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Races for Florida Legislature: The Times editorial board recommendations
Tampa Bay area primary races for state Senate and House
 
Florida's Capitol building
Florida's Capitol building
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published July 23, 2020

The Florida Legislature faces a host of challenges in the coming year, from addressing the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic to helping cities, counties and school districts recover from losses in tourism and local revenue. Members of the Legislature are paid $29,697 annually. Senators are elected to four-year terms and state representatives to two-year terms. The winners of the Aug. 18 primary face a general election Nov. 3.

State Senate, District 21

Republicans: Jim Boyd

Jim Boyd
Jim Boyd [ SCOTT KEELER | TIMES ]

Jim Boyd is the only serious candidate in this race. His political experience and conservative agenda make him the Republicans’ strongest choice for the general election.

Boyd, 63, is chief executive of Boyd Insurance and a former state legislator from Manatee County. He was first elected to the Palmetto City Council in 1989, later serving as the city’s mayor, and was a member of the Florida House from 2010 to 2018, representing Bradenton, Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key.

Boyd espouses a traditional Republican agenda — controlling the budget, holding the line on taxes and promoting small business. In the House, he took a lead in addressing Florida’s opioid crisis.

His primary opponent, John Manners Houman, has sought other Tampa Bay-area state senate seats in recent years. The 73-year-old retired real estate broker touts his civility, but hardly campaigns and offers no compelling agenda. Records show he loaned his campaign $2,500, compared to more than $275,000 that Boyd has raised.

Boyd’s years in elected office should make him sensitive to constituent issues, which is important for a Bradenton-based seat that also takes in the southern Hillsborough County communities of Lithia, Sun City Center and Wimauma. He needs to be visible and accessible to his Hillsborough constituents, and attuned to the very different needs of these diverse communities. But he is clearly the most credible choice. The Tampa Bay Times recommends Jim Boyd in the Republican primary for State Senate, District 21.

State Representative, District 59

Republicans: Danny Kushmer

Danny Kushmer
Danny Kushmer

Democrats flipped this Brandon-based seat from Republicans in 2018, reflecting the more centrist nature of the older suburbs in eastern Hillsborough County. The two Republicans in the primary are both small-business, small-government advocates, but Danny Kushmer’s experience and broader outlook make him the stronger choice.

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Kushmer, 57, is a business consultant and Realtor who ran unsuccessfully in a crowded Republican field for an area congressional seat in 2018. A long-time executive in the agriculture and natural resources fields, he understands farming and regulatory issues, giving him a firm grip on a major economic driver for the state.

Kushmer has a straightforward, conservative agenda. He believes the state needs to consider budget cuts in response to the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. While Kushmer wouldn’t expand state unemployment benefits, he would address how the system became overloaded and explore how it could be improved. He opposes a ban on assault-style weapons, but supports a ban on offshore drilling off the Florida coast.

His Republican opponent, Michael Owen, is a 44-year-old Tampa attorney whose family hails from the Brandon area. Owen said he wants to encourage the state to speed up road improvement projects in the area. He also would consider new incentives and regulatory breaks for business.

Kushmer has a much deeper perspective of state government and more rounded, relevant work experience. His energy level and professional demeanor would benefit the district and reflect well on its constituents. The Times recommends Danny Kushmer in the Republican primary for State Representative, District 59.

State Representative, District 67

Democrats: Dawn Douglas

Dawn Douglas
Dawn Douglas

Dawn Douglas, 68, is the best choice for Democrats in the two-person race for this central Pinellas County district. The longtime Pinellas resident has a solid grasp of the issues facing Florida and the Tampa Bay area. She favors public transportation projects to help alleviate congestion and better support for schools and teachers. She also thinks the Legislature should do more to prepare the state for climate change and rising sea levels.

Douglas attended Largo High School and received a bachelor’s degree from the University of South Florida-St. Petersburg before starting a career as a teacher. She has also chaired the government relations committee for the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association. Douglas won the Democratic primary two years ago before losing in the general election.

Michael Henkel, 52, talks intelligently about climate change and the looming danger for Florida. Like many Democratic candidates, he opposes the M-CORES transportation project, which would add 330 miles of new toll roads around the state. Also a longtime Pinellas resident, he’s a store manager at Nature’s Food Patch, where he has worked since 2000.

The winner of the Democratic primary will face incumbent Republican Chris Latvala in the Nov. 3 general election.

The Times recommends Dawn Douglas for the Democratic primary for state House District 67.

State Representative, District 70

Universal primary: Michele K. Rayner

Michele K. Rayner
Michele K. Rayner [ SHAUNETTE STOKES | Michele Rayner-Goolsby ]

Michele K. Rayner, 38, stands out in a crowded field to replace state Representative Wengay Newton, who is leaving the seat to run for Pinellas County Commission. She’s got the energy and intelligence needed for any Democrat going to the Republican-controlled state Legislature. She favors many traditional Democratic issues — a ban on assault-style weapons, allowing felons to vote — but she’s realistic about what she can get done and willing to create bipartisan consensus to make it happen. She supports increased pay and benefits for teachers and criminal justice reforms including taking a closer look at sentencing guidelines, two issues backed by some Republicans. Rayner also had a good grasp on how to best represent the four-county district that includes parts of south Pinellas, Hillsborough, Manatee and Sarasota.

A first-time candidate, Rayner has a bachelors and a masters degree from Florida State University and a law degree from Florida Coastal School of Law. She started her own law firm — Civil Liberty Law — after working as an assistant public defender and at two local law firms.

Mark Oliver, 28, is the founder and CEO of the nonprofit Specially Fit Foundation, which serves young people with disabilities. The former University of South Florida football player speaks passionately about ensuring children get a good start in life and ending the school-to-prison pipeline.

Keisha Bell, 45, believes everyone should have access to affordable health care and supports fully funding public schools. The Florida State University law grad ran unsuccessfully for Pinellas School Board in 2010 and 2012 and came second to Newton in the race for District 70 two years ago.

Michelle Grimsley, 38, was Newton’s legislative aide. She has a grounding in how Tallahassee operates and ideas similar to the other candidates.

Whoever garners the most votes in the primary wins the seat. Rayner has the experience and talents to best represent this district, and she would be a refreshing addition to the corridors of Tallahassee. The Times recommends Michele Rayner for Florida House District 70.

Candidate replies

Candidates not recommended by the editorial board are offered an opportunity to reply. They can send replies of up to 150 words by 5 p.m. July 27 to Editor of Editorials Graham Brink at gbrink@tampabay.com.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news