Fight Continues in Lopsided Districts



Even in state House districts where party leaders have paid little attention, candidates have hit the streets and continue to campaign hard for seats, whether in an effort to meet expectations or to defy them.  

District 70

In District 70, former St. Petersburg City Councilman Newt Newton became a favorite to win after coming out on top of a Democratic primary in August. But he could be found outside St. Petersburg early voting stations this week making sure voters don’t forget the contest. He campaigned with US Rep. John Lewis, in town for the presidential campaign this week, and keeps pushing his platform of boosting “living wage jobs” and expanding Medicaid in the state of Florida. “I’m doing everything I can,” he says.

But while the district leans Democratic, Republican Cori Fournier, a Manatee County resident, hopes voters consider that the state House will be a Republican chamber this year. “This race is about effective representation,” he says. “You need someone who will be in the room when decisions are made instead of screaming in the hallway.” And while Fournier grew up in St. Petersburg, he would like to see better representation for district residents living this side of the Sunshine Skyway. The next district commissioner will be on four county legislative delegations—Hillsborough, Manatee, Pinellas and Sarasota—and Fournier hopes to leverage that to help voters here. He is running on a firmly anti-Common Core platform but describes himself as moderate on issues like social justice reform and hopes voters send him to Tallahassee.

Newton says his years working with politicians of all parties on the St. Petersburg City Council shows he can be effective, and he notes that as part of the Pinellas delegation, he will be in a group of powerful lawmakers. But Fournier questiones how often Newtown was a dissenting vote on the city council, suggested that proves ineffectiveness. 

District 73

Joe Gruters has a lot on his plate as chairman of the Republican Party of Sarasota, vice chairman of the Republican Party of Florida and co-chairman of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in Florida. But he says he won’t take his race in District 73 for granted. After he narrowly came out as victor in the Republican primary in August, he wants to continue a winning trend. He thanks of party leadership in Manatee County for driving high turnout for GOP voters so far. “I consider myself lucky to have survived the primary and I am looking forward to further proving my conservative credentials,” Gruters says.

But Democrat James Golden, a former Bradenton City Councilman, thinks those credentials are too much for the district, and suggests Gruters ties to Trump prove it. “I am trying to draw a distinction between my opponent and myself in the context of him being an undying Donald Trump loyalist,” Golden says. Touting views in favor of reproductive rights, Golden supports extending a county sales tax to cover infrastructure costs in Manatee County and criticized his opponent for taking no position on that. Golden notes he originally expected to challenge incumbent Rep. Greg Steube, who now seeks a Senate seat, because of extreme positions on gun rights like pushing campus carry. “Mr. Gruters has the same attitude about that as Mr. Steube and Mr. Trump,” Golden says.

Gruters, a long-time pro-lifer, says he proudly stands by his support of Trump and of the Second Amendment. That includes continuing support for matters like campus carry. He holds no opinion on the sales tax and notes that is a matter for county voters to decide. “I will leave it up to the Manatee voters,” he says. Golden hopes voters disregard party lines and recognize his own service on nonpartisan bodies like the Bradenton City Council and regional planning council.

Voters in District 70 and 73 will decide on their representatives in the November 8 general election.

Pictured: District 70 - Newt Newton, Cori Fournier; District 73 - Joe Gruters, James Golden

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