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Ross Spano clings tightly to Trump

Spano has become a vociferous Trump defender and is comparing the investigation of his own 2018 campaign financing to the impeachment, which he calls a partisan sham.

Facing a potentially difficult 2020 re-election clouded by a criminal investigation, U.S. Rep. Ross Spano, R-Dover, is tying himself tightly to President Donald Trump.

Spano has become a vociferous Trump defender and is comparing the investigation of his own 2018 campaign financing to the impeachment, which he calls a partisan sham.

After last week’s revelation that the Justice Department is conducting a criminal investigation of Spano’s campaign loans, he responded that he has “doubts about the timing and motive behind this inquiry, as the impeachment proceedings this week have shown me how far the left will go to destroy their opponents.”

He didn’t explain how “the left wing” could orchestrate an investigation by Trump’s Justice Department or why the timing is suspect — it began just after his 2018 election. At least one individual who complained to the FBI in the matter was Republican Neal Combee, who lost to Spano in the primary.

The Justice Department, the Federal Election Commission and the House Ethics Committee are investigating loans Spano obtained from friends, which he then apparently put into his campaign, saying the cash came from his personal funds.

Spano has heavily used social media and emails to supporters to criticize the impeachment, repeating GOP talking points that the investigation is secretive, based on hearsay, and violates “due process.”

He has tweeted repeatedly with the hashtag, #StopTheSchiffShow, bashing Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff.

Last month Spano joined a group of Republicans led by Rep. Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach who invaded a closed committee hearing on impeachment.

In an email to supporters after the first televised hearings, he wrote, “All we’ve heard is hearsay that fails to produce real evidence or that refutes the idea that this is merely a political game motivated by the 2020 elections.”

Retired University of South Florida political scientist Susan MacManus said Spano’s vociferous stance “seems a little unusual, but maybe it’s trying to solidify the base.”

Spano’s district, covering east Hillsborough, Lakeland and Clermont, leans significantly Republican but isn’t “deep red,” said political statistician Matt Isbell.

Democratic political consultant Barry Edwards noted that Trump outperformed Spano there, winning by 10 points in 2016 while Spano won by 6 points in 2018. That could give Spano reason to tie himself to Trump.

“The best way to transfer attention away from your own problems is to talk about Trump,” Edwards said. “He wants to make the race about Donald Trump, not about Ross Spano.”

Dem majority shows fractures

When the new, four-member Democratic majority took office on the Hillsborough Board of Commissioners last year, they quickly flexed their muscles, voting to push Republican Commissioner Sandra Murman off her coveted seat on the Port Tampa Bay governing board and replace her with Democrat Pat Kemp.

Democratic Commissioner Les Miller has frequently allied with the three Republicans since a four-member Democratic majority took office on the Hillsborough Board of Commissioners last year. [JAMES BORCHUCK | Times]

But that majority has since fractured, partly over development and sprawl issues, and Democratic Commissioner Les Miller has frequently allied with the three Republicans.

An organizational meeting last week showed that divisiveness.

Commissioner Mariella Smith, Kemp’s closest ally, nominated Kemp to replace Miller as chairman. But Murman nominated Miller for re-election, and he won on a 5-2 vote, with Democrat Kimberly Overman joining the Republicans and Miller.

Kemp then lost to Overman for vice-chairman on the same 5-2 vote.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Kim Overman was elected vice-chairman, defeating Pat Kemp on a 5-2 vote. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times ]

Kemp next asked Miller to appoint her to replace Republican Commissioner Ken Hagan on the Economic Development Corporation, and Miller refused.

Smith, meanwhile, was turned down for seats on the Tampa Aviation Authority and the Florida Aquarium board.

Then, without seeking a vote, Kemp agreed to give the port board seat back to Murman.

Inexperience shows

With a compelling personal story and strong small-dollar fundraising, political neophyte Mark Oliver making an impression in the District 59 state House Democratic primary, where Andrew Learned is the apparent frontrunner.

Oliver, son of a teenage mother and the first college graduate in his family, played football as a walk-on at the University of South Florida and now operates a non-profit foundation providing fitness training for the developmentally disabled.

But his inexperience is a handicap.

Oliver, 27, recently acknowledged that he has never voted and never registered until shortly before he filed to run.

“I was an athlete my entire life and I wasn’t an informed voter,” he said. “It took working in the community to see how overlooked people are.”

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