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Who should be elected to the Florida Legislature? We’ve got answers | Times recommends
The Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board recommendations in races for state House.
Members of the Florida House of Representatives work during a legislative session at the Florida State Capitol earlier this year.
Members of the Florida House of Representatives work during a legislative session at the Florida State Capitol earlier this year. [ WILFREDO LEE | AP ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Jul. 29|Updated Aug. 4

Members of the Florida House of Representatives are elected to two-year terms and paid $29,697 annually. The winners of the Aug. 23 primary face a general election on Nov. 8.

Florida House of Representatives

Related: All of the Florida primary political recommendations of the Times Editorial Board

District 57: Adam Anderson

Adam Anderson
Adam Anderson [ Adam Anderson ]

Austin Brownfield was disqualified from this race after the ballots were printed. He was declared ineligible because Florida law requires candidates to be registered members of their chosen party for a year before the beginning of the qualifying period. Brownfield changed his registration from No Party Affiliation to Republican earlier this year. That means his opponent, Adam Anderson, will win this seat because he has no other opposition in the primary or the general election. The Times would have recommended Anderson even if Brownfield had not been disqualified.

District 58, Republicans: Jason Holloway

Jason Holloway
Jason Holloway [ Special to the Times ]

This was a tough one. The top two candidates had some distinct differences. Youth versus experience. A first-time candidate versus a person seeking a second stint in the state House after years away. Polished versus more of a work in progress. Plus, we had to get our heads around crypto currency and block chain technology. More on that in a minute.

Tampa Bay's state House districts in 2022
Tampa Bay's state House districts in 2022 [ Tampa Bay Times ]

In the end, we gave the nod to 30-year-old Jason Holloway. He’s a graduate of Pinellas Park High School and the University of Florida. He understands how things get done in Tallahassee, having worked as a legislative assistant in the Florida Legislature for about five years. He was also a legislative liaison for the University of Florida from 2017-2019 before opening his own firm, DLT Consulting, which specializes in tech consulting and public relations. Holloway wants to keep taxes low, streamline the permitting process to make housing more affordable, and expand vocational opportunities for high school graduates. He also knows enough about crypto currency and block chain technology that Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed him to the state block chain task force. The idea is to figure out how the state can benefit from the technology, particularly in the areas of record keeping, data security, financial transactions and even how the state interacts with the public.

Holloway is 20 years younger than his main rival in this race. His relative youth shows when he gets away from issues he’s most comfortable discussing. We’re confident he will work to fill in those gaps. He, like his main competitor in this race, seems more open to bipartisan solutions and less likely to be an unproductive political flamethrower. Holloway, for instance, sees room to work across the aisle on mitigating sea-level rise, early detection of algal blooms and Red Tide and protecting Tampa Bay and the state’s lakes, rivers and aquifer from harmful runoff.

Kimberly Berfield, 51, was in the state House from 2000-2006*, before making an unsuccessful run for state Senate. The former TV reporter and producer was deputy secretary of the Florida Department of Health from 2007-2012. She’s currently vice president of governmental affairs and community health for Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital. Berfield is a good communicator and sharp on the major issues facing Florida. Like Holloway, she seems more civil than some modern politicians, willing to listen and solve problems, rather than score pyrrhic victories that do nothing to help Florida.

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Jim Vricos, 54, is a first-time political candidate and an adjunct instructor at Keiser University and Schiller International University. He has two degrees from Florida State University, a law degree from Touro Law School in New York and a master of laws from George Washington University Law School. He listed his three top priorities as supporting law enforcement, addressing homelessness and “shifting the Republican party’s emphasis from general supportiveness of all business to a focused support for small and local businesses.” Vricos is smart and easy to talk to, but his campaign has yet to catch fire.

The Times recommends Jason Holloway in the Republican primary for state representative, District 58.

District 58, Democrats: Bernard “Bernie” Fensterwald

Bernie Fensterwald
Bernie Fensterwald [ Tampa Bay Times ]

This primary pits two former political candidates against each other, with Bernard “Bernie” Fensterwald the more likely to put up a better fight in the general election.

Fensterwald, 71, has a clearer grasp of the issues. He would work to reduce the cultural conflicts in Tallahassee and has sensible views on public education, affordable housing and gun safety. His small business experience would help him bring a commonsense approach to governing, something that is too often lacking in the state Legislature.

