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Hillsborough political committee formed to foster ‘business-friendly environment’

The move appears to be in part a reaction to what some view as anti-growth leanings by the new Democratic majority on the Hillsborough County Commission.

A group of Hillsborough county business people has formed a political committee aimed at recruiting and supporting candidates for local offices who will foster a “business-friendly environment” in the county, in the words of its chairman, homebuilder Willy Nunn.

The move appears to be in part a reaction to what some business people view as anti-growth leanings by the new Democratic majority on the board of county commissioners.

The Tampa Bay Business Coalition formed in November, starting with a contribution of $10,000 from Nunn’s Riverview-based company, Homes by WestBay.

Most of those involved in the group’s startup are Republicans, but Nunn said it is a strictly non-partisan organization and will support sympathetic candidates of either party.

It’s too early to say whom the group will support or whom it’s trying to recruit for what races, he said.

Nunn said those involved “are concerned that the parties are not recruiting and generating candidates who understand the context of how the local economy works. We will support candidates that are either Democrat or Republican and probably some of both.”

The Tampa Bay Business Coalition was formed in November, starting with a contribution of $10,000 from homebuilider Willy Nunn’s Riverview-based company, Homes by WestBay. [ Courtesy of Willie Nunn ]

Nunn said many of those involved in discussions that led to the group’s formation were from the development industry because that’s the industry he’s closely connected to, but that its goal is “diverse representation in the business community.”

Among those involved are former Tampa Chamber of Commerce President Mike Griffin and civil engineering firm owner Hung Mai, a prominent GOP donor.

Republican lobbyist Ron Pierce helped set up the committee, whose treasurer is prominent Republican political money manager Nancy Watkins.

Nunn said its goal is “good government that has the best long-term interests of the local economy in mind and a business-friendly environment.”

He wouldn’t talk about what races the committee will be involved in, but many in the local real estate development industry are worried about restrictions on growth.

Commissioners Pat Kemp and Mariella Smith have both argued for increased impact fees and growth limits to help the county deal with infrastructure and transportation needs and combat worsening traffic congestion, particularly in south Hillsborough development hot zone.

District 5 Hillsborough County Commissioner Mariella Smith has argued for increased impact fees and growth limits to help the county deal with infrastructure and transportation needs. [ JAMES BORCHUCK | Tampa Bay Times ]

Kemp so far is unopposed for re-election to her countywide seat in 2020, but Commissioner Sandra Murman, term-limited in her district seat, is considering running against her. Murman would then have a new term limit.

Some local Republicans have grumbled recently about what they see as failure of the county Republican Party to recruit candidates for local offices -- there are currently no declared GOP candidates for several county constitutional offices and commissioner’s seats including Kemp’s. But Nunn said that wasn’t the impetus behind the group.

“It’s no great feat of political analysis to say that both parties seem to be controlled by the fringes,” he said.

He said he was disappointed when the county rejected a state plan for improvement of Interstate 275 through downtown that would have included tolled express lanes.

Adjacent neighborhoods and transit advocates vehemently objected, but Nunn said the result was the county lost millions of state dollars that will now be spent elsewhere.

Fundraising notes

A look at how some Hillsborough campaigns did according to their campaign finance reports for November:

  • In the Democratic clerk of court primary, Doug Bakke started his campaign off with $25,000 of his own money, giving him a total of $34,637 for his first month. Kevin Beckner said his report would show about $15,500 for the month, for a total of close to $50,000 after two months.
Doug Bakke started his campaign off with $25,000 of his own money, giving him a total of $34,637 for his first month. [ Courtesy of Doug Bakke ]
  • In the District 1 county commissioner’s race, Harry Cohen kept up a fast fundraising pace, adding $39,855 for a total of $80,573. His Democratic primary opponent, Jen McDonald, added $2,865 for a total of $22,860.
Jen McDonald has raised nearly $22,860 in the District 1 Hillsborough County Commission race. Her Democratic primary opponent, Harry Cohen, has raised $80,573. [ Courtesy of Jen McDonald/Courtesy of City of Tampa ]
  • In the tax collector’s race, Nancy Millan said her report would show about $11,000 for the month, for a two-month total of about $63,000. Millan also announced an endorsement from county Commissioner Les Miller in her primary race against April Griffin.
Nancy Millan, director of community relations in Doug Belden’s office, has raised about $63,000 in her campaign to succeed him as tax collector. [ Courtesy of Nancy Millan ]
  • In the state House District 59 Republican primary, Michael Owen edged past the $100,000 mark. He raised $14,859 in November for a total to date of $102,970. Owen has contributed $28,250 to his own campaign. Meanwhile, one of his primary opponents, Melissa Haskins, dropped out of the race. Owen still faces a primary challenge from the recently filed Danny Kushmer.

Contact William March at wemarch@gmail.com.

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