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National Politics

Frank, Belden among unopposed Hillsborough incumbents

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 05:09 PM

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TAMPA -

A number of Hillsborough County incumbents drew no challengers at the end of the official qualifying period Friday and will retain their offices.

Clerk of Court Pat Frank and Tax Collector Doug Belden were automatically re-elected with no opposition. Sheriff David Gee only faces competition from write-in candidate Robert O. "Grumpy Bob" Wirengard, a handyman.

Other candidates who had no opposition after qualifying closed at noon were District 1 County Commissioner Sandy Murman, a Republican, and District 3 Commissioner Les Miller, a Democrat.

Among the new faces that surfaced during qualifying was Mark Nash, a Democratic consultant who will challenge Hillsborough County Commissioner Al Higginbotham in the District 4 race in east Hillsborough.

Nash, who managed Commissioner Kevin Beckner's winning campaign in 2008, said he will focus on growth management, economic development and transportation.

"The incumbent in this district had six years to influence those things," Nash said. "Instead of being part of the solution to these challenges, he's been more of the same."

Higginbotham, former county GOP chairman, will be tough to topple. First elected in 2006, the Plant City native has strong support from agricultural interests and the mostly conservative voters in the sprawling Brandon area.

Higginbotham has raised $103,000 for the campaign, while Nash, a Brandon native, has yet to file a campaign finance report.

Also qualifying in the District 4 race was Joy Green, a no-party candidate. Green is regional director for Aglow International, a transdenominational Christian organization.

"I have a real heart for the community, a real heart to see changes and to work with the community on schools for young people, help for the elderly," Green said. "I've done a lot of nonprofit work and I understand a lot about working with people."

In other commission races, Tampa Tea Party co-founder Sharon Calvert qualified to challenge Commissioner Victor Crist in District 2, which includes Carrollwood, Lutz and other northern parts of the county.

Crist spent 18 years in the Legislature before winning a commission seat in 2010. Calvert rose to prominence two years ago by leading opposition to a 1 percent sales tax referendum for transportation improvements, including light rail. Voters nixed the tax.

Beckner will defend his countywide District 6 seat against the winner of the GOP primary, which pits Margaret Iuculano, founder of the nonprofit Angels for Foster Children, against small businessman Don Kruse.

Perhaps the biggest question mark during the weeklong qualifying period was whether Property Appraiser Rob Turner would seek re-election. About three weeks ago, Turner admitted exchanging sexual text messages and e-mails with his human resources manager, who was also an ex-girlfriend. Turner qualified Thursday morning and will face state Sen. Ronda Storms in the Republican primary.

Democrat Bob Henriquez, a former state representative and high school football coach, also qualified for the property appraiser post. James DeMio and Rob Townsend qualified for the race as non-party candidates.

Two Democrats and one Republican are vying to replace Republican Supervisor of Elections Earl Lennard. The Democrats are Craig Latimer, a former sheriff's major and Lennard's chief of staff, and Thomas Scott, a former Hillsborough commissioner and Tampa councilman.

Five Florida Senate seats and nine in the state House are up for grabs in Hillsborough County. Probably the most closely watched will be Senate District 17, where Republican incumbent Jim Norman has drawn two notable challengers from his own party - current state Rep. John Legg and former state Rep. Rob Wallace.

Also challenging Norman in the primary is John Korsak, a security consultant. The winner will face Democrat Wes Johnson.

Norman, a longtime Hillsborough commissioner, defeated state Rep. Kevin Ambler in the 2010 Republican primary, but Ambler sued to remove Norman from the ballot. The lawsuit revealed that Norman had not disclosed a $500,000 loan made to his wife by Ralph Hughes, Norman's political supporter and mentor. Mearline Norman used the money to buy and refurbish a lakefront house in Arkansas.

Norman finally prevailed in an appeals court and won the general election against two write-in candidates. Despite the token opposition, however, 45,573 voters cast ballots for someone other than Norman.

In another high-profile race, former state Senate President Tom Lee is seeking to return to the Legislature in District 24. Also qualifying on the Republican side was state Rep. Rachel Burgin. The winner will face Democrat Elizabeth Belcher, a community activist and blogger, as well as write-in candidate Randolph Link.

In other state Senate races, Republicans Jeff Brandes and James C. "Jim" Frishe face each other in the primary election for District 22. Also running for the seat is write-in candidate Raymond Alan Baker.

Senate District 26 has Democrat Paula House challenging Republican Bill Galvano, a former state representative.

Sen. Arthenia Joyner in District 19 drew no challengers.

Three state House candidates also face no opposition: Republican Dana Young in District 60; Republican James Grant in District 64; and Darryl E. Rouson in District 70.

The following candidates qualified in other Hillsborough state House races:

District 57: Democrat Bruce Barnett; Republicans Brian Hollands and Jake Raburn.

District 58: Democrat Jose Vazquez and Republican Dan Raulerson.

District 59: Democrat Gail Gottlieb; Republicans Michael Floyd, Ross Spano, Betty Jo Tompkins and Joe Wicker; and write-in candidate Timothy Edward McCorkle.

District 61: Democrats Tatiana Denson and Betty Reed.

District 62: Democrat Janet Cruz and Republican Wesley G. Warren.

District 63: Democrats Mark Danish and Z.J. Hafeez; Republican Shawn Harrison.


msalinero@tampatrib.com (813) 259-8303

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