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Wednesday, Oct 22, 2014
Politics

Engineer faces District 64 incumbent


Published:   |   Updated: July 21, 2014 at 09:44 AM

Another candidate’s late entry means incumbent state Rep. Jamie Grant now has a Republican primary fight.

Miriam Steinberg, a Tampa engineer and political newcomer, filed during the June qualifying week and will be on the August ballot for House District 64.

With the entry also last month of a write-in candidate, the primary will be closed to all but Republican-registered voters.

Because of her late start, Steinberg faces a fundraising disadvantage.

She has about $218 in available cash after an initial loan to her campaign of $2,000 to pay the $1,782 qualifying fee, according to campaign finance records. Grant, first elected in 2010, has $39,000 in the bank.

Florida’s 120 state representatives are paid $29,697 per year, more for the House speaker, and serve two-year terms limited to a total of eight consecutive years.

In financial disclosures, Grant declared his net worth as $164,972, while Steinberg lists hers as $330,244.

Grant — a 31-year-old tech entrepreneur — is confident that his conservative stands align with the district’s interests. For example, he backed a move to deregulate Florida to allow hired-car services like Lyft and Uber, summoned through a smartphone application.

“I promised to file bills that limited the scope of government when it exceeded its necessary function,” he said. “I think I have a track record of standing up for a limited government. If that’s in line with what (voters) want their representative doing, they can send me back.”

Grant is the son of former state Sen. John Grant of Tampa, known as a pillar of the GOP’s religious conservative wing.

The younger Grant graduated from Stetson College of Law but decided instead to focus on business and technology.

Steinberg, 54, was born in Israel and immigrated to the United States at age 12, not yet speaking English.

She styles herself a moderate Republican and an “independent thinker,” supporting expanding Medicaid and investing in renewable energy.

“I likely represent the views of the average voter in my district,” she said.

The district, with a population of 157,000, encompasses an eastern swath of Pinellas County, including Oldsmar, and the northwestern corner of Hillsborough County.

Steinberg also hopes to gain traction by highlighting a business arrangement that got Grant some unwanted attention.

Grant has been criticized for using public economic development dollars instead of private capital to bring high-tech businesses to Hardee County, a poor, rural part of the state.

County officials put about $5 million, funded by phosphate mining fees, into the project since 2011. Grant received about $70,000 in salary from that pool of funds.

Allegations of conflict of interest and misuse of public money resulted in attention from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and a Commission on Ethics case.

FDLE spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger said the agency “did receive some intelligence regarding him” but never launched an official investigation. The ethics case is pending.

The state attorney’s office closed its investigation, finding no fraud or criminal activity.

Grant’s own startup, LifeSync Technologies, was moved to Hardee as part of the program and eventually produced CareSync, a Web and mobile application that lets people store and control their medical records online.

Grant sold his firm to Continuum Labs, a Wesley Chapel-based application developer, and now works as a consultant to his former company.

Steinberg says elected officials have a duty to uphold their office.

“This gives the appearance of personal gain,” she said. “He should have taken private money to do this kind of startup.”

Grant defends the Hardee project and offers to show his books to any critic to prove there was no wrongdoing.

“We signed up and believed that we could very easily do what we were doing,” he said. “We discovered that there are some in that community, a minority, who want to see all economic development down there fail. … One (reason) is they want cheap, plantation-priced labor. So economic development threatens the ability to pay very, very low wages ... .

“I knew when we started that project that it was not politically smart or politically safe,” Grant added. “I could go get a job at a lot more places making a lot more money than I’m making in the startup space today. That’s not me. I believe in the project.”

If re-elected, Grant says he’ll keep pressing to remove unneeded regulations on business, expand school choice and advocate for more military veteran-friendly policies.

He’d also like to pass a law that requires the state to instantly publish online all its public information through an application-programming interface, or API, that allows software and databases to share information seamlessly.

“Information that is required through a public records request should be available in real time,” Grant said.

He used the example of a smartphone map program that could show the location and photos of registered sex offenders.

Steinberg’s legislative priorities are a mix of the traditional and the contrarian.

She agrees with Gov. Rick Scott that the state should reduce the tax on commercial leases to promote business growth. Florida is the only state that imposes a 6 percent sales tax on commercial rents.

Scott proposed cutting that tax this year, but the proposal did not make it into the $500 million tax cut package lawmakers OK’d.

Steinberg thinks cutting that tax will offset other hits to small businesses, such as a possible increase in the minimum wage or added costs under the Affordable Care Act.

But Steinberg also supports accepting federal dollars offered under the Affordable Care Act to expand Medicaid for more poor Floridians. That idea has been rejected by the GOP House leadership for the last two years.

“This is money that is on the table for Florida,” she said. “We’re already sending it to the federal government; why not get it back? Not taking that money is foolish and irresponsible.”

She was quick to add she’s not endorsing the health care program: “I think it’s a first try, but there’s a lot of room for improvement.”

Finally, she wants to promote development and use of renewable energy. That means “anything other than fossil fuels,” she said.

“We don’t want to be dependent on foreign oil,” Steinberg said.

“We’re the Sunshine State, so why not capture it and bank on it,” mentioning solar panels.

jrosica@tampatrib.com

(850) 765-0807

Twitter: @jlrosicaTBO

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