Ideological divides in Florida's Republican attorney general primary race are producing some early negative campaigning, with a strong Tampa Bay area flavor.
State Rep. Jay Fant, R-Jacksonville, one of four candidates, has attacked the early frontrunner, former Judge Ashley Moody of Plant City, as a "liberal posing as a conservative," and asked the state Republican Party to disavow her.
• Moody was part of a 2010 fraud lawsuit against The Trump Organization over the failed Trump Tower Tampa condominium downtown, in which condo buyers sued for return of their deposits.
• Former President Bill Clinton appointed Moody's father to a federal judgeship.
• Moody once worked as an assistant to then-American Bar Association President Martha Barnett of Tampa, a Democrat Fant calls "reliably liberal," and Barnett recently co-hosted a fundraiser for Moody.
Despite the lawsuit, Moody says she backed Trump in 2016 and still supports him. She said her family was among 50 condo purchasers and the lawsuit was settled on confidential terms.
In a letter and news release to state party Chairman Blaise Ingoglia, Fant asked that the party bar Moody from its January annual meeting and halt financial support for her campaign — $23,000 for staff salaries so far, aid routinely provided to candidates.
"Our party is being deceived into allowing a Clinton liberal access to our leaders, staff and financial resources," Fant wrote. "Ashley Moody is not a candidate we can trust but instead a true liberal and proud of it."
Ingoglia responded in a statement: "All Republicans running for statewide office are welcome to attend RPOF meetings." He said the party won't take sides in primaries or judge candidates' conservative credentials.
"If Rep. Fant thinks this will resonate with the electorate, then take it directly to the primary voters," he said.
Moody spokeswoman Christina Johnson, in a written statement, called Fant's accusations "laughable" and "erroneous and egregious attacks" on the former federal prosecutor and circuit judge.
She said Moody is "a staunch supporter of our president" and "the only candidate who has supported Second Amendment priorities like Stand Your Ground in the courtroom."
Moody entered the race early and has endorsements from some two dozen Republican sheriffs, outgoing Attorney General Pam Bondi and most Hillsborough County elected Republican officeholders.
She just announced a powerful fundraising team including Tampa donors Carlos Alfonso and Rhea Law.
Rep. Ross Spano, R-Dover, is also running in the GOP primary, as is Rep. Frank White, R-Pensacola. On the Democratic side, Tampa lawyer Ryan Torrens has filed and Rep. Sean Shaw, D-Tampa, is considering it.
Young, Grant seek high-tech transit options
State Sen. Dana Young and Rep. Jamie Grant, Tampa Republicans, have filed legislation to divert $60 million from the Orlando-area Sunrail project and use it to foster high-tech transit projects in the Tampa Bay area and Miami.
The money, to be matched by private or local government money, would be used to spur use of "emerging technology-driven solutions" which "will revolutionize transportation in ways unforeseen just a few years ago," said a statement from Young.
Those could include hyperloop trains, autonomous "rail buses" guided by roadway sensors, ridesharing networks and autonomous vehicles — but not traditional bus or rail mass transit.
"That's where the future is headed," Young said.
The money won't come until 2021, to avoid harming Sunrail, she said — $25 million each for Miami and the Tampa Bay Regional Transportation Authority, and $10 million elsewhere.
The bill has already passed one House committee.
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who has unsuccessfully urged a traditional mass transit plan for the Tampa Bay area, praised the bill as "smart … to start looking forward to the modes by which people will move 20 years down the road," but said it shouldn't distract from the need for traditional mass transit now.
"We need to include other more traditional modes in our thinking and funding."
Buckhorn also said it's important not to derail Sunrail, which could lead to high-speed service from Miami through Orlando to the Tampa airport.
Young responded that the bill represents "a fairly small dollar amount in the grand scheme of transportation projects." She added, "There are still plenty of traditional projects out there that could be funded in many ways."
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