Florida Chamber of Commerce unveils legislative endorsements

The Florida Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday unveiled its endorsements in legislative races across the Sunshine State, backing candidates based on their positions on how to bring jobs to the state and improve a continuing sluggish economy.

“To create a stable and predictable business climate that helps to create private-sector jobs and grow our state’s economy, we need a Legislature that focuses on free-enterprise principles and solutions,” said David Hart, the executive vice president of the Florida Chamber, on Wednesday. “We are pleased to support these pro-jobs, pro-business candidates and look forward to mobilizing our employer members and local Chamber of Commerce partners as well as their more than 3 million employees with far-reaching grassroots advocacy efforts.”

With primaries looming on Aug. 14, the Florida Chamber weighed in on some of the most intriguing legislative battles across the Sunshine State. It backed former Rep. Aaron Bean over Rep. Mike Weinstein, R-Jacksonville, in the primary fight to replace term-limited Sen. Steve Wise, R-Jacksonville, in representing parts of the First Coast

With Sen. Jim Norman, R-Tampa, ending his bid for re-election last month, the Florida Chamber endorsed House Speaker Pro Tempore John Legg, R-New Port Richey, for that Senate seat over his Republican primary opponents — former Rep. Rob Wallace and businessman and veteran John Korsak. The Florida Chamber backed Rep. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, in the Republican primary over former Polk County Commissioner Jack Myers and businessman Ron Rushing in the battle for an open Senate seat.

The Chamber did not back candidates in two of the more competitive Republican state Senate primaries. Former state Senate President Tom Lee looks to head back to Tallahassee, but Rep. Rachel Burgin, R-Tampa, is also seeking the Republican nomination. The Florida Chamber did not endorse either candidate in that primary contest. Nor did it get behind either Rep. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, or House Majority Whip Jim Frishe, R-Belleair Bluffs, in their primary contest, as they both look to move up to the Senate.

The Florida Chamber waded into three of the more competitive Democratic primaries for state Senate seats. Victoria Siplin got the nod over Rep. Geri Thompson, D-Orlando, for the Senate seat currently held by her husband, Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando. With Sen. Larcenia Bullard, D-Miami, facing term limits, the Florida Chamber backed House Democratic Leader Ron Saunders of Key West over his opponents, including Rep. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, the son of the current incumbent, and former Rep. James Bush.

In another clash between two Democrats looking to move up from the House to the Senate, the endorsement went to Rep. Mack Bernard, D-West Palm Beach, over Rep. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth.

The Florida Chamber backed 10 incumbents in the Senate who face opposition in November. In one of the more closely watched legislative races in the state, the Florida Chamber backed Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, over fellow incumbent Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray. Incoming Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, got the Chamber’s endorsement over Richard Harrison who is running with no party affiliation. Sen. Bill Montford of Tallahassee is the one Democrat incumbent who has the Chamber’s support as he faces Republican challenger John Shaw in November.

In another closely watched race, the endorsement went to Rep. Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, over her Democratic opponent, Volusia County Councilman Frank Bruno, in the contest for an open Senate seat. While two Republicans are fighting it out to see who will take him on, Rep. Joe Abruzzo, D-Wellington, won the Florida Chamber’s endorsement in his bid for an open Senate seat. The Chamber supported Rep. Denise Grimsley, R-Lake Placid, over Democrat Stacy McCland in their contest for an open Senate seat. Clay County Commission Chairman Rob Bradley got the Florida Chamber’s support over Democrat William Mazzotta for an open Senate seat in the northeastern part of the state. The Chamber backed Republican candidate Wilton Simpson over Democrat Joshua Smith.

Incumbent Republican senators Lizbeth Benaquisto of Wellington, Andy Gardiner of Orlando, Jack Latvala of St. Petersburg, Joe Negron of Stuart, David Simmons of Altamonte Springs and John Thrasher of Jacksonville got the Chamber’s backing over their Democrat and primary opponents. The Chamber endorsed Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, over John Iler who is running in November with no party affiliation.

The Florida Chamber also endorsed six Republican senators who face no opposition in November: Charlie Dean of Inverness, Nancy Detert of Venice, Miguel Diaz de la Portilla of Miami, Anitere Flores of Miami, Rene Garcia of Hialeah and Garrett Richter of Naples.

Turning to the House, the Florida Chamber backed 30 Republican incumbents who are facing challengers this election cycle and one Democrat — Rep. John Patrick Julien, D-North Miami Beach — over primary opponent Barbara Watson and two write-in candidates in November. The Florida Chamber also endorsed 16 House Republican incumbents who are running without opposition, including incoming Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel.

The Florida Chamber backed 19 non-incumbent candidates — 13 Republicans and 6 Democrats — looking to win election to the House in open races. In a competitive Republican primary to represent parts of Volusia County in the Florida House, the Chamber backed former Deltona City Commissioner David Santiago over his two opponents. The Chamber endorsed Marco Pena over Republican opponent Rene Plascenia and whoever emerges on the Democratic side in their fight for an open House seat. The Florida Chamber is also backing familiar faces looking to return to Tallahassee in open House races including Republican candidate Dane Eagle, who served as deputy chief of staff to then-Gov. Charlie Crist, and former Rep. Kevin Rader, a Democrat looking to get back in the Florida House.

“Good government can only be obtained by electing candidates who understand Florida’s future needs and who are not afraid to make bold decisions that will get us there,” said Marian Johnson, the senior vice president of political operations for the Florida Chamber, on Wednesday.

Johnson pointed to the Florida Chamber’s interview process, noting that they held seven interview sessions around the state. The Chamber reviewed incumbents’ votes in Tallahassee and brought in more than 130 non-incumbent candidates during the endorsement process.

“Interviewing the candidates and finding where they stand on those issues is an absolute necessity before you can make an informed decision about whom to support,” Johnson said. “Our interview process is thorough and intense, and allows us to understand a candidate’s position before we make an endorsement.”

The Florida Chamber is expected to make additional legislative endorsements as the election cycle continues.

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