Politics 2013: Will Crist ride again? 

And other stories we'll be following in the new year.

These are five stories I’m looking forward to covering in the coming year.

The Democratic nomination for governor. My, how quickly things change in Florida. At some point, new Democrat Charlie Crist will declare his candidacy for his party’s nomination for governor against Rick Scott in 2014, and the story now seems to be who will stop him? Sure, we’re getting ahead of ourselves, considering the election won’t take place for another year and a half, but this is all political animals of any stripe can think about right now, as it’s the biggest statewide election on the horizon.

Alex Sink, the 2010 Democratic gubernatorial nominee, might have been the front-runner at some point, but she isn’t any longer, now that it appears that there’s a significant enough number of Democrats who don’t care about Crist’s Republican past. Anyway, politics is hardly the first thing on Sink's mind these days; with the unexpected death last weekend of Bill McBride, she has lost a husband of 25 years who stood by her side in her races for both CFO and governor, just as she stood by him during his own gubernatorial bid.

As far as other Democrats who might run, CL has never taken the talk of a Pam Iorio candidacy too seriously, but that doesn’t mean it’s out of the question. After the latest statewide voting debacle, the former Tampa mayor seemed energized in a way that she hadn’t since leaving City Hall in 2011. A former supervisor of elections (and a good one), Iorio was out front in challenging Governor Rick Scott and the state legislature after the Sunshine State once again floundered with the vote. We hadn’t seen her so stimulated since her anger with the governor after he rejected over $2 billion in federal funds to build a high-speed rail line in Florida.

Transportation. Pinellas County is well on its way to putting a measure on the 2014 ballot to fund construction of a light-rail system. Advocates must now begin educating the public to show why it would be in their best interests to vote for the 1-cent sales tax PSTA head Brad Miller intends to propose. Education and advocacy need to be on the table in Hillsborough County next year as well. Recently Ray Chiaramonte, executive director of the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization, chastised county officials for running away from the idea of light rail, apparently still spooked by its massive defeat at the polls in 2010.

But Chiaramonte has been crunching data from some detailed polling surveys taken over the past year and a half, and says that though a 1-cent sales tax in the county is still toxic, a half-cent does receive majority support.

Of course, Tampa residents voted for the measure in 2010, but that didn’t matter, as votes outside city limits overwhelmingly crushed the proposal. City officials have been talking about getting a measure passed in the Legislature that would allow municipalities to put their own measure on the ballot, but even Mayor Bob Buckhorn admits that is a long shot.

The bottom line is, if Hillsborough is going to ape Pinellas and put its own measure up in two years, the serious work needs to begin early in 2013.

St. Pete elections. Although the consensus up and down the ’Burg is that Bill Foster is no Rick Baker (and no Bob Buckhorn, for that matter), the 49-year-old mayor goes into the new year as the front-runner in the 2013 mayoral race, now that it seems Baker will not be on the ballot. But Foster’s re-election is by no means a sure thing. His vanquished 2009 opponent, Kathleen Ford, may be back, and bring with her the support of voters who don’t dig the Lens design slated to replace the inverted pyramid structure that has been St. Pete’s symbol for going on 40 years now. The Pier could be a fierce target.

Foster’s biggest threat on the political left is former state Representative Rick Kriseman, who opted not to run for re-election for his relatively safe House seat this fall, presumably so he wouldn’t have to quit during his term to put on a full-court press for mayor in 2013.

Council Chair Leslie Curran could also be in the mix, and brings her own set of formidable skills.

The biggest City Council race on paper right now is the one to replace the term-limited Curran in District 4, a seat for which Tea Party doctor David McKalip has already announced his intention to run. His rumored Democratic opponent is Darden Rice. A signature issue for both candidates is health care, though they presumably won’t want to talk much about it. Still, the controversial McKalip shows no signs of toning down his incendiary rhetoric, recently telling a Tiger Bay crowd, “Obamacare is worse than cancer.”

Immigration. The quest for a comprehensive immigration reform bill could be one of the major issues of 2013. The GOP admits that they’ve apparently offended one of the country’s growing demographics (though interestingly, Asian-Americans are a faster-growing part of the electorate than Latinos). President Obama has already declared that comprehensive immigration reform is one of the big goals of his second administration. Will he find willing partners in the Republican ranks? And what about centrist Democrats?

The Wall Street Journal reports that the Third Way, a Democratic centrist think tank, found in a post-election poll that half of Obama voters support a path to citizenship, with about a third supporting legal status that is short of citizenship. Though many Republicans say they could support citizenship, that could only come after allowing anyone waiting legally to get to the front of the line. For immigration advocates, that does not amount to comprehensive reform.

Tampa Bay Rays and their search for a new ballpark. We’re not saying that anything of substance will come out of this discussion, and why would you think otherwise? Nevertheless, be prepared for an onslaught of news on the issue the next time Stuart Sternberg so much as burps in public.


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