised more than $60,000 including more than $40,000 of his own money. Harrison had raised less than $12,000.
“I’m the poor candidate,” Harrison said.
It’s a distinction that has worked against him. The Tampa Police Benevolent Association endorsed Wostal over Harrison, a retired police officer, saying Wostal “demonstrates a strong commitment to the men and women of law enforcement. We know he has our back.” Harrison said the union told him Wostal’s fundraising advantage made him a more viable candidate.
Harrison, however, later received the endorsement of the Fraternal Order of Police Tampa, Lodge 27.
The District 7 seat carries a four-year term. The annual salary is $105,239.
Early voting continues until Aug. 21. Election Day voting is 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Aug. 23. Mail ballots must be received by the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Office by 7 p.m. Aug. 23.