1. Florida Politics

March: Buckhorn seeks role in national campaign against laws targeting gays

Published Apr. 8, 2016

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn expects to be part of a national coalition of mayors that will oppose what he calls a trend toward anti-gay rights legislation in states around the country, including Florida and North Carolina.

Buckhorn said he expects some public announcement of the initiative within a few days.

"What form it will take I'm not sure," he said. "There have been some informal conversations and emails about stepping out on this and speaking up.

"I think you're going to see within a day or so mayors around the country stand up and say enough is enough … to at least provide an alternative point of view about what the state legislatures are doing."

Buckhorn and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman this week publicly invited online service PayPal to move to the Tampa Bay area after the company announced it was cancelling an expansion in Charlotte because of the North Carolina legislature's passage of a law overturning Charlotte's anti-discrimination ordinance.

Buckhorn said the mayors would oppose laws like those in "North Carolina, Mississippi, the trend that seems to be occurring" in states with conservative legislatures. But Florida could also be considered part of that trend.

The Florida Legislature this year defeated an employment non-discrimination bill, but passed a "pastor protection" bill preventing lawsuits against pastors who refuse to marry same-sex couples – a protection gay rights advocates said the pastors already had.

Buckhorn said he believes the anti-gay rights laws come from a nationwide conservative movement, and that he wouldn't be surprised to see the Florida Legislature also consider bills limiting or abolishing city or county non-discrimination ordinances. Tampa, he noted, has had such an ordinance since 1992.

D60 House race could be humdinger

The race to replace state Rep. Dana Young in Tampa's state House District 60 could turn into the county's marquee legislative race.

The district leans Republican, and the Republicans have recruited prominent construction executive Rebecca Smith, who should be a strong fundraiser. She faces a primary opponent, Jackie Toledo, who narrowly lost for the Tampa City Council last year to Guido Maniscalco; Margaret Iuculano could also jump in.

But Democrats hope disarray at the top of the GOP ticket will help them in down-ballot races, and have recruited a prominent newcomer: land use lawyer David Singer, who announced this week. Singer, who calls himself a moderate, pro-business Democrat, could get some Republican support and should also be a strong fundraiser.

Smith could be the GOP frontrunner. She emphasizes that she was recruited into the race, suggesting she's the party's choice, though she won't say who recruited her. If she wins her primary, the race could come down to Smith v. Singer -- two political outsider/newcomers, both moderates with business ties and appeal to independents.

Murman out of Senate race

County Commissioner Sandy Murman says she won't challenge Young in a state Senate District 18 Republican primary, but Democrats apparently are determined to find an opponent.

"I do not plan on running for the state Senate. Thanks for asking," Murman said in a text message late Thursday.

For weeks, she's considered and investigated the race, but beating Young wouldn't be easy. As of the end of February, Young had raised $264,520 in her campaign account and $553, 230 in her Friends of Dana Young PAC, and was sitting on most of it.

Young may have convinced Murman to stay out by releasing a list of endorsements this week from top Senate leaders, including incoming Senate President Joe Negron, Majority Leader Bill Galvano, Sens. Jack Latvala, Wilton Simpson and others.

On the Democratic side, chances for a strong candidate looked bleak when state Rep. Janet Cruz of Tampa waved off the race, citing the cost and the need to run for re-election in two years, and then prominent lawyer and donor Tom Scarritt did the same, citing his case load.

But the Republican presidential problems are apparently putting energy into Democrats' candidate recruiting, and commercial litigator Bob Buesing with the Trenam law firm is considering the race. He says he's "a probable candidate" who's finishing the process of vetting the race, and being vetted by the party, before announcing.

Judicial candidate errs

County court judge candidate Shelton Bridges was one of a big crowd of lawyers, law enforcement officials and judges at the campaign fundraiser for State Attorney Mark Ober two weeks ago, and later a photo of himself with Ober at the event showed up on Bridges' Facebook page.

The problem: Florida's judicial canons forbid a candidate for judge from endorsing a candidate for office, and from attending "political party functions."

Bridges acknowledged posting the photo was a mistake, and said it was posted by a staff member and was taken down quickly. "It was a big misunderstanding. Obviously, I'm embarrassed," he said.

But he said it was okay for him to go to the Ober event because, he said, "It was my understanding it was a kickoff event as opposed to a fundraiser, so you are allowed to attend."

Mike Schneider, executive director of the state Judicial Qualifications Commission, disagreed, saying attending any partisan campaign event is "problematic" for a judicial candidate. "It's not a favored practice," he said.

Tiger Bay clerk forum

Fireworks could result when the Tampa Tiger Bay Club holds a forum for candidates for clerk of court Friday, April 15.

County Commissioner Kevin Beckner and incumbent Clerk Pat Frank, engaged in a tough Democratic primary fight, have confirmed for the event, along with Republican challenger Eric Seidel. It's at noon at the Ferguson Law Center.