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  1. Florida Politics

March: Is Buckhorn previewing a 2018 stump speech?

Published Sep. 25, 2015

At a fundraising dinner Saturday for the East Pasco Democratic Club, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn — considered a potential 2018 candidate for governor — gave a talk that sounded a lot like a stump speech.

Buckhorn reiterated his accomplishments in Tampa: the reinvigoration of downtown and job growth, including "more jobs than any other city in Florida in two of the last four years, with a Democrat at the helm."

He said those accomplishments "could absolutely be used at the state level" and are "a great road map for Democrats moving to the future."

He talked about the 2016 presidential race, but also extensively about the 2018 state elections.

Bemoaning what he called "the crazy stuff that's emerging out of Tallahassee these days," he said, "If there has ever been an opportunity to turn the tide, it's in 2018."

"We're going to decide what we look like as a state; we're going to decide, like my city decided four years ago, that we're going to be that beacon of light."

Buckhorn, who has been at odds with black and liberal Democrats, emphasized his record of backing diversity and equal rights, recounting his participation in the 2013 St. Pete Pride Parade when then-hometown Mayor Bill Foster refused.

"I was glad to cross that bridge," he said. "It was the right thing to do."

"I will tell you in no uncertain terms the bench of the Democratic Party is the big-city mayors," he said.

Tampa Dems go to D.C. to see the pope

Three prominent Tampa Democrats — Buckhorn, state Rep. Janet Cruz and state Sen. Arthenia Joyner — got invitations and attended the White House reception for Pope Francis on Wednesday.

In addition, Sister Anne Dougherty, head of the Franciscan Center in Tampa, was invited to attend Thursday's papal speech to Congress as the guest of U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa.

There's been controversy at the national level over the guest list for the White House event. Some conservatives have objected to inclusion of gay rights advocates including a gay Catholic blogger, plus a nun who bucked the U.S. Conference of Bishops by backing the Affordable Care Act.

Buckhorn, Cruz and Joyner are all in line with the Democratic Party's stance favoring gay rights. Buckhorn and Cruz, the incoming House Democratic leader, are Catholic; Joyner, the Senate minority leader, is African Methodist Episcopal.

"It sounds like it's more of a political event than a religious one, and that's a shame," said state Rep. Dana Young of Tampa, GOP majority leader.

Cruz's daughter, prominent Democratic insider Ana Cruz, said it merely shows the prominence of Tampa on the national political map.

After watching Pope Francis' remarks from a set of bleachers on the White House lawn, Buckhorn said the occasion felt historic and spiritual — "everything about these ceremonies that is awe-inspiring."

But not political, he said.

"For me, it was a reminder of all that is good about the Catholic faith," said Buckhorn, whose home parish is Christ the King Catholic Church in South Tampa. The pope talked about "what it is that's important," including taking care of the earth and having a moral obligation to take care of others, but "not in a political or partisan way."

"He rose above what is a very partisan town, and hopefully people were paying attention," Buckhorn said. "He lives his life the way we all should and most of us don't."

Frazier hits Spano on cohabitation bill

Democratic state House candidate Rena Upshaw-Frazier is bashing her potential Republican opponent, Rep. Ross Spano, R-Dover, for voting against a bill to repeal Florida's 1868 ban on unmarried cohabitation.

A repeal bill recently passed the House criminal justice subcommittee, but with Spano as one of three "no" votes.

Frazier said in a news release that shows Spano is "extreme" and "out of touch with the people of our community," and that he has a "history of antiwoman positions," including opposition to abortion rights and to legislation for pay equity for women.

Spano said he doesn't favor criminalizing cohabitation. "I have friends and family who do, and they're not criminals." He said he'll vote for the repeal if it comes to the House floor, and voted for it in committee last year.

But he cast the no vote as "a statement on the devaluing of marriage and the family. … We as a society don't value marriage as we should." He noted research showing marriage benefits kids.

Frazier and Naze Sahebzamani are seeking the Democratic nomination to oppose Spano; Democrats think they have a chance of flipping the seat.

Contact William March at wemarch@gmail.com. Times staff writer Richard Danielson contributed.