The Buzz: Former mayor Rick Baker among maybes for governor in 2018

Former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker, left, and former Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio at a Tiger Bay luncheon held at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club in 2014. [Times files]
Former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker, left, and former Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio at a Tiger Bay luncheon held at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club in 2014. [Times files]
Published Dec. 11, 2016

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman's ongoing sewer problems should make aspiring mayors more optimistic about their prospects for beating him when he runs for a second term next year. But the opponent Kriseman fears most, former Mayor Rick Baker, seems to have his sights on a loftier goal.

Baker, 60, has been letting people know he's mulling a run for governor in 2018. We have yet to hear much enthusiasm for the idea, or confidence that Baker will ultimately pull the trigger.

He's well-regarded among Jeb Bush Republicans in Florida, but Baker has been out of office for seven years. After years of flirting with runs for governor, attorney general, chief financial officer and Congress, the St. Petersburg attorney has earned a reputation as something of a hand-wringing Hamlet.

Now working for wealthy St. Petersburg businessman and Tampa Bay Rowdies owner Bill Edwards, Baker dismissed chatter about a gubernatorial run. He said he is mainly focused on pursuing a Major League Soccer franchise for St. Petersburg.

Enough to field a baseball team

Several Democratic names are floating around for governor in 2018, including mayors Bob Buckhorn of Tampa, Andrew Gillum of Tallahassee and Philip Levine of Miami Beach; as well as outgoing U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee and trial lawyer John Morgan of the Orlando area. Graham seems almost certain to run.

The only Republican virtually certain to run is Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam of Bartow, who already has millions of dollars sitting in a campaign account. But that's not stopping a lot of other Republicans from considering it, too.

In fact, the race to succeed Rick Scott could be a Tampa Bay pileup: Buckhorn; Baker; Republican Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran of Land O'Lakes; Republican state Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater (yes, he's a possibility); and Republican former House Speaker Will Weatherford of Wesley Chapel.

That's not a prediction, mind you, just the names circulating.

Fourth Estate setback

Lousy news from Florida's capital: The Palm Beach Post, which serves a population equivalent to Nevada's and for decades has been a leading source for state government news, is closing its Tallahassee bureau.

"The paper's future is local and digital, and coverage of the goings-on in the state Capitol don't meld as well with this direction," the Post's Tallahassee reporter, John Kennedy, wrote on Facebook on Friday.

FSU not welcoming guns on campus

In his annual "state of the university" address last week, Florida State University president John Thrasher reiterated his strong opposition to allowing guns on university and college campuses.

As a member of the Florida Senate, Thrasher helped kill a bill in 2011 that would have allowed gun owners with concealed-weapons licenses to bring their firearms to state campuses.

"I opposed it. I killed it," Thrasher told the FSU faculty. "And you have my promise that I will work against it this year also."

The so-called "campus carry" bill, which in the past has been approved by the House, has re-emerged as an issue for the 2017 legislative session. Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, filed a new version of the bill (HB 6005) on Wednesday.

The issue also may have more support in 2017 in the Senate, where newly elected Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, a major supporter, has been named chairman of the Judiciary Committee. That committee is where the proposal, strongly backed by Second Amendment groups, died during the 2016 session.

Supporters: 'Mandate' for medical marijuana

The folks behind the successful campaign to legalize medical marijuana in Florida have taken a close look at the results to find that prominent opponents were well out of step with their constituents and/or neighbors.

In the Florida House district of St. Petersburg developer Mel Sembler, founder of Drug Free Florida, nearly 80 percent of voters supported the initiative.

In districts represented by Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, more than 70 percent supported medical marijuana.

Dan Rogers, legislative director of Florida for Care, said the numbers are "proof positive that voters delivered a clear mandate for medical marijuana in this election. Legislators of both parties are going to be surprised by how high the support in their own districts actually was. This was truly a broad expression of the people's will."

The News Service of Florida contributed to this week's Buzz. Contact Adam Smith at Follow @AdamSmithTimes.