Fensterwald grew up in Virginia before graduating from Vanderbilt University and then Tulane School of Law. He worked for the Federal Trade Commission and went on to open a law firm specializing in public information litigation. In 2002, he graduated from Virginia Tech with a degree in counseling and worked until 2006 as a school counselor. He is now retired though he remains a co-owner of U-Store Management, a successful self-storage company. He’s worth about $32 million, according to his financial disclosure. In 2016, Fensterwald lost his House race against Republican Chris Sprowls, who later became Speaker of the House.

Joseph Saportas, 74, a graduate of Florida State University and the University of Utah Graduate School of Business, runs his own insurance company. He has some similar ideas to Fensterwald, but he isn’t as effective at communicating them. In 2020, he ran unsuccessfully for Pinellas County Tax Collector.

The Tampa Bay Times recommends Bernard “Bernie” Fensterwald in the Democratic primary for state representative, District 58.

District 59, Republicans: Jennifer Wilson

Jennifer Wilson
Jennifer Wilson [ Courtesy of Jennifer Wilson ]

The race to replace Nick DiCeglie in this state House seat in Pinellas includes three Republicans — two frontrunners and a relative unknown. While Berny Jacques has run a solid campaign, Jennifer Wilson gets our recommendation. Wilson, 39, is a business lawyer who earned dual law degrees from Stetson University College of Law in Gulfport. Before attending law school, she worked for the Florida Senate and was a senior adviser to three former high-profile local Republicans, former Sens. Jack Latvala of Clearwater and Victor Crist of Tampa and former Senate President Tom Lee. She also has a bachelor’s degree from the University of South Florida.

She worked for the law firm Adams and Reese until leaving in 2018 to work as a lobbyist for Shumaker Advisors Florida. Over the years, she has worked as a volunteer guardian ad litem and as a 911 dispatcher. At Stetson she won the William F. Blews Award given for outstanding volunteer service. Wilson, who is a member of Keep Pinellas Beautiful, has said she would be a “tireless advocate for Florida’s natural resources.” She is backed by DiCeglie, who is running for state Senate.

The other frontrunner is this race in Berny Jacques, a 35-year-old former prosecutor and conservative analyst with Bay News 9. Jacques, also a graduate of Stetson’s law school, is currently the senior partnerships director at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tampa Bay. He is endorsed by the Florida Fraternal Order of Police, Pinellas County Commissioner Kathleen Peters, former state Rep. Larry Ahern and Seminole Mayor Leslie Waters.

The third candidate is 61-year-old physician Dipak Dinanath Nadkarni, a Largo High grad who spent about 30 years in the Navy. His campaign has been comparatively low key and hasn’t gained the traction of the other two candidates.

The winner of this primary takes on Democrat Dawn Douglas in the general election.

The Times recommends Jennifer Wilson in the Republican primary for state representative, District 59.

District 62, Democrats: Michele Rayner

Michele Rayner
Michele Rayner [ handout ]

This is another three-person race, this time with two frontrunners who have both won previous state House races. Wengay Newton and Michele Rayner have both served their constituents admirably, but Rayner gets the nod from us.

Rayner, 40, was elected to the state House in 2020. If reelected, one of her priorities would be creating more affordable housing. She would like to explore rent stabilization ideas and incentivize developers to build more affordable housing by waiving certain fees and other requirements, something she tried to address during her first term. Her other priorities include tackling food insecurity and improving infrastructure and transportation.

Rayner has a bachelor’s and a master’s 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. She isn’t afraid to criticize her Republican legislative colleagues and the Republican governor. No one should expect a Democrat to quietly go along with everything that happens in the Republican-controlled Legislature. There are times when public rebuke is merited. But Rayner pokes that bear a little more often than we would like. This is a district that needs a lot of help. We’d like to see it get everything it deserves, which can require determined, behind-the-scenes diplomacy on behalf of its elected representative.

Newton, 58, was a member of St. Petersburg City Council and then a member of the state House from 2016-2020. He had a record of building support for projects in his district, despite being overwhelmingly outnumbered by Republicans in the state House. Newton is friendly and generally well liked, but his recent election record is spotty. In 2020, he left his seat in the state House to run for the Pinellas County commission, a race he lost in the primary, and then finished fourth last August in the St. Petersburg mayoral primary.

Jesse Philippe, 34, spent six years in the Marine Corps, including a tour in Iraq. He earned a bachelor’s degree in public policy from St. Petersburg College and a law degree from WMU-Cooley Law School. In 2020, he ran unsuccessfully for Congress.

The winner of this primary takes on Republican Jeremy Brown in the general election.

