Legislative races take shape as qualifying starts

by | Jun 10, 2024



A long political career has taught former state Rep. James Bush not to wait when it comes to filing candidate qualifying paperwork.

One time, Bush recalled, he was disqualified after a notary public didn’t properly sign his paperwork. Another time, in 2002, Bush was among several candidates left scrambling after their qualifying papers were lost when a Federal Express plane struck trees short of a runway at the Tallahassee airport at the end of the qualifying week.

“This is the best way to do it,” Bush said Monday after filing paperwork at the state Division of Elections just past the noon start of qualifying for this year’s legislative elections. “Come early on the first day and try to get all of the kinks out of it. So, that way you’ll know you can qualify by Friday.”

Bush, a Democrat, was one of dozens of candidates who qualified Monday as he seeks to unseat Rep. Ashley Gantt, D-Miami, and return to the Legislature in Miami-Dade County’s House District 109.

As the week-long qualifying period started, Democrats believe they will hit a goal of placing candidates in all of the legislative districts up for election in November. That includes 120 House districts and 21 Senate districts, with one of the Senate races, in Palm Beach County’s District 24, technically a special election.

While Democrats have virtually no chance this year of reversing the Republican Party’s decades-long control of the Legislature, the effort to field candidates in all districts might be more about forcing GOP candidates to publicly express their views to voters and to raise awareness of Democratic issues across the state in a presidential election year.

Eden Giagnorio, a spokeswoman for the Florida Democratic Party, said having candidates in each district is so Republicans “don’t just walk into office in November.”

“We’re seeing tons of enthusiasm, and we’re going to do everything we can to make sure that we’re giving Republicans a run for their money,” Giagnorio said.

Republican Party of Florida Chairman Evan Power has sniped that the Democrats’ recruitment effort was needed because their “radical agenda” turned off Floridians.

University of Central Florida political-science professor Aubrey Jewett said fielding a candidate for every legislative race is an admirable goal for Democrats if they want to become competitive, as it will force Republicans to spend money and time on campaigns across the state.

And with higher turnout in November than in 2022, the effort could result in picking up several House seats and one or two in the Senate, preventing the GOP from holding on to procedurally important super-majorities in the legislative chambers, Jewett said.

“In terms of national politics, it is crucial for the Biden campaign and for national Democrats to compete in Florida,” Jewett said. “Competing means raising and spending money on ads, organizing a large number of volunteers and paid staffers to mobilize voters, and making campaign visits to Florida.”

But with the GOP much better financed and with a registration advantage of more than 900,000 voters, Jewett can also see the GOP continuing its dominance.

“For Florida Republicans, it is a realistic expectation that they will maintain control of the Legislature and that (former President Donald) Trump will win Florida and that (U.S. Sen.) Rick Scott will get re-elected,” Jewett said. “Surprises do happen, but this is what the registration and polling figures suggest at this time.”

One of the most-watched legislative contests is expected to be the Republicans’ effort to retain the seat held by Sen. Corey Simon, R-Tallahassee, in North Florida’s Senate District 3.

Incoming Senate President Ben Albritton has said he’s prepared to do “whatever it takes” financially to keep the seat in GOP hands. Prominent Tallahassee civil-rights attorney Daryl Parks, a Democrat, qualified Monday to run against Simon, who also qualified.

Another Senate seat drawing attention is Northeast Florida’s District 7, which is open because Sen. Travis Hutson, R-St. Augustine, faces term limits.

House Appropriations Chairman Tom Leek, R-Ormond Beach, has received endorsements from powerful Republicans such as Gov. Ron DeSantis, Attorney General Ashley Moody and Albritton. But former longtime St. Johns County Sheriff David Shoar opened a campaign account last week to run against Leek in the Aug. 20 Republican primary.

Qualifying will end at noon Friday.

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