William March: Hillsborough GOP hits financial hard times

According to campaign finance reports, the party raised $61.43 for its state account in the first three months of 2019.
Jim Waurishuk, chairman of the Hillsborough County Republican Party. [Times (2016)]
Jim Waurishuk, chairman of the Hillsborough County Republican Party. [Times (2016)]
Published May 9

The Hillsborough County Republican Party appears to have fallen on financial hard times following a fuss with prominent donors and is appealing to members for help.

According to its campaign finance reports, the party raised $61.43 for its state account in the first three months of 2019.

Most of its money goes to a federal account, for which no current report is available, but it’s apparently not faring well, either.

The federal account balance dropped from $22,931 Dec. 31 to $15,269 Feb. 28, according to party treasurer’s reports. It dropped further in March to $2,875, according to notes by an attendee.

Both accounts then totaled $6,965, down from $26,967 Dec. 31.

Party Chairman Jim Waurishuk wouldn’t confirm the figures, saying that would “give our opponents … insight into our efforts and capabilities.”

The local Democratic Party, meanwhile, reported raising $64,978 during the first quarter.

In a non-election year, local parties typically try to rebuild cash balances for the next election after spending heavily in the previous one.

In April, the GOP sent members an email headlined “Urgent — We Need Your Help Now.”

It said the local party was “doing new, bold and exciting things and ‘shaking-up the old order’ … draining the swamp so to speak, here in Hillsborough and Florida,” comparing itself to Trump in Washington.

“Naturally, there are those locally that aren’t too thrilled, and most have withdrawn their financial support,” it said.

In November, following Democratic successes in local races in 2018, several large donors called on Waurishuk to resign, and critical email exchanges ensued.

GOP D59 candidate announces

Valrico financial adviser and civic activist Melissa Haskins is the first Republican to announce a campaign for the Brandon-based District 59 state House seat, but Brandon lawyer Mike Owen said he’ll be the next.

A third, Joe Wicker, who narrowly lost the seat to Democrat Adam Hattersley last year, has said he’s considering running again.

Hattersley’s 3-point win, flipping a seat long held by Republicans, marked a turning point — Democratic encroachment into Republican east Hillsborough. Holding that beachhead will be among Democrats’ top 2020 legislative priorities.

Republicans are just as eager to take it back, but it has grown into a swing district. Hattersley has filed for re-election, likely setting up one of the top targeted state House races.

Haskins, 48, a Brandon native, is a financial adviser with a University of Tampa bachelor’s degree and an MBA from the online University of Phoenix. She and her husband Paul have three children.

Her charitable fundraising won her the Brandon Community Roundtable’s 2018-19 Honorary Mayor title. She’s board president of Brandon’s Emergency Care Help Organization and past president of the Valrico-Fish Hawk Chamber of Commerce.

Owen, 43, a civil and commercial litigator, grew up in Brandon and founded a firm with offices in Brandon and South Tampa. He’s a graduate of St. Leo University and the Western Michigan University law school.

He said he intended to file for the seat by the end of this week.

Both are first-time candidates.

Learned to run again

Andrew Learned has announced he’ll run again for the District 15 U.S. House seat, possibly repeating the 2018 Democratic primary.

Kristen Carlson, who beat Learned in the 2018 primary but lost to Republican Ross Spano, is considering running again.

Learned opened his campaign with a video emphasizing his service as a Navy reservist in the Middle East, an appeal to conservatives and veterans in the GOP-leaning district.

He’s starting early in hope of running a bigger, better-funded race.

“Last time, it took me six months of hard work to get to the point where I am right now,” he said.

National Democrats are targeting the district, covering much of east Hillsborough, Lakeland and Clermont, because of potentially illegal financial problems in Spano’s 2018 campaign.

“We have one of the most flippable House seats in the country,” Learned said. “No one on the left, right or center wants a congressman who breaks the law.”

Learned was deployed to the Middle East for several weeks during his 2018 race and just returned from a brief deployment, but said he faces only two more weeks’ deployment before the 2020 election.

His video focuses on the January 2017 Navy SEAL raid in Yemen, which critics, including Learned, say was mishandled by the then-new Trump administration, resulting in the death of a SEAL raider. Learned calls it his first motivation for running.

The video ad shows Learned in uniform and working out, intercut with video of troops in combat, suggesting he was involved in the raid.

“Lt. Learned was deployed to the region,” the ad says over the video. “The specifics are classified.”

Learned said in an interview that he was located in Bahrain with a planning role in the covert operations campaign.

Contact William March at [email protected]

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