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  1. Opinion

Tampa Bay candidates respond to Times editorial board recommendations

The Times made recommendations in 32 local races.

Editor’s note: The Tampa Bay Times provides an opportunity for candidates not recommended by the Times Editorial Board to respond. Here are the responses from all of the local candidates who took us up on the offer.

U.S. representative, District 13, Republicans

Sharon Barry Newby

While I would be happy to endorse Anna Paulina Luna should she win the Republican nomination, other issues should be considered. Public school teachers should be required to take an oath of allegiance to this country, like our military and civil servants. As a public school teacher, never belonging to the teachers’ union, my perspective has proven to have merit. Socialist indoctrination of our children by activist teachers is the greatest threat to our country. Recent riots to force a president out of office is the logical consequence. Income tax should not be paid on Social Security benefits until they exceed the contributions paid. Seniors pay tax on the same money twice. Finally, we need to get out of the mindset that the most money wins. Pinellas voters want someone that they know and trust. This offsets the need for enormous sums of money. Preoccupation with fundraising for each election cycle is a corrupting factor.

District 14, Republicans

Paul Sidney Elliott

Thank you for the opportunity to reply. Accomplishments, experience and qualifications are what should be considered and what matters! Consider mine:

  • Florida/Tampa native and Hillsborough High School grad, 1960
  • University of Florida, B.S. Agriculture 1965; Juris Doctor, 1973
  • Member of the Florida Bar and Hillsborough County Bar Association
  • Practicing attorney since 1973
  • Licensed to practice before the U.S. and Florida Supreme Courts
  • Former assistant public defender — 7 years
  • Former Hillsborough County Court judge — 8 years
  • Certified financial planner since 2003
  • U.S. Coast Guard Reserve — 6 years
  • Member: Benevolent Protective Order of Elks and the American Legion
  • Licensed airplane pilot

I am clearly the best qualified, accomplished and experienced candidate for Congress, District 14.

State representative, District 67, Democrats

Mike Henkel

I’d like to share a vision with you, and that is why I am in this race and asking for your vote. The activist in me knows Tallahassee can do better. In the face of COVID-19 and climate change, we are presented with a dual challenge: protect our health so we can all live normal lives again, and protect our planet so our kids can have a healthy future. I manage a natural foods market, and my experience serving our community says good health is the basis of life. As a progressive, I will join with you to protect our natural resources, stand for social justice, promote equal access to health care and education, and invest in a resilient economic recovery that keeps our planet safe for future generations. We share a 2020 vision. Together we can bring it into focus!

District 70, Democrats

Keisha Bell

I am running because I care about District 70. I am a third-generation native of south St. Petersburg, a graduate of the University of Central Florida and Florida State University College of Law. I have practiced law throughout Florida. My additional experience includes: helping with drafting state policy under a former governor; being a former Pinellas County Charter Review commissioner; managing a federal community partnership grant to assist with reducing health disparities of diabetes and childhood obesity in District 70; managing a budget of nearly $1 million; securing nearly $100,000 of additional money for the residents of District 70 from the federal government; facilitating more than 100 youth conferences for K-12 Pinellas County students on bullying, discrimination, stereotyping and respect; and being an assistant attorney general in District 70. We are in critical times. I am an experienced, proven servant leader. Let me serve you in Tallahassee.

Mark Oliver

I have a track record of bringing people together from all walks of life to accomplish common goals. When the coronavirus pandemic hit, making it harder for high-risk seniors to access meals, I was there providing healthy meals and over 5,000 masks to keep residents healthy. When protesters began gathering to advocate for equity and human rights, I was there marching beside them. When LGBTQ+ residents came together to discuss obstacles blocking them from equitable resources, I was there. As a Black man growing up in Pinellas County, I faced many obstacles, and I overcame them to become the advocate I am today. I have the experience, the relationships and the know-how to get the job done.

When elected, I will be representing all the residents of District 70 — Democrats, Republicans, independents and even those not registered to vote. Vote for me to help build a stronger, better Florida together.

Hillsborough Clerk of Court and Comptroller

Kevin Beckner

I’d like to thank the Times for allowing me the opportunity to set forth some major issues I will tackle as your Hillsborough Clerk of Court. Because the lives of nearly every resident of Hillsborough County will at some time require a service provided by the Clerk of the Circuit Court, my priorities are to:

  • invest in hardware and software to improve connectivity and expand online services without jeopardizing the security of your records and documents.
  • use best practices and technological advances that increase the number and diversity of qualified jurors to enhance the right to trial by an impartial jury.
  • establish a self-help center to provide legal assistance at an affordable price to ensure equal access to justice.

You twice elected me county commissioner, and I don’t take that trust for granted. I will use my experience to forge an integrated system of justice for our community, one that lets us move forward together.

