With 19 months to go before the 2022 election, and despite uncertainty about the shape of districts that will be redrawn before then, Republicans are already preparing to challenge the Democratic majority on the Hillsborough County Commission.
Because of redistricting, all four district seats on the board will be up for election next year, along with two of the three countywide seats. Only the countywide seat of Democrat Pat Kemp, re-elected last year, won’t be up for grabs.
Scott Levinson, who surprised political insiders in 2020 by coming close to upsetting Harry Cohen in the south Tampa-based District 1 race, says he’s likely to take another shot.
“If I had lost by 20 points, or even by 10, I wouldn’t even consider it,” Levinson said.
In fact, Cohen beat him by 1.5 percent, 2,655 votes, despite being outspent 10-1.
Political newcomer Chase Harrison, a former Tampa police officer, Air Force master sergeant and semi-retired airline pilot, says he may challenge countywide Commissioner Kimberly Overman, who’ll be finishing her first term next year.
One Republican, Josh Wostal, has already filed against Overman, who has launched a re-election campaign early in response, raising $14,152 and sending fundraising emails to supporters. She won her seat with a comfortable 9-point margin in 2018.
Meanwhile, former state House candidate Michael Owen appears to be working to pre-empt potential Republican primary challengers in the race for the east Hillsborough District 4 seat of term-limited Commissioner Stacy White, one of two Republicans on the current board.
“I think he may have cleared the field with his fundraising and hard work,” White said of Owen.
Owen has raised $54,060, including $9,000 of his own money. In 2020, he lost by less than 2 points to Democrat Andrew Learned for the District 59 state House seat with a campaign also partially self-funded.
No Democrats so far have popped up for the District 4 race or to challenge the board’s only other Republican, Commissioner Ken Hagan, in District 2 — both GOP-friendly districts — and White said he doesn’t foresee a strong Republican challenge to Commissioner Gwen Myers, elected last year in Democrat-friendly District 3.
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Blackmon eying St. Petersburg mayor’s race
First-term St. Petersburg City Council member Robert Blackmon, who spoke negatively last year about the prospects of entering the mayoral race, has had a change of heart and says he’s now strongly considering running.
“People have been reaching out to me non-stop, and a lot of voters and long-time residents feel they’re not represented by the choices on the table,” Blackmon said.
He said the current field of prominent candidates feels overly partisan.
The three best-known candidates in the non-partisan race, former state House member Wengay Newton, City Council member Darden Rice and former county Commissioner Ken Welch, are all Democrats.
Blackmon spoke of stances he’s taken on both sides of the liberal-conservative divide, and said city politics “have become too mired in the rut of partisanship.”
Blackmon acknowledged there’s been a shift in his thinking since November, when he noted in an interview that it was “still my first year (on the council) and I want to keep doing the work I’m doing on the council. The mayor’s office has not been on my radar screen.”
Driskell named future Dem leader
State Rep. Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa, has been elected by the state House Democratic caucus as its leader-designate for the 2024-26 term.
The unanimous vote puts her in line to be the Legislature’s first Black female caucus leader, during the 2025 and 2026 legislative sessions, following Rep. Ramon Alexander of Tallahassee in the 2023 and 2024 sessions.
An incoming House caucus leader is responsible for managing party efforts to elect party members to the House. In the unlikely event that Democrats won a majority of state House seats for either of those sessions, Driskell would be the presumed choice for House speaker.
Republicans currently hold 78 state House seats to Democrats’ 42.
Move against Schiff defeated
In an illustration of the divisions in the Hillsborough County Republican Party, a surprise attempt by members of the local party governing board to reprimand State Committeewoman April Schiff failed during a meeting last week.
Schiff, a long-time, mainstream local GOP activist and political consultant, has clashed with the Trump-oriented Republicans who have become dominant in the local party recently.
Three years ago, Schiff lost the race for party chairman to current Chairman Jim Waurishuk, in an election in which only party precinct representatives could vote. An early Trump backer, Waurishuk has created controversy with inflammatory, conspiracy-themed social media rhetoric.
But last year, in an election in which all registered Republicans in the county could vote, Schiff won a key post as one of two local delegates to the state GOP executive committee.
Meanwhile, she and other prominent, long-time Republicans have formed a new committee to recruit and raise money for GOP candidates and do voter registration — in effect, the work the local party is supposed to do.
At a local party meeting last week, Waurishuk ally Nadeen Wincapaw made a surprise motion to reprimand Schiff and demand an apology because of comments Schiff made in a recent television news story about that new committee.
According to accounts by several attendees, Schiff gave an angry response noting the party’s recent electoral losses in Hillsborough and its failure to keep up with Democrats in fundraising and voter registration.
Waurishuk confirmed via email that the precinct representatives then voted to table Wincapaw’s motion, which he said “terminated” it. He didn’t comment on whether he was aware of it beforehand or how he voted.
Schiff had no comment on the incident.
Contact William March at firstname.lastname@example.org.