This was a close call, but the Times recommends Michele Rayner in the Democratic primary for state representative, District 62.

District 65, Republicans: Michael C. Minardi

Two candidates in this three-person race offer energy and ideas. But Michael C. Minardi’s agenda is best suited for this district and he would make the strongest Republican.

Michael Minardi
Michael Minardi [ handout ]

Minardi, 47, is a Tampa attorney and first-time candidate who lists his top priorities as criminal justice reform, infrastructure, education and the environment. He supports legalizing and taxing cannabis for adults 21 and over, saying Florida wastes millions of dollars annually on a failed drug war that overburdens the prisons and the court system. Minardi is a strong supporter of school choice, and says the Legislature should expand assistance for parents to take advantage of these options. He would provide incentives for developers to build affordable housing and promote diversifying Florida’s jobs base.

Jake Hoffman, 31, is chief executive of a digital media firm and another first-time candidate. Hoffman lists housing and job development as top issues; he wants Florida to work with the federal government and private banks to help first-time homebuyers, especially the self-employed who historically have faced extra hurdles in securing mortgages. Hoffman also has a strong environmental plank and supports helping ex-felons secure their voting rights. Businesswoman Karen Gonzalez Pittman is also on the primary ballot, but her agenda is unclear.

Hoffman’s work as a Republican activist shows his commitment to getting involved, but Minardi offers a more measured, balanced agenda that could help Republicans in November. He wants strong protections for beaches and waterways and tax incentives for solar and other clean-energy technologies, and while supportive of gun rights, Minardi also credits red-flag laws for improving public safety. He seems a pitch-perfect voice for Republicans in this South Tampa to Westchase district.

The Tampa Bay Times recommends Michael C. Minardi in the Republican primary for state representative, District 65.

District 68, Republicans: Lawrence McClure

This primary is another example of how Republicans continue to damage their own party.

 Lawrence McClure
Lawrence McClure

Since first being elected to the Florida House in a special election in 2017, the incumbent, Lawrence McClure, has been a reliably conservative voice on — well, everything. The 35-year-old Dover businessman knows this Plant City district and the interests of a rural, agricultural community.

Challenger Paul Hatfield, a 65-year-old financial adviser and first-time candidate, faults McClure for not getting more bills passed in the Legislature, yet he cannot point to a single piece of legislation that McClure should have gotten over the line. His single-page platform reflects the depth of this drive-by candidacy. Republicans deserve better from a primary challenge.

The Tampa Bay Times recommends Lawrence McClure in the Republican primary for state representative, District 68.

District 69, Republicans: Daniel “Danny” Alvarez

This is another easy one. Republican Megan Angel Petty has raised $169 for the race, state records show. While money in politics isn’t everything, in this case it is.

Daniel "Danny" Alvarez
Daniel "Danny" Alvarez [ Provided ]

Daniel “Danny” Alvarez has not only raised the money ($162,187) necessary to compete, he has a long record of meaningful public service and community activism. Born in Miami, Alvarez, 48, is a former Army paratrooper who now operates his own legal practice, specializing in family law and serving as general counsel for the union representing Tampa police department officers and retirees.

Alvarez will have to offer a more specific agenda before the general election in November. But his work experience and history of civic involvement certainly prepare him for state office. Alvarez has served on the local expressway authority, the Hillsborough sheriff’s Hispanic Advisory Council and the county’s Children’s Services Advisory Board, along with other groups. This district, which includes the southeast Hillsborough communities of Riverview, Lithia and Wimauma, is a growing area with a range of needs, from better transportation to improved infrastructure. Alvarez understands policy issues and the political process, and combined with his civic service is the Republicans’ strongest choice for the general election.

The Tampa Bay Times recommends Daniel “Danny” Alvarez in the Republican primary for state representative, District 69.

The recommendation process

Before making a recommendation, the Times Editorial Board asks candidates to fill out questionnaires and sit for an interview. The process can also include running criminal and civil background checks, interviewing candidates’ colleagues and employers, reviewing voting records and financial disclosures and examining their past and current positions on relevant issues.

Candidate replies

Candidates not recommended by the editorial board are offered an opportunity to reply. Judicial candidates may send replies of up to 150 words by 5 p.m. Aug. 4 to Editor of Editorials Graham Brink at voterguide@tampabay.com.

*Editors note: Kimberly Berfield was in the state House from 2000-2006. A previous version of this recommendation had an incorrect year for when she left the state House.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Conan Gallaty. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.

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