Hillsborough County Commission, District 1, Democrats

Jen McDonald

Thank you for recognizing my two decades of building our community. My experience has been out here, working alongside community and business leaders to move our county forward. I will be mindful of the impact on existing residents regardless of what powerful entity is proposing a project. The TBX (now Tampa Bay Next) vote is a prime example of the differences in this regard. Generation X and millennials are not represented on this Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners. We are the working families in this community and, without a seat at the table, our voices will continue to go unheard. I am uniquely positioned, being considered either the youngest of Gen X or the oldest of the millennials, to represent these voices. I have spent much of my time working successfully alongside baby boomers with mutual respect and a joint vision to achieve goals that are inclusive of all of our needs. I will bring these skills to the commission. Thank you.

District 1, Republicans

Tony Morejon

I have dedicated over 35 years to public service. I am running so that I can continue to serve our community, the community that we love. I bring real experience and real solutions. I stand for small business, enhanced public safety, smart growth, and effective government where you, the citizen, matters. I am proud to be endorsed by both the Hillsborough and Tampa firefighters as well as numerous leaders in our community from all walks of life. I appreciate your time.

District 3, Democrats

Frank Reddick

My experience in leadership positions with a neighborhood association, as the CEO of a non-profit organization, and as an elected official has made me eminently qualified to represent the residents of Hillsborough County Commission District 3. I am the candidate in this race who has most recently served in elected office. I have served as president of the Northview Hills Neighborhood Association. I am currently the CEO of the Hillsborough Sickle Cell Association and the Florida Sickle Cell Foundation. I served two four-year terms as a member of the Tampa City Council, two years as its chair. In my bid for reelection to a second term I was unopposed. More than being a strong advocate for parks, recreation and neighborhood equity, I have been an experienced leader with proven results for those I’ve represented.

Hillsborough School Board, District 3

Richard Warrener

The perspectives of those responsible for the recommendations in each school district appear quite different. In Pinellas, lack of an education background was not considered detrimental to two of the recommended candidates with business backgrounds. In Hillsborough, however, an education background was the essential ingredient in all four recommendations. That perspective overlooks that school administration is full of highly qualified education experts with an abundance of great ideas. The district’s greatest need is additional funding to implement their great ideas. To bring Florida from 44th in per-pupil funding and 47th in average teacher salaries to just 25th requires $6 billion statewide and $450 million in Hillsborough. Disgraceful! The priorities of the Legislature must change. I am the only candidate for Hillsborough’s seven-member board with a financial background who has done the research to understand the complexities of the district’s $2.5 billion in annual funding and spending.

Mitch Thrower

I was disappointed that my strong credentials and leadership experience were not mentioned in the Times article. I am a CPA, Certified Internal Auditor with an MBA who is the only candidate to have experience auditing Florida school boards. For over 20 years, I have served in leadership roles on numerous public boards and committees ranging from the Early Learning Coalition to the Charter Review Board. I grew up in a teaching household and understand the importance of education. My mother, Sandra Thrower, was an educator for over 30 years and retired as principal from Forest Hills Elementary. I grew up in Hillsborough County, where I attended public schools, graduating from Chamberlain High School. I have experience working with students as a substitute teacher, as Cub master of Pack 217 and as a school volunteer. But most importantly, I am a parent with three children and passionate about improving our school system.

District 7

Sally Harris

In response to your comments on my candidacy for School Board District 7, please note that as a sitting board member in 2014-2018 I was strongly instrumental in many changes for Hillsborough County schools. During my tenure:

  • a new administration was put in place.
  • reduction of 1,900 non-essential staff.
  • inherited a $126 million deficit, which became a balanced budget with contingency fund replaced.
  • 18 failing schools reduced to just five.
  • graduation rates rose from 73.5 percent to 86.2 percent.
  • 2,500 vocational certified graduates increased to 7,000+ vocational certifications

I have a proven track record for business leadership and for being an advocate for principals, teachers, parents and students, and making their voices heard.

Pinellas Tax Collector, Republicans

Charles Thomas

Your recommendation in the Tax Collectors race pointed out that our office is responsible for 270 employees and collecting over $2 billion in taxes and fees annually. Our dedicated team of professionals did this while maintaining a customer satisfaction rating of 98.6 percent in 2019. While I understand the temptation to listen to gossip and former tax collectors lamenting the fact that things have changed, as a leader I believe it’s more important to let facts control decision making. The facts in this case demonstrate that 90 percent of employees are engaged and satisfied members of an organization which has been recognized for leadership, ethics, fiscal responsibility and employee development by being the recipient of the Governor’s Sterling Award. I have a passion for public service that goes back to my service in the U.S. Air Force. My experience makes me the best choice to continue to lead the Tax Collector’s office.

