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County races are set as candidate qualifying ends in Florida

Elections Supervisor Craig Latimer is the only Hillsborough incumbent not challenged for re-election. In Pasco, nearly all constitutional offices are decided.
Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Office staffer Sheryl Jackson counts ballots during a manual recount in November 2018.
Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Office staffer Sheryl Jackson counts ballots during a manual recount in November 2018. [ MONICA HERNDON | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Jun. 12, 2020
Updated Jun. 12, 2020

Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer won re-election Friday. Nobody else did, though, in Hillsborough County’s races for county commission and constitutional offices.

That wasn’t the case in Pinellas County, however. where no candidates filed to challenge Republican Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller Ken Burke, nor Karen Seel, the Republican commissioner for District 5.

In Pasco, the power of incumbency was even more pronounced when nearly all constitutional offices were decided at noon Friday, the final day candidates could qualify for the Aug. 18 primary and Nov. 3 general election ballots. Republicans Sheriff Chris Nocco, Tax Collector Mike Fasano, Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller Nikki Alvarez-Sowles and Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley all won without opposition.

So, too, did Mike Wells Jr., who currently is a county commissioner, but filed to challenge fellow Republican Gary Joiner for the property appraiser’s job. Joiner, who won the position four years ago, announced his candidacy last year, but stopped fund-raising several months ago and did not qualify for re-election. When he is sworn in in January, Wells will again hold the same position once occupied by his father. Mike Wells Sr. served as a county commissioner and then held the property appraiser’s position for 20 years.

Among the Hillsborough incumbents seeking re-election, only Latimer failed to draw an opponent.

Craig Latimer, Hillsborough supervisor of elections, won re-election without opposition Friday when nobody qualified to run against him in the 2020 election.
Craig Latimer, Hillsborough supervisor of elections, won re-election without opposition Friday when nobody qualified to run against him in the 2020 election.

Republican Sheriff Chad Chronister has a posse of candidates after his job including Charles B. Boswell in the GOP primary. The winner will face Democrat Gary Pruitt and Ronald W. McMullen, who is running with no party affiliation, in November.

The race to replace retiring Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller Pat Frank will be decided in a winner-take-all open primary featuring Democrats Kevin Beckner, a former county commissioner, and current School Board member Cindy Stuart. No Republican qualified to run for the seat this week after Sen. Tom Lee bowed out and Commissioner Sandy Murman and D.C. Goutoufas said they would run for other offices.

Goutoufas qualified to challenge incumbent Property Appraiser Bob “Coach’’ Henriquez, a Democrat.

The Hillsborough tax collector’s race features Democrats Nancy Millan, the office’s director of community relations, and School Board member April Griffin in the August primary The winner faces Republican TK Mathew in November in the bid to succeed retiring Tax Collector Doug Belden.

On the Hillsborough County Commission, a pair of Democrats and Republicans are seeking the District 1 seat, being vacated by Murman. Harry Cohen and Jen McDonald will face off in the Democratic primary and Scott D. Levinson and Tony Morejon are running on the Republican side.

The District 3 seat, currently held by Chairman Les Miller Jr. who must leave the position because of term limits, drew a quintet of Democrats: Ricardo “Rick’’ Fernandez, Gwen Myers, Frank Reddick, Thomas Scott and Sky U. White. Republican Maura Cruz Lanz awaits the winner.

Health care and disability rights activist Karen Clay initially qualified Friday as a write-in candidate for commission District 3. Under Florida law, her name will not appear on the ballot.

But Clay said Friday morning she would not be running.

“Actually, I’ve changed my mind,’’ she told the Tampa Bay Times.

The District 6 seat, elected by voters countywide, features two sitting commissioners. Murman, the Republican who is leaving the District 1 seat because of term limits, filed to challenge first-term incumbent Pat Kemp, a Democrat.

In Pinellas County, several races will skip the primary and head to November election. First-term Republican Property Appraiser Mike Twitty will face Democrat Trevor Mallory. Democrat Charlie Justice, who is seeking his third term as the District 3 county commissioner, will face Republican Tammy Sue Vasquez. Julie Marcus, the incumbent Supervisor of Elections recently appointed to the seat by Gov. Ron DeSantis, will square off against Democrat Dan Helm.

The races for the, tax collector and District 7 county commission seat drew crowded fields. The tax collector’s race will include a primary opponent for Republican incumbent Charles Thomas. He will face Joyell Bobala in August. The winner will face Democrat Joseph Saportas. Dan Dahlberg qualified as a write-in candidate, but his name will not appear on the ballot.

The contest to replace longtime Commissioner Ken Welch drew political heavyweights.The Democratic contest for the District 7 seat drew longtime politicos state Rep. Wengay Newton, a former St. Petersburg City Council member; Rene Flowers, a current school board member and former St. Petersburg City Council member; and Frank Peterman Jr., a former state representative and Department of Juvenile Justice secretary who also served on the St. Petersburg City Council. Maria Scruggs, president of the NAACP St. Petersburg Branch qualified as a no-party affiliate candidate. Anthony Hart qualified as a write-in candidate, but he will not appear on the ballot.

Meanwhile, several former candidates are again seeking to unseat incumbents. Republican Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who has been in office since 2011, will face the winner of the Democratic primary between James McLynas and Eliseo Santana. Gualtieri trounced McLynas in 2016. The District 1 commission seat will pit Democrat incumbent Janet Long against Republican challenger Larry Ahern, a former Florida lawmaker. Ahern lost the 2018 primary for the District 6 commission seat to Kathleen Peters, who later won the office.

In Pasco, District 1 County Commissioner Ron Oakley, a Republican, also not opposed and won a second four-year term.

Wells’ District 4 seat has two years remaining on the current term. Wells’ resignation is effective Nov. 17 and the race to fill his seat drew four Republican candidates. They are Gary Bradford, Christina M. Fitzpatrick, Russell “Jeff” Miller and Gabriel (Gabe) Papadopoulos. No Democrats qualified in the race., so the Aug. 18 primary will be open to all registered voters.

There will be both primary and general election races on the ballot for both commission District 3 and commission District 5. In District 3, Commissioner Kathryn Starkey, a Republican, is seeking a third term and is challenged by Democrat Jessica McCoy Stampien. In District 5, Commissioner Jack Mariano is seeking his fifth term and is challenged by Democrat Brandi Geoit, who ran unsuccessfully against Wells in 2018, and by Victor Rodriguez, who is running with no party affiliation.

In Pasco, commissioners must reside in their districts, but they are elected countywide.