Redistricting has given Hillsborough County five state Senate districts and three competitive races for Republicans in next month's primary.
All the candidates agree on some important issues, including strengthening the regional economy and supporting the University of South Florida. A number of veteran lawmakers are running, and while Democrats must wait until November to get into the action, the Senate races present Republicans with some good, tough choices.
The area currently represented by Sen. Jim Norman has been redrawn to include much of southern and eastern Pasco and northwestern Hillsborough.
After losing the support of key state leaders over an ethical issue involving his failure in 2010 to report that his wife had been given a vacation house, Norman withdrew from the primary. Three capable but very different Republican candidates remain. The winner will face Democrat Wes Johnson in November.
State Rep. John Legg has worked hard and picked up supporters who dropped Norman. Former state Rep. Rob Wallace brings uncompromising conservative credentials to the race. And former Marine and Secret Service agent John Korsak promises an emphasis on ethics.
Wallace, who runs a small environmental engineering firm, is known as a friend of business and enemy of high taxes and regulation. He served in the Florida House from 1994 until 2002.
Wallace is a Hillsborough resident and can be counted on to stand firm for conservative principles, but his ability to work with other lawmakers is limited by a rigid certainty that those who disagree with him are wrong.
Wallace's response to the overwhelming support Legg is getting from other state leaders is that the Wallace campaign is independent and in "nobody's camp."
Korsak, the first candidate to file against Norman, is also critical of Legg's endorsements, saying, "the coronation of John Legg doesn't sit well with me."
Korsak, a security consultant, has lived in Hillsborough County less than five years. He says that Florida residents are overtaxed and the state budget is overblown.
Legg, of Pasco County, is the best choice for getting things done. Former Gov. Jeb Bush is supporting Legg, as are incoming House Speaker Will Weatherford of Wesley Chapel, incoming Senate President Dan Gaetz of Niceville and the Florida Chamber of Commerce. Legg and wife Suzanne founded the well-regarded Dayspring Academy. In the House, Legg headed the K-12 Education Committee and worked hard to bring pill mills under control. He would be a reliable supporter of USF.
His successful legislative experience and conservative approach to governing are impressive. In Senate District 17, The Tribune endorses John Legg.
Former Senate President Tom Lee faces state Rep. Rachel Burgin in the Republican primary for state Senate District 24, which Ronda Storms is leaving to run for property appraiser. The winner will face Democrat Elizabeth Belcher in the fall. The district includes Plant City, most of Brandon and eastern Hillsborough, New Tampa and part of Temple Terrace.
Burgin is running a gutsy grassroots' campaign, but there is a good reason why conservative heavyweights, including Bob Martinez, Pam Bondi, David Gee, Dennis Ross, Allan Bense and the National Rifle Association, are lining up behind Lee.
The Brandon native demonstrated leadership, vision and a relentless commitment to fiscal conservatism when he served in the Senate from 1996 to 2006, finishing as president.
He consistently fought for tax cuts, including working with Gov. Bush to eliminate the intangibles tax, which penalized Floridians who saved and invested for their retirement.
Long before the downturn, Lee, 50, was demanding fiscal discipline, including successfully pushing for the adoption of a constitutional amendment that required lawmakers to develop a three-year financial planning process. He also had a solid pro-life record.
He angered powerful political interests by adopting ethics reform and tighter controls on lobbyists. A developer, he understands the needs of business, but also appreciates the importance of Florida's natural resources.
Lee rightly believes Florida needs a Legislature that will carefully weigh the ultimate costs of policy decisions, rather than rushing through whatever is politically popular at the moment.
Burgin is a far more impressive politician than four years ago, when she essentially was handed the District 56 House seat. Rep. Trey Traviesa resigned at the last minute when there was no viable opposition, and party insiders chose Burgin, Traviesa's aide, to replace him on the ballot.
It was an inauspicious start, but we credit Burgin, 29, with working hard, standing up for her values, studying the issues and responding to constituents.
Her priorities are social issues, particularly pro-life and child protection. She has had a hand in a number of worthy measures but has not been a major force in the House.
Burgin obviously is dedicated to public service and should have a bright political future. But Lee surely would be the more effective representative for the district.
In the Republican primary for Senate District 24, The Tribune endorses Tom Lee.
In Senate District 22, which covers the Tampa peninsula and Davis Islands, Pinellas Park and most of the Pinellas beaches, the contest is between two state representatives from Pinellas, Jim Frishe and Jeff Brandes. A write-in candidate in the fall limits the primary voting to Republicans.
Frishe, 62, is a thoughtful, effective lawmaker, a reliable conservative willing to plunge into the difficult details necessary to wring savings out of government. His priorities include bolstering local business, curbing Medicaid fraud, halting food stamp abuse and reforming nursing home care.
He has consistently fought tax increases, but he also understands better than his opponent that tax dollars must be carefully monitored whether they go to a bureaucracy or private company.
He was wary of the half-baked plan last session to privatize South Florida prisons with little oversight.
Frishe, who also served in the Florida House from 1984 to 1990, is highly regarded by his colleagues and has been attentive to Hillsborough concerns. He is a good listener who cares more about solutions than political points.
Supporters include former Gov. Bob Martinez, Sheriff David Gee and Commissioner Mark Sharpe. He also is backed by Sen. Jack Latvala, who is seeking to become a future Senate president, which would benefit the region.
Brandes, 36, was elected in 2010 and doesn't show Frishe's command of the issues or his concern for the region. He talks of wanting to establish "inland ports" in rural counties, where imported goods could be transported for assembly. The goal to create manufacturing jobs is worthy, but the proposal ignores the need for such jobs in Hillsborough and Pinellas, where the plants would minimize transportation costs or the need for new roads.
This scheme likely would promote sprawl and waste. Brandes seems indifferent to the traffic problems, water shortages and other costly problems that result from ill-considered growth.
He is on firmer ground in supporting longer school days and school years. Part of the Cox's Lumber Co. family and an Iraq veteran, Brandes, 35, is articulate and cocksure.
Frishe doesn't think he has all the answers, but is guided by strong conservative principles and a genuine commitment to the area's welfare. He is the candidate more likely to get useful things done.
In the Republican primary for Senate District 22, The Tribune endorses Jim Frishe.