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Tom Lee to run for Hillsborough Court Clerk

He filed candidate papers a week after announcing his departure from the Florida Senate.

TAMPA — Republican state Sen. Tom Lee is running for Hillsborough County Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller, according to campaign documents.

Lee filed his preliminary campaign paperwork Friday afternoon at the Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections Office, after announcing last week that he would step down from his Senate seat in November.

Republicans D.C. Goutoufas and County Commissioner Sandra Murman previously filed preliminary candidate papers. Murman, though, has not officially announced her candidacy and is expected to seek another office.

On the Democratic side, former Commissioner Kevin Beckner and Hillsborough School Board member Cindy Stuart also have filed their preliminary campaign paper work.

They are seeking to replace Clerk of Court and Comptroller Pat Frank, who is retiring after 16 years in the office.

Related: Tom Lee to retire from Florida Senate in November

The official candidate qualifying period for the August primary and November general elections begins at noon Monday and ends at noon June 12. Without sufficient petition signatures from qualified voters, candidates must pay a qualifying fee of $10,200.66 or 6 percent of the clerk’s annual salary.

Lee’s handwritten paperwork designated Stephanie Pierce of Brandon as his campaign treasurer. There was no public announcement of his candidacy and his web site, votetomlee.com, had not been updated since 2019.

Lee’s Senate District 20 includes portions of northeast Hillsborough and Polk counties and large parts of central and east Pasco. In 2018, Lee lost the Hillsborough portion of the district by a 52-48 margin, but collected enough support in Polk and Pasco to win re-election.

His resignation marks the end of an 18-year Senate career over two separate tenures. He served as president of the Senate in 2004-06 and lost the statewide race for Florida chief financial officer to Democrat Alex Sink in 2006.

The job description would be a change for Lee who, if elected, would go from state policy maker to local government administrator. The clerk’s office has a $70 million budget, funded by state court fees and by county government, and 684 employees.

Related: Cindy Stuart gives Kevin Beckner a prominent opponent

Stuart said a week ago that Lee had contacted her to say he was considering a run for the clerk’s post and she didn’t shy away from jabbing his potential candidacy. She reiterated that sentiment Friday.

"I welcome Tom Lee to the race for clerk of court. I look forward to discussing how I will put customers first, particularly during a pandemic,'' Stuart said. "Tom Lee served in the Legislature when it cut funding for the clerk’s office at a time when demand was growing and I hope he will explain how he let that happen. He lost Hillsborough during his re-election bid, and I doubt Hillsborough voters will be receptive to him using Tallahassee special interest money to buy the clerk’s office.''

Democrats hold a nearly 74,000 voter advantage over Republicans in party enrollment in Hillsborough County.

Related: Kevin Beckner could go it alone

Asked to comment on Lee’s candidacy, Beckner released a statement Friday afternoon focusing on his own campaign.

“Since October 2019, my campaign has been preparing to compete at the highest level countywide with the resources and infrastructure required to win. We are building a diverse coalition of supporters all across Hillsborough County and the Tampa Bay region. I’m thankful to have the support and endorsements of state and local Labor Unions, prominent elected officials, and community leaders supporting my bid to be your next clerk of the circuit court,'' Beckner said.

His campaign, he said, has raised more than $117,000 and had $75,000 cash on hand. Stuart, who has Frank’s endorsement, had raised nearly $23,000, including a $10,000 loan from herself, through late April. She entered the race April 20.

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