1. Florida Politics

March column: Lee again faces decision about which office to seek

Depending on the office he seeks next, state Sen. Tom Lee may face Hillsborough County Commissioners Victor Crist, Tom Hagan, or whoever seeks the statewide chief financial officer post. [WILL VRAGOVIC   |   Times]
Depending on the office he seeks next, state Sen. Tom Lee may face Hillsborough County Commissioners Victor Crist, Tom Hagan, or whoever seeks the statewide chief financial officer post. [WILL VRAGOVIC | Times]
Published Jan. 20, 2017

State Sen. Tom Lee, once R-Brandon but now R-Thonotosassa, is again facing a decision about his political future and one that could create substantial local political complications — whether to run for state chief financial officer in 2018, and if not, whether to stay in the state Senate or come home and seek a Hillsborough County commissioner's seat.

Lee faced the same decision last year and decided to stay in the Senate, creating the other options for 2018. Because of redistricting, he was elected to only a two-year term and had to move.

As it happens, the move put him in County Commission District 2, which Victor Crist will vacate next year because of term limits.

CFO would be Lee's most ambitious choice, and one he has long wanted. He ran unsuccessfully in 2006. He'd have to start soon to raise $10 million or more, and now has about $1.7 million in his political action committee, The Conservative. He'll make that decision soon after the legislative session ends May 5.

If he decides against CFO, he'll face a decision whether to run for a full Senate term — probably an easy win — or seek a county commission seat.

Two countywide commission seats are also coming open, but Crist plans to run for one and Commissioner Sandy Murman is eying the other.

If Lee chose the district race, it could pit him in a primary against Commissioner Ken Hagan, who faces a term limit in his countywide seat and has been mulling either the Tampa mayor's race or jumping to a district seat.

Sink hopes to boost Pinellas Dems

In 2015, Tampa Democrat mainstay Alex Sink and retired public relations executive Tom Hall founded a fundraising organization, the Hillsborough Society, to boost the local Democratic Party.

Partly as result, the local party gave unprecedented amounts to 2016 candidates — more than $40,000 to new State Attorney Andrew Warren and more than $23,000 to new County Commissioner candidate Pat Kemp.

Now Sink hopes to do something similar in Pinellas.

Sink said Pinellas Chairman Susan McGrath asked her to replicate the Hillsborough Society across the bay.

"The idea is to build party infrastructure, so they can have an office, pay the phone bill and have a place for volunteers to meet," she said.

Each member of the Hillsborough Society gives $1,000 a year to the local party, and the group also discusses and evaluates local candidates for additional support. Hall said they've begun discussing potential candidates in what's likely to be an unusually active 2018 Hillsborough County commissioner's race.

Castor still defending Obamacare

Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, is once again out front defending the Affordable Care Act.

In the past couple of weeks, Castor has given a floor speech decrying the GOP congressional majority's plan to repeal the ACA, or Obamacare, with no replacement firmed up; held two news conferences with health care professionals and individuals who have coverage under the law; and written a letter rebutting Gov. Rick Scott's letter arguing in favor of the repeal.

Castor wrote House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy saying Scott's arguments against the ACA were "misleading and inaccurate" and that repeal would cause "personal and economic chaos" and "wreak havoc on our families and Florida's economy."

She said she doesn't consider the cause hopeless.

"I see an effect already," she said. "We've got nine Republican senators raising warning flags, saying this isn't smart to proceed when we don't have a replacement. A lot of them are thinking, 'We're the dog who caught the car.' "

Castor has been one of the ACA's staunchest congressional backers, partly because she's nearly invulnerable in a heavily Democratic seat. In 2009, her advocacy drew news coverage nationwide as opponents of the proposal bussed hundreds of people to a Castor town hall in Tampa, leading to a chaotic scene of shouting and shoving.

Still, the issue wasn't enough for her to join the dozens of Democratic House members boycotting Donald Trump's inauguration. She said she planned to attend.

More potential candidates for 2018

Political hopefuls across the county are considering their options for three county commission seats coming open in 2018.

The Tampa Bay Times reported several names last week. Add to them Eric Seidel, who lost but ran a widely admired race for clerk of court last year, and David Wilson, a young first-timer who's active in the local GOP and in appointive county government advisory boards.

Meanwhile, school board member Melissa Snively said she intends to stay where she is and run for re-election.

Contact William March at


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