William March: Tampa attorney Ryan Torrens announces run for attorney general

Ryan Torrens
Ryan Torrens
Published June 2, 2017

Ryan Torrens, a Tampa lawyer whose practice focuses heavily on consumer protection and homeowner defense against mortgage foreclosures, is taking his first step into electoral politics by running for state attorney general.

Torrens, 32, who lives in Odessa with a law office in Hyde Park, is a Tampa native who said he's seen "a host of legal violations" by big banks and mortgage servicing companies against consumers.

He said consumer protection should be one of the attorney general's main jobs, along with "protecting our families against crime," including aggressively prosecuting financial and other crimes against the elderly.

He's a University of Tampa and George Washington University law school graduate. He had Washington internships, including one with Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, and worked as a federal contractor reviewing mortgage violations, before opening his Tampa practice in 2012.

"One reason I decided to get into this race is the timing. Voters are sick and tired of politicians, and they're ready for new energy and new blood and someone who's going to say what they mean, someone who will fight for working class and middle class people in this state and not special interests," he said.

For his campaign, he hopes to raise $3 million, most of it in small donations from individuals.

Democrats will target Vern Buchanan

National Democrats generated some buzz recently by announcing they intend to target Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, whose district includes southern Hillsborough, in 2018.

Are they crazy? Buchanan has won six straight elections. His first winning margin in 2006 was razor-thin, but the closest since then was when New College political science professor Keith Fitzgerald came within 8 points in 2012.

Fitzgerald said it's unlikely he'll take another shot.

He also said in a normal political year, it wouldn't be realistic for the Democrats to try to take on Buchanan.

Parties spend their money where they have the best chance of success, and the Dems' top House targets next year will be Republicans in districts won by Hillary Clinton, including Miami Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros Lehtinen. Donald Trump won Buchanan's 16th District by 11 points.

But, Fitzgerald said, Democrats may be anticipating an anti-GOP wave election — "We've had a series of wave elections; that's the new normal" — and put Buchanan on their target list to encourage donors and potential candidates to step up early.

Buchanan's very presence in the House angers Democrats.

He won the seat in 2006 and re-election in 2008 despite news reports and official findings of campaign finance corruption — and, in the opinion of Democrats, because of voting machine malfunctions that killed thousands of votes for his 2006 opponent, Christine Jennings. The campaign finance investigations led to fines against Buchanan supporters, but not against Buchanan.

Since then, redistricting pushed the district north, encompassing southern Hillsborough, Manatee and northern Sarasota counties, with Manatee holding the plurality.

Cheryl Wilson, Manatee Democratic chairman, said targeting of the seat is "long overdue. We're going to contest it robustly."

"This is an atypical year. Our headquarters phone hasn't stopped ringing, and the number one question we're asked is, 'What are we going to do about Vern Buchanan's seat?'"

National party spokesman Cole Leiter confirmed that unusual levels of Democratic grass-roots activism and expectations of an unusual political year are behind the targeting.

"There's a backlash against the agenda Republicans are pushing," Leiter said. "We want to help direct that energy."

One Democratic newcomer, Calen Cristiani, a "Bernie Sanders-style Democrat," already has filed, but Wilson said there have been "significant discussions" with others viewed as possible candidates. She wouldn't name names.

Who's behind April Griffin bashing?

An organization calling itself "Citizens for Fairness and Equity" is bashing Hillsborough school board member April Griffin, who's up for re-election next year in her countywide seat.

And they're apparently taking a balanced approach — bashing Griffin as a conservative in calls to Democrats, and as a liberal in calls to Republicans.

Elaine Hall, secretary of the county Democratic Party, says she got a recorded call last weekend blasting Griffin as a conservative Donald Trump ally and charter school advocate, and for ousting former board member Doretha Edgecomb, then the only black member, in the line of succession for chairman in 2015. That move angered some in the black community.

But Bill Person, who's filed to run against Griffin, said a conservative Republican friend of his got a call Thursday blasting Griffin as a liberal.

To make things even weirder, Hall said the caller ID on her phone indicated the call came from the local Democratic Party office. For someone with tech savvy, Hall noted, it's easy to make caller ID show any number you want, but the party is changing its office numbers.

Person said his friend didn't get the caller's number.

Person said he knew nothing about where the calls came from. So did school system area superintendent Henry Washington, who's retiring in July and is expected to run against Griffin as well, with encouragement from black churches and community leaders.

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