State Rep. Nick DiCeglie, R-Indian Rocks Beach, has filed to run for the District 24 state Senate seat being vacated next year by term-limited Sen. Jeff Brandes.
DiCeglie, 47, would be eligible to serve two more terms after this one in the state House, but has filed early for the open Senate seat, a considerable political plum that could draw Republican primary opponents.
One of those could be former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker, who insiders say is still considering running for the seat.
Baker did not return messages for comment for this story.
But DiCeglie said his political committee, The Economic Freedom Committee, raised more than $170,000 in February. As a member of the Legislature, DiCeglie will be prohibited from fundraising during the coming two months while the Legislature is in session, but his early announcement and fundraising haul could be intended to discourage competitors.
DiCeglie owns and operates a family waste management business, Solar Sanitation. He and his wife have two children.
In a video announcing his campaign, he said, “Florida has done a much better job protecting its residents and economy than any other state,” and could look forward to a quick revival of its economy.
But he said Democratic wins in Washington in November mean, “the march of more burdensome regulations, higher taxes, and runaway immigration is coming,” and promised to “fight against these radical socialist ideas” in Tallahassee.
The district leans Republican — it voted for Donald Trump over Joe Biden by 52-46 percent, according to MCI Maps.
Tomczak files for DiCeglie’s seat
Republican Alen Tomczak, both a National Guard veteran and defense contractor from St. Petersburg, has filed to run for DiCeglie’s District 66 House seat.
Tomczak, 30, is a political newcomer, though he said he’s long been interested in Republican politics.
He lives in St. Petersburg, not in the central Pinellas district, but said he grew up in Seminole and intends to establish district residency — an issue that’s complicated because district lines could change in next year’s remapping.
An Army National Guard captain, Tomczak deployed to a combat zone as a platoon leader in the Horn of Africa in 2015-16 and has had several hurricane deployments.
Since 2016, he has worked for private firms as a contractor, mostly for the military, in technical fields he described as “forensic technologies” including chemistry and biometrics. He’s pursuing a master’s degree in strategic intelligence at the University of South Florida.
He said he’s running for the House because, “I want to continue my service both in and out of uniform” and DiCeglie’s open state House seat provided an opportunity.
His announcement mentioned support for gun rights and protection of the county’s beaches.
Though a political novice, Tomczak is assembling a veteran campaign team including publicist Preston Rudie and GOP financial maven Nancy Watkins.
Owen, 2 others seek county seats
Brandon attorney Michael Owen, a Republican who lost narrowly last year for an east Hillsborough state House seat, has filed to run for the county commission seat being vacated next year by term-limited Commissioner Stacy White.
Owen could lay claim to GOP establishment support in the Republican-leaning commission district.
White said he’ll back Owen and has been helping him build support.
In the 2020 House race, White backed Owen in the Republican primary and the party gave him financial backing in the general election.
Founder of a law firm with offices in Brandon and South Tampa, Owen also heavily funded his own campaign in 2020, including $67,000 worth of loans, but lost to Democrat Andrew Learned in a district that has been trending from red to blue.
The commission district leans more strongly Republican, and White said he expects it to remain so after the coming redistricting.
Meanwhile, two political newcomers have also filed for county seats.
Democrat Sheri Canley, 52, a commercial insurance account manager from Riverview, has also filed in White’s District 4, and Republican Joshua Wostal, a UPS store owner and Navy veteran, has filed to run for the countywide District 7 seat against Democratic Commissioner Kimberly Overman.
Married with five grown children, Canley said she’s running because, “I see a lot of inequality, a lot of communities treated differently” in district, and because infrastructure hasn’t kept up with the area’s rapid residential growth.
She acknowledged the race will be an uphill battle, but said she hopes to go door-to-door and drive Democratic voter turnout. She has set up a GoFundMe account to fund her campaign.
Wostal, 36, who’s married with one child and has an MBA from the University of Florida, said he’s running largely because of what he called “government overreach” and infringement of personal liberty in response to the pandemic.
He said county government is growing too rapidly and spending too much.
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Meanwhile, two political newcomer candidates have already filed for county commission seats. Democrat Sheri Canley, 52, a commercial insurance account manager from Riverview, has filed in District 4, and Republican Joshua Wostal, a UPS store owner and Navy veteran, has filed to run for the countywide District 7 seat against Democratic Commissioner Kimberly Overman.
Republicans fuzzy on voting changes
Two local Republican legislators may have been caught off guard by proposed changes in election laws being advocated by Gov. Ron DeSantis and other Republicans.
Democrats say the proposed new restrictions on mail voting are intended to suppress Black and other Democratic voters, who used mail voting more heavily in 2020 than ever before.
Republicans say the proposals are aimed at protecting ballot integrity —although they also boast that Florida’s 2020 election ran smoothly with no significant reports of fraud, and that Florida’s mail balloting system has been trouble-free for years.
In a Tampa Tiger Bay Club meeting Feb. 19, Sen. Danny Burgess, R-Zephyrhills, and Rep. Lawrence McClure, R-Dover, asked whether they favor any changes in state elections laws, said no, praising the current system and the 2020 voting.
“I was very proud of the way we did it in Florida, and to that extent, just superstitiously, I don’t think we should touch it — it went very well,” McClure said.
“I was going to say the exact things Lawrence just said,” Burgess added. “Florida did it right.”
Asked later whether that meant they oppose the changes proposed by DeSantis and GOP legislative leaders, Burgess didn’t respond to phone and text messages.
McClure responded via text message, “We’ve come a long way as a state and we have an obligation to do everything we can to protect the progress we’ve made while also looking forward and seeing how we can continue to improve. … I’m looking forward to hearing any and all proposals.”