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Redistricting likely to help Harry Cohen in Hillsborough commission race

Cohen heavily outspent but only narrowly defeated Republican Scott Levinson to win the District 1 seat in 2020.
Redistricting could leave Democratic County Commissioner Harry Cohen (left) a more Democratic-leaning district. Cohen heavily outspent but only narrowly defeated Republican Scott Levinson (right) to win his District 1 seat in 2020
Redistricting could leave Democratic County Commissioner Harry Cohen (left) a more Democratic-leaning district. Cohen heavily outspent but only narrowly defeated Republican Scott Levinson (right) to win his District 1 seat in 2020 [ Cohen campaign | Levinson campaign ]
Published Sep. 11

As expected, Hillsborough County Commissioner Harry Cohen has filed for re-election, and his campaign got a boost this week as it appeared likely that redistricting could leave him a more Democratic-leaning district.

Cohen heavily outspent but only narrowly defeated Republican Scott Levinson to win his District 1 seat in 2020, 51-49 percent. Levinson has filed to run again, this time planning a longer campaign and expecting better fundraising.

But the 2020 Census data shows Cohen’s district, centered on South Tampa, West Tampa and downtown but extending to South Shore, has grown too large — districts must be as nearly as possible the same size. That will provide the Democratic majority on the board of commissioners a rationale to cut out some of the Republican-voting South Shore territory.

This week, the county staff presented four possible new district maps and Democratic Commissioners Pat Kemp and Gwen Myers each presented one. The commissioners voted to throw out three of the staff maps and forward one staff map and the Kemp and Myers maps for public comment and further deliberation.

Related: Hillsborough County redistricting disintegrates into salvos questioning motives

The chosen staff map and the Kemp map both remove the South Shore area from Cohen’s district, and the Myers map removes much of it. Those maps, however, are subject to change before a final commission vote expected in December.

“You can pull the South Shore area out of that district and if you swing it by only a point or two, it’s enough. That’s how I would do it if I were a Dem,” said local Republican political consultant Brock Mikosky.

In a Times interview, Kemp called the district, which runs from the county’s northwest corner to Ruskin, “a sprawling, nonsensical district.”

Levinson said he expects the Democratic majority to “help themselves win is by organizing the districts,” but, “I believe people even more this time than before are tired of the same old-same old. … I think I’ll do great wherever they move them.”

Cohen’s comment: “For right now I’m representing the district I was elected to represent, and I’m working on some exciting things in the South Shore area,” he said. “That won’t change.”

Young Republicans leader files to run in West Tampa — but may run in South Tampa

Tampa Bay Young Republicans President Jake Hoffman has filed to run for the West Tampa-based state House District 62 seat currently held by Rep. Susan Valdes. However, he may not end up running in the Democratic-leaning district.

Jake Hoffman
Jake Hoffman [ Provided ]

Hoffman doesn’t live in District 62 and may be more likely to run in the South Tampa swing district where he does live, now held by fellow Republican Rep. Jackie Toledo — if, as many insiders expect, Toledo leaves the seat to run for the state Senate.

Hoffman is seeking to shut out the numerous competitors who could arise for the South Tampa seat, including starting his campaign with a big dollop of his own money, $50,000, and lining up endorsements by prominent Republicans.

His decision could also depend on how the House districts are shaped after redistricting.

That uncertainty has caused some candidates statewide to open “placeholder” campaigns, intending to switch races depending on redistricting.

“I’ve made a big bet on it,” Hoffman said about a possible race in Toledo’s district and his personal contribution.

At least one other Republican who lives in Toledo’s district has also filed in a different district but could switch, lawyer Michael Minardi. Minardi filed in the Brandon-based District 60 to run against Democratic Rep. Andrew Learned, but lives on Bayshore Boulevard and doesn’t rule out switching to Toledo’s district.

Valdes’ District 62 now covers most of West Tampa, Town ‘N Country and the Egypt Lake-Leto area. Valdes, a former school board member before winning her House seat with 58 percent of the vote in 2020, is well-established there and intends to run for re-election.

Toledo’s District 60 covers South Tampa, Davis Islands (where Hoffman lives), Harbor Island and the Rocky Point area. It split by fewer than 100 votes in the 2020 presidential race.

Hoffman, 30, holds bachelor’s degrees in communications and political science and a master’s in business from the University of South Florida, and founded a digital fitness company, Invasion Digital Media.

He calls himself a “moderate” or “millennial-style” conservative, combining fiscal conservatism with more liberal stances on social issues. He and his fiancé, Michelle Sassouni, produce a podcast called “Moderately Outraged.”

Hoffman said Republicans need to embrace environmental protection and water quality improvement, though he didn’t have specific suggestions for restricting pollution.

But Hoffman also says he’s a gun rights supporter, a Trump supporter, and opposes what he calls “socialized medicine.”

He said he believes Joe Biden legitimately won the 2020 election but led the Young Republicans’ efforts for the state’s controversial new voting restrictions.

He said he wouldn’t support a Texas-style abortion ban that doesn’t include exceptions for rape or incest. And, under his leadership, the Young Republicans favored the constitutional amendment allowing former felons the right to vote.

His main motivation for running, he said, was to oppose mandatory anti-Covid mask requirements and business closures.

Tampa Bay area gets legislative chairmanships, but few for Hillsborough

The Tampa Bay area as a whole got a substantial number of powerful state House committee chairmanships for the coming legislative session, but Hillsborough County got comparatively few.

The reason: Hillsborough has elected too many Democrats. Committee chairs usually go to members of the dominant party, currently Republican, and are partly a reward for loyalty. They’re chosen by the House speaker, who now is Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor.

House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R- Palm Harbor, speaks during the house session of the Florida Legislature at the Capitol in Tallahassee on Tuesday, March 2, 2021.
House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R- Palm Harbor, speaks during the house session of the Florida Legislature at the Capitol in Tallahassee on Tuesday, March 2, 2021. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

Two Pinellas Republicans got powerful chairs: Chris Latvala in the Education and Employment Committee and Nick DiCeglie in the Commerce Committee’s Insurance and Banking Subcommittee.

Jackie Toledo of Tampa will head the Local Administration and Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee of State Affairs.

Blaise Ingoglia of Hernando County will head the important Commerce Committee; Colleen Burton of Polk will head Health and Human Services; and James Buchanan of Saraota will head the Environment, Agriculture and Flooding Subcommittee.

Two Hillsborough representatives and one Pinellas member got vice chairmanships: Mike Beltran in the Civil justice and Property Rights subcommittee, freshman Traci Koster in the Early Learning and Elementary Education subcommittee and Linda Chaney of St. Pete Beach on Environment, Agriculture and Flooding.

Three Pasco representatives got vice chairmanships: Ardian Zika on Ways and Means, Randy Maggard on the State Administration and Techology subcommittee, and Amber Mariano on Post-Secondary Education and Lifelong Learning.

Contact William March at wemarch@gmail.com.