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March column: Tom Lee mulls term limit drive

State Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, has more than $1.7 million in his PAC, The Conservative. What's he going to do with it?

He'd like to run for state chief financial officer, but that could depend on whether Gov. Rick Scott appoints a caretaker to the vacant post or a Republican who wants to hold onto it. Lee might not want to run against a sitting Republican.

So Lee is considering another possibility: a petition drive for a 2018 county charter amendment referendum to tighten term limits rules, prohibiting commissioners from getting new term limits by moving between district and countywide seats.

Three sitting commissioners — Victor Crist, Ken Hagan and Sandy Murman — may do that in 2018. Otherwise, Hagan and Crist would go off the board in 2018 and Murman in 2020.

The seat-switching "is something I personally have had enough of – it's time for somebody to step up," Lee said. He said he's just starting to consider it. To get it rolling, he'd have to put together a legal team to propose an acceptable amendment, create a budget for signature-gathering and a campaign, and "figure out how to do it all in time to get it on the 2018 ballot."

Lee, who has considered seeking a commissioner's seat if his CFO hopes don't materialize, could be on the same ballot, possibly against Hagan. If so, publicity over the issue of term limits could help Lee.

Hitting $100k early

As they said they would, Hagan and Commissioner Stacy White topped $100,000 in their 2018 campaign accounts this month — Hagan with $100,510 after a month of fundraising and White with $109,192.

Meanwhile, prominent DUI attorney Eilam Isaak really wants to be a judge. He dropped $100,000 into his account for county court judge.

GOP primary for D2 commission seat?

Due to a communications breakdown, the Times reported last week that Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce board chairman Mike Griffin couldn't be reached for comment about his possible interest in running for a county commission seat – probably the District 2 seat Commissioner Sandy Murman is expected to vacate to run countywide.

Reached this week, Griffin, a Republican, said he's interested but won't make a decision about it until his term as chairman is up in December.

He said he's wanted to be chairman of the Chamber board for years, and doesn't want a campaign to interfere with that. "I'm not doing anything politically or giving anything any serious thought until the end of the year."

Griffin has raised his profile lately by joining the chorus of criticism of the state Legislature for changing rules and preventing the University of South Florida from attaining "pre-eminent" status, which would bring USF additional money.

If he runs, he may have competition in the GOP primary from a friend, business consultant Aakash Patel, and also from a candidate backed by the conservative East Hillsborough wing of the county party led by Sam Rashid.

Rashid, who's had success in the past backing tea party-style Republicans in primaries against establishment moderates, said he expects to back a conservative in the race. One possibility: Ryan Patmintra, a Tampa Bay Partnership executive, who has expressed interest. Patmintra couldn't be reached for comment.

Castor-Buckhorn seat swap? Nope

Regarding the rumor that U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, may run for mayor while term-limited Mayor Bob Buckhorn looks at her House seat: "That's not a thing," said Buckhorn spokeswoman Ashley Bauman.

Castor, who's in line to be vice-chairman of the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee if the Democrats re-take the House majority, is in a perfect spot to work on her favorite issue, health care, her supporters note.

More interest in D62

A third Democratic candidate has filed for the District 62 state House seat that term-limited Janet Cruz will vacate next year: 32-year-old Michael Alvarez, a Marine veteran of Iraq and party activist who works for a roofing company.

He joins veteran legislative aide John Rodriguez and unsuccessful 2016 School Board candidate Carlos Frontela.

But the open seat in a Democratic-leaning district is likely to draw a crowd.

County Civil Service Board official Alma Gonzalez, a veteran party activist and member of the Democratic National Committee, confirmed this week she's interested; City Council member Yoli Capin is also said to be considering it.

Will Cruz back a candidate? Likely not. She may be running for another office herself, possibly Tampa City Council or a county commissioner's seat, and be reluctant to take sides in an interparty battle.

But, Rodriguez noted, Cruz, who is House minority leader, "gave me a nice warm introduction in front of the House Democratic caucus" last week, including recounting their history when he was her first legislative aide.

One Democrat to rule out: School Board member Susan Valdes, who says she'll finish her term.

Contact William March at