Voting Guide 2016: In Pinellas, CL recommends Crist, Latvala, Justice

U.S. Congress, District 13 (Middle & Southern Pinellas)

No contest better epitomizes the seismic shifts that have occurred in local and national politics than this one.

Had there been no tea party wave, former Governor Charlie Crist very well might be a sitting U.S. Senator right now. Or governor. And maybe even still a Republican.

His GOP opponent, incumbent David Jolly, might not have jumped out of his U.S. Senate run had Trump not sucked all the air out of the GOP primary, causing U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio to lose his footing.

Crist and Jolly are both likable moderates and both have shown willingness to stand up to their party as well as support environmental causes.

But the differences between the two are huge. Though he has voted against the notorious Ryan budget, Jolly opposes a woman’s right to choose, has voted dozens of times to repeal Obamacare and has supported blocking multiple presidential executive orders, including those that would have halted some deportations and expanded the Clean Water Act.

Jolly has proven to be effective, responsive, thoughtful and willing to work across party lines. His constituent service has been stellar, especially when it comes to veterans. The staff he employs are competent and kind and deserve, well, employment.

With Crist, it’s certainly a gamble whether his approach would mirror that of his opponent, or whether he’d ditch the seat in a year or two — the next time an open seat for higher office comes around (something of which both have been guilty).

Endorsing in races like these — where we genuinely like both candidates but also see their flaws — is agonizing. This one’s at about 50-50.

But when we think of the 13th, with its newly drawn lines that now encompass more Democrats and a more diverse set of needs — preventing their health coverage from going away chief among them — we have to think of who would be the best voice for the constituency.

CL recommends: CHARLIE CRIST

State House District 66 (Seminole)

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Republican incumbent Larry Ahern is a full-throated Trump supporter who does not like female autonomy or The Gays.

Lorena Grizzle, a teacher, is his soft-spoken Democratic opponent in the contest for this Seminole seat.

Nuff said.


State House District 67 (Largo)

The race for this Largo-area is a tough one. We disagree with Republican incumbent Chris Latvala on a number of things, including his past opposition to Medicaid expansion and, perhaps, most bigly of all, his refusal to totally disavow Trump.

But his opponent, David Vogel, didn’t do himself any favors by calling staunchly religious Trump supporters “trash” on his personal Facebook page.

While religious dogma and anti-science attitudes absolutely plague the public policymaking process (and everything else, really), name-calling won’t solve anything. What will? Showing up and actually debating, which Vogel hasn’t done.

Latvala has been willing to challenge GOP establishment overlords, namely the NRA. He says he values his constituents’ wishes more than those of his party, and we tend to believe that, and hope he does more of it.

CL recommends: CHRIS LATVALA

State House District 68 (Feather Sound/Pinellas Park/4th Street Corridor/Downtown St. Pete)

State Rep. Dwight Dudley (D-St. Petersburg) had held this Democratic-leaning seat since 2012 but decided to leave office to (unsuccessfully) run for judge. Ben Diamond won a hard-fought Democratic primary for the seat against Eric Lynn, and faces obscure Republican newcomer Joseph “JB” Bensmihen, a medical executive from South Florida who barely six months ago was trying to unseat South Florida Congresswoman Lois Frankel, and said after moving here that his favorite restaurant on St. Pete’s booming 4th Street corridor (home to Noble Crust, Red Mesa and El Cap, among others) was Chick-fil-A.

Diamond, a St. Pete native, supports Medicaid expansion, environmental protection (including using money voters asked the state to set aside in 2014 for its intended purpose: buying up and protecting sensitive lands) and expanding public education.

With the departure of outspokenly progressive Dudley, the legislature will sorely miss its voice of conscience if Diamond isn’t elected.

CL recommends: BEN DIAMOND

State House District 69 (West St. Pete and coastal southern Pinellas, including Gulfport)

Republican State Rep. Kathleen Peters has shown passion, dedication and attention to detail on a number of issues for this swing district, in particular reforming the state’s sorely lacking mental health care system. She expresses a desire to protect Florida’s natural environment both personally and professionally, but supports the pro-fracking bill perennially before the State Legislature despite saying she’s against the practice. She also opposes expanding Medicaid and seems entrenched in the GOP establishment that won’t take serious action on climate or renewable energy. She’s also stringently anti-abortion.

Her opponent, Jennifer Webb, is director of community partnerships at the University of South Florida. She hopes to fight for Medicaid expansion, to hold charter schools accountable and to continue the fight against fracking. She’s personable, articulate and detail-oriented, qualities which suggest she will serve consituents well.

CL recommends: JENNIFER WEBB

Board of County Commissioners  District 3 — At Large

If you could describe the human equivalent of a warm fuzzy in Pinellas County, incumbent Charlie Justice would be it. The tone he’s helped set at the dais, along with his colleagues, has created an environment that welcomes good policies like civil citations for some marijuana possession and other nonviolent “offenses” as well as the adoption of a countywide wage theft ordinance. Not to mention his utterly-pro-environment disposition.

Republicans are running Mike Mikurak against Justice for reasons that are not clear, but we are guessing they have something to do with establishing a foothold in their eroding power structure locally and statewide. It’s likely they want someone in that seat willing to talk shit about St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman, as the local and state GOP has been trying to make the case against his reelection bid practically since he won in 2013.

But we digress.

Whatever you do, disregard the mailers that paint Justice as a “career politician.” So what? You know what I was thinking as my dentist was drilling into my tooth to make room for a new crown? Did I say, “Sorry, but I wasn’t looking for a career dentist”? No. I was glad this guy had been doing this for longer than I’ve been alive, and that this experience helps him not cause unfathomable pain to my mouth.

So, yeah, there is absolutely no reason to unseat this kind, smart incumbent. Pinellas County is going in the right direction, damn it.


Across Counties

State House District 70 (Hillsborough, Manatee, Pinellas and Sarasota counties)

An easily winnable seat for a Democrat, the 70th comprises bits of four counties (because, basically, the legislature stuffed all the minorities from these counties into one district; class act, huh?). Two-term St. Pete City Councilman Wengay Newton, who termed out of his council seat last year, is the Democrat, and obscure newcomer Cori Fournier is the Republican.

Newton, sometimes long-winded and defiant yet passionate on the issues, hopes to advocate for juvenile justice reform, Medicaid expansion, equal pay for women and using those 2014 environmental land dollars as intended.

Fournier, meanwhile, has said he supports guns on college campuses, but there’s little else we know about him; his campaign has no website or Facebook page.

CL recommends: WENGAY NEWTON

State Senate District 19 (East Tampa, South St. Petersburg)

This gerrymandered seat has two contenders — State Rep. Darryl Rouson (D-St. Pete) and Republican newcomer John “Mr. Manners” Houman, who doesn’t appear to have serious party backing. The Florida GOP no doubt saw no way of winning this heavily Democratic “minority access” seat and thus didn’t spend the resources to vet/run anyone. Meanwhile, the Democratic primary had four contenders, and it was indeed Rouson who got money from Republicans in that race.

Rouson has been right on gun control and Medicaid expansion but may be a little behind the times on medical marijuana and a woman’s right to choose.

But he’ll probably win regardless, given the dynamics of the race and the district.

CL recommends: DARRYL ROUSON

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