An argument over who’s the RINO (Republican in name only) is dominating the GOP primary in the open, Clearwater-based District 58 state House seat.
It’s between Kim Berfield, a former state House member from a family with deep Republican roots; and Jason Holloway, a former Democrat who says that party “left me” and his views on government changed as he matured and got to know Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Berfield is the daughter of a former judge and a long-time Republican legislative aide.
She contends in mail and digital attacks and a Facebook page, Clearwater Conservatives, that Holloway’s past, including serving as a local Democratic Party official, renders him unfit.
Holloway was also a legislative aide to Democratic state Sen. Darryl Rouson. He contends in a web site that Berfield is a RINO because she once endorsed Charlie Crist for governor and worked in his administration, and voted for bills that included tax increases.
Neither side shows much understanding for the other.
Crist was a Republican at the time Berfield endorsed him. Some of Holloway’s tax-increase accusations are thin — one involved a $5, or 7 percent, increase in hunting license fees, for example.
Holloway, meanwhile, says he first registered as a Democrat at 18 in 2010, and switched in 2019.
He said he interned for Rouson as a college course assignment, then took the job full-time after graduation. And, he says, a Rouson political consultant signed him up to be a Democratic precinct representative without his knowledge.
That position involved taking an oath of loyalty to Democratic candidates.
“Part of it was getting older, having a different perspective on how the world works, and starting my own business and wanting lower taxes,” he said of his switch. Meanwhile, “The party started talking about gender ideology and a lot of strange topics.”
After Holloway’s party switch, DeSantis appointed him to a state committee on blockchain technology.
But state Rep. Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater, who is soon to be a Pinellas County commissioner and also works for Berfield’s campaign, said the Berfield family “have been long-time fixtures in Pinellas GOP politics,” while Holloway worked as a consultant for Democrats as recently as Andrew Gillum against DeSantis.
“He can’t all of a sudden now say he’s now a conservative Republican,” Latvala said.
Berfield said Holloway’s switch to the GOP and his recent move into the district show him as a political opportunist.
She is backed by Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, state Sen. Ed Hooper, some conservative advocacy groups and others, but Holloway also has GOP supporters — state party chairman and Sen. Joe Gruters, state Rep. Nick DiCeglie, former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker and others.
Also in the primary is Jim Vricos, who has made little headway at least in fundraising.