Pinellas House candidates take their case to libertarians in Clearwater

Early voting for what will undoubtedly be a low turnout primary election began Saturday in Pinellas County, but one of the few intriguing primary races could be in the Democratic contest in House District 67 (Clearwater & Largo), where Shawna Vercher is competing against Steve Sarnoff and Thomas Ryan. 

"We cannot run the third largest state in the country like it’s Mississippi," declared Sarnoff, a longtime city of Clearwater employee and president of the local branch of the Communications Workers of America union said on Saturday afternoon at a candidate forum in Clearwater. "We've got to learn that we have to accept change. We can't brag about how little taxes we pay, because that simply causes hardship, and eventually it's going to work against us."

Sarnoff didn't go as far as to cross the third rail of Florida politics - actually advocating for a state income tax - but he did say that's not what influences whether a business will relocate to the Sunshine State (undoubtedly Rick Scott and most state Republicans would disagree). Sarnoff says an improved education and transportation system is what's required to bring more high quality jobs to the state, and he'll fight for that if elected in November.

But he'll have to get past Vercher first. She's out fundraised him in the primary and told CL earlier this week that she feels confident she'll win later this month because of her superior ground game. In fact, Vercher was out canvassing on Saturday and blew off the forum, hosted by the Pinellas County Libertarian Party.

To be fair, so did most people in Pinellas. Less than two dozen people were in attendance for the hour-long affair, and only a handful of candidates appeared. Two of them were the Republicans battling to face either Sarnoff or Vercher in HD 67 in November - Chris Latvala and Christopher Shepard. 

The 32-year-old Latvala is the conventional wisdom choice to not only win the primary but the general as well. Though he's a "proud son" of a public school teacher as he told the audience on Saturday, he's also an enthusiastic supporter of school vouchers, which he says allows more parents to have more "flexibility" to put their kids in a "successful education environment" such as magnet or technical schools.

His opponent in the GOP primary, Christopher Shepard, is 26 but looks younger than that. He's an Army veteran who served in Iraq. He says he "saw a bunch of bad stuff" in Iraq, adding that "it really opened my eyes about what we could do better in Pinellas County." Unfortunately for Shepard his chances of doing something in the legislature don't appear strong (He lost to term-limited Ed Hooper in the 2012 GOP primary as well).

There are two scions of GOP Pinellas royalty on the ballot in 2014. In addition to Chris Latvala (the son of state Senator Jack Latvala), we have Bill Young Jr. (now going by Bill Young). son of the late long serving Congressman, running for a state House seat in District 68, against incumbent Dwight Dudley in what should be an entertaining race this fall. Young is expected to easily defeat Joshua Black on August 26. 

The Tea Party-aligned Black will go down in history for his insane tweet regarding President Obama from earlier this year. That's where he wrote, "I’m past impeachment. It’s time to arrest and hang him high.”

Black's five point agenda (that he won't be pursuing in Tallahassee anytime soon) was relatively non-crazy like in scope. It includes ensuring the right to a speedy jury trial. "I don't think that you should have to plead nolo contendere to get on with your life," he said. "Rather than waiting six months for a trial, you should be able to get that trial within the next couple of weeks. If they don't have good evidence, they shouldn't be holding things over your head to force you into a guilty plea."

Democratic incumbent Carl Zimmerman is running unopposed on August 26 but will be challenged by the GOP in November. Like most other teachers (he's been teaching broadcast journalism in Pinellas County schools since the mid-80's), he isn't too keen on the Common Core standards that are now part of every school teacher in Florida's curriculum. 

Zimmerman says it's essential for teachers to have standards to adhere to, because he wants to know that those standards are being taught in other classes as well. But he says the federal guidelines are too much about dictating those standards. "A teacher is no longer a teacher," he said under Common Core. "A teacher becomes a robot. Then we're processing products at that point. We need to process people to know how to think."

Democratic candidate Lorena Grizzle is also a teacher, and also had unkind things to say about Common Core. She's running in HD 65 against Republican Larry Ahern in the fall.

Rounding out the group of candidates participating in the forum was independent candidate Philip Garrett, who will be running against Democrat Darryl Rouson in District 70 in the South St. Pete area in the fall. His platform consists of concentrating on early childhood education as he bemoaned the quality of education in the district.

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