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  1. Florida Politics

William March: Republicans, including Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister, backing Les Miller

A group of prominent Tampa Republicans, led by Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister, are backing Democrat Les Miller in the 2020 race for clerk of circuit court. [BRONTE WITTPENN   |   Times]
A group of prominent Tampa Republicans, led by Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister, are backing Democrat Les Miller in the 2020 race for clerk of circuit court. [BRONTE WITTPENN | Times]
Published May 22, 2019

A group of prominent Tampa Republicans, led by Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister, are backing Democrat Les Miller in the 2020 race for clerk of circuit court.

Chronister is the co-host of a fundraiser Thursday for Miller, along with sitting Clerk Pat Frank, a Democrat.

The host committee for the event includes 10 local elected Democratic officeholders and several high-level donors, but also Republicans — county commissioners Ken Hagan and Sandra Murman, Tax Collector Doug Belden, and donor and port board appointee Steve Swindal.

Murman's involvement apparently means she won't run for the office herself, even though she is currently filed as a candidate with a campaign fund of $193,008.

Murman raised the money for a 2018 county commission race but then decided to remain in her current seat and transferred the money into a campaign for clerk. There's been speculation since that she was only parking the money there with the possibility of transferring it to yet another campaign. She didn't return messages for comment.

Chronister has courted Democrats as the county has swung blue, and is married to Democratic donor Nikki DeBartolo, also on the fundraiser host committee.

Chronister spoke at a local Democratic Party Spring Fling fundraiser in March, attendees said.

Chronister called his backing of Miller "a no-brainer" because, "He's the most qualified person — it's almost like that job was made for him," and because of his work with Miller during Miller's tenure as a commissioner.

Chronister said partisanship is not his priority — "It's who's the best person for the job."

He said he's occasionally been criticized in the past by Republicans for supporting Democrats and has heard "some scuttlebutt," but no serious reaction, to his backing Miller.

Miller is term-limited in his commission seat and Frank has announced she won't run again.

Former county Commissioner Kevin Beckner, who ran against Frank in a 2016 primary for clerk, has also said he's considering running.

Cruz takes on lead issue, personally

In the hard-fought 2018 campaign for state senator, Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, cited lead traces in school water fountains as evidence of inadequate public school financing in Florida.

She introduced a bill to put filters on water fountains in aging schools statewide, but it went almost nowhere in the GOP-controlled Legislature — only one committee hearing, with unanimous approval, in the Senate and no hearing at all in the House.

Now Cruz says she intends to raise money personally to fix the problem in Hillsborough County, and continue to push her statewide bill in coming legislative sessions.

Cruz says it would cost about $20-$40 per year per water fountain, with 136 schools in Hillsborough County built before 1986 with 15-20 water fountains per school. There are an estimated 1,746 pre-1986 schools statewide.

She said the legislative staff analysis of the bill torpedoed it by saying the fiscal impact was "significant but indeterminate," scaring legislators that it might cost too much.

"I'm going to talk to businesses, to Culligan" — the water filtration company — "and local supporters of public education, and I'm going to do this on my own," she said. "Maybe next year, when I can prove it's not ridiculous amounts, they'll consider the bill."

Hanisee returns to county party

Democratic fundraiser Mark Hanisee is returning to work for the Hillsborough County Democratic Party after taking a year off to work for the David Straz mayoral campaign.

He said he'll have a five-month contract as a fundraising consultant with the party at $2,000 per month.

Serving previously the party's executive director, Hanisee helped significantly increase the local Dems' fundraising before leaving a year ago to work for Straz for a big raise, $5,300 per month.

But some backers of Mayor Jane Castor, angry about Straz's harshly negative campaign against her, aren't happy about Hanisee's return.

"There are some sensitivities out there," said party Chairman Ione Townsend. "We've taken that into consideration and he's coming back in a more limited role, as a fundraiser with a temporary contract. We're trying to be sensitive to the hard feelings, but also make the decision that's best for the party."

Day backs Bullock

Prominent local lobbyist and Democratic fundraiser Justin Day has picked one of the darker horses in the large Democratic herd to back for president in 2020, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock.

A centrist second-termer, Bullock has expanded Medicaid and pushed campaign finance reform, winning Republican support in his deep red state. He hopes for a breakout in Iowa, another rural enclave, where the attorney general, the only statewide elected Democrat, backs him.

"He is the only candidate in the race who won a red state on the same night Trump did," Day said in a fundraising email.

Day was an early backer of Andrew Gillum in the 2018 Democratic governor primary.

It's likely his early support for Bullock will make him a Florida leader in the Bullock campaign — if one develops.

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