Cruz and Rojas-Quinones in District 58 primaries
The residents of state House District 58 lost an outstanding legislator when Democrat Michael Scionti resigned last month. Scionti, a prosecutor and Army Reserve officer who has served in Iraq and Afghanistan, had the diplomacy and grit to be effective in the heavily Republican Legislature. But President Obama appointed Scionti to be a deputy assistant secretary at the Pentagon, where he can be expected to excel, as he did in the Legislature. Now voters in District 58 are faced with a special election to choose someone to finish Scionti's term. The district covers many neighborhoods in Tampa and northwest Hillsborough County, including West Tampa, Wellswood, Town 'N Country, Seminole Heights and Egypt Lake. Early voting for the primary begins Monday. The regular primary vote will be Jan. 26. The general election will be Feb. 23. The ultimate winner will have to run again next fall for a new term.None of the candidates possesses Scionti's political star quality or his command of the issues. But all five candidates - three Democrats and two Republicans - appear intelligent, sensible and eager to serve. Running in the Democratic race are attorney Gil Sanchez, businesswoman Janet Cruz and Democratic Party chair Pat Kemp. Cruz and Sanchez do not currently live in the district but would move - as required by law - once elected. Scionti, it should be remembered, did not live in the district when he was elected. Sanchez is a 33-year-old lawyer who helped to form the Hispanics Young Professionals and Entrepreneurs group and served as president of the Hillsborough County Hispanic Democratic Caucus. Born in West Virginia of Colombian parents, he grew up in Colombia and Sarasota and is a relative newcomer to the area. He is engaging, articulate and well-versed in the needs of small businesses. He is little sketchy on such key issues as growth management. We see him as a quality candidate who needs more seasoning. Cruz and Kemp are both impressive. Kemp, 52, surely could hit the ground in Tallahassee running. She has served as an aide to former state Rep. Sara Romeo and former County Commissioner Kathy Castor. She understands the importance of managing growth, the dangers of drilling off state beaches and how smart transportation policies create jobs and build communities. The founder of the Old Seminole Heights Neighborhood Association, she has been involved in community activities for more than 20 years. She has been criticized for running for what some view as a "Hispanic" seat, but she has proven a concern for all segments of the community. Cruz, 53, also has a solid grasp of the state's needs. She has a diverse background. She ran her own successful business, worked for major insurance corporations, has run political campaigns and served as a community liaison for Public Defender Julie Holt. She seems comfortable dealing with people and problems. She grew up in Ybor City and has long-time ties to West Tampa. She is well-connected to the Hispanic community but is concerned with the needs of all residents in the mostly working-class district. This is an exceptionally hard call. Voters cannot go wrong. But Kemp is more the party activist, and we suspect Cruz would be more effective in the Republican-dominated Legislature. In the Democratic primary for District 58, the Tribune endorses Janet Cruz. The Republicans hope they can snag the typically Democratic seat in what may be a bad year for Democrats. The party is fielding two likable candidates, Hunter Chamberlin, an attorney, and Jackie Rojas-Quinones, an accountant and paralegal. Both are fiscal conservatives but sketchy on state issues. While Chamberlin, 37, seems concerned with political ideology, Rojas-Quinones, 45, is focused on neighborhoods. Chamberlin has lived in Tampa about five years while Rojas-Quinones grew up in the district and has long been involved in community activities, including heading the Tampa Bay Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. She knows the needs of small business owners and the district's residents. In the Republican primary for District 58, the Tribune endorses Jackie Rojas-Quinones.
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