Pinellas School Board, District 1

Tom Topping

I’m the best choice for Pinellas County School Board District 1. Why? I’m passionate about kids and learning. I have the education, experience, vision and executive presence to be ready on day one. There will be no learning curve when implementing my vision of guaranteeing equity and access for all students; closing the achievement gap for good; ensuring excellent teaching in a post-COVID 19 educational system; and protecting the health and safety of all stakeholders. I recognize that budgeting and policy making can change lives and provide opportunities for all of Pinellas County’s children. I devoted 23 years of my life to public school education as a teacher, coach, and school district leader before starting a successful business. I taught dropout prevention and Exceptional Student Education in elementary, middle and high school. I earned a bachelor’s degree in education and a master’s in human resources. I’m qualified!

Stephanie Meyer

As we come upon the beginning of the school year, one thing is on the mind of every parent, student and teacher: The coronavirus. COVID-19 has changed the way we think about educating our children, and there is only one candidate in this race who has actually taught children in the classroom and taught through this pandemic using distance learning. As the only classroom teacher in this race, I can give a real-world perspective that no other candidate can on how best to teach our children through this trying time. As a parent of two young children, I share the concerns and challenges this pandemic puts on parents. As a working mother, I know parents long for the day we can safely open our schools and provide a healthy learning environment. My perspective is that of so many others in our county, and I will represent them each and every day.

District 7

Caprice Edmond

I bring strong qualifications, experience and advocacy to the School Board. As a parent, educator, guardian ad litem and community leader, I have advocated for children and education for over 18 years. I earned master’s degrees in Elementary Education and Educational Leadership and a certification in Infant Family Mental Health. I believe every child in the county deserves a high quality education regardless of whether they attend Fairmount Park, North Shore or Madeira Beach.

I am the president of a nonprofit and served as the grant and patrons chair for Pinellas County Council PTA and as chair of the Florida Education Association’s Teacher Program Policy Committee and other boards. I serve as chair of the St. Petersburg Youth Development Grant Review Committee. I have been endorsed by the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association and Professional Education Support Professional Association, the police union, Pinellas Realtors Organization, Service Employees International Union, pastors, teachers, and elected officials.

Corey Givens Jr.

Every day I receive multiple text messages and emails from my peers wanting to know how they can get involved in the democratic process. People are tired of the status quo. People are tired of electing the same kind of politicians with different names and getting the same results. We are ready to deliver the change that we deserve. We are uniting for our future, while respecting our past. Our team is powered by an inclusive group of people from all walks of life. We believe that representation and diversity matters. Our school board should be reflective of the values we share and the students we serve.

Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court Judge, Group 28

Eva Vergos

I’m more than an “accomplished prosecutor” as described by the Tampa Bay Times. I’m a litigator who has spent my career in public service. A circuit court judge is responsible for some of the most intimate and profound decisions of our lives. There is only one way to be ready for this position — that is with a mastery of the rules of evidence and trial procedure. That mastery can only come from real hands-on experience. I’ve litigated 116 jury trials, dozens of non-jury trials, and have handled thousands of motions, hearings, and evidentiary issues. I have supervised the daily operation of a circuit court division for almost a decade and have spent years training other attorneys in the practice of law. Looking at both candidates, only one has the necessary courtroom experience to serve the Pinellas-Pasco Circuit. This August vote for me because experience matters.

Group 44

Liz Jack

I do my own research, and I rely on facts. Times readers, I urge you to do the same and then vote for me based on your findings. Thank you.

Hillsborough Circuit Court Judge, Group 31

Gary Dolgin

Thank you to the Times for writing the kind words: “Dolgin is board certified in his field reflecting his commitment to high professional standards. He is active in the community and he would bring intelligence and judgment to the bench.” When recommending me four years ago, the Times stated: “He is widely admired as smart, polite and attentive to his clients, all traits that well serve a judge. … He holds judicial office to the high standards the public expects. His work ethic and sense of fair play would well serve those before him.”

I am asking the voters to elect me, because I am the only candidate that:

  • Has over 30 years of experience.
  • Has achieved board certification (achieved by 7% of Florida lawyers).
  • Designated as a Super Lawyer for family law (top 5% of Florida lawyers).
  • Served as prosecutor and public defender.

Hillsborough County Court Judge, Group 7

Nancy L. Jacobs

State Rep. Fentrice Driskell said it best in her endorsement of me for county court judge, Group 7: Nancy “has experience with both criminal law through her public service as a prosecutor and defense attorney, and with civil law as a solo practitioner, making her uniquely well-rounded and prepared to hear all manner of disputes that would come before her in county court.” My legal experience isn’t the only qualifier though. My dedication to serving our community through pro bono work with veterans and active military members has earned me recognition from the Florida Supreme Court. I have volunteered with groups such as American Civil Liberties Union, Girl Scouts, Hillsborough County Schools, and the Humane Society of Tampa Bay, as another way to give back. Combined, my experience, integrity, and community dedication make me uniquely qualified to preside over “the people’s court.” Experience counts!

Correction: An earlier version of this article included an incorrect spelling of Paul Sidney Elliott’s middle name.

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