Lawyers, Guns, Money Dominate District 73 Primary



With a candidate endorsed by the Florida Chamber of Commerce up against one backed by the National Rifle Association, the Republican primary for state House in District 73 has candidates arguing subtle but significances differences in a stiff competition.

Melissa Howard, a chapter chair for the Florida Federation of Republican Women, has touted the support of the business community. Pushing for tort reform and business diversification, she promises to be a business voice. “There’s not enough small business owners running,” she says. “There’s only 10 of us in the House that actually employ people and sign paychecks.” The Chamber-backed candidate says her message of better technical school options and attracting high-pay manufacturing jobs will keep Florida on the right track.

But Tommy Gregory, senior counsel at Williams Parker and himself a small business owner, says voters want a representative protecting their rights. “I’m not sure it’s good thing in a society when we are worried about illegal immigration and the Republican Party is so proudly supporting [President] Trump for her to be shouting off the rooftops she’s supported by the biggest pro-amnesty entities in the state,” he says.

Gregory instead notes his NRA support. A former JAG attorney, he says his history defending individual rights matters in Tallahassee. “I’ve sworn the oath to protect and defend six times in my life,” he says.

Howard, a lifetime member of the NRA, dismissed the gun group’s endorsement of her opponent. “It’s because I also support that deranged lunatics should not be able to purchase guns—like the three mass shooters in the last two years,” she says. “I support the NRA. I support the Second Amendment 100 percent, but I also care about the safety of our children.” Howard missed the endorsement because she supports a school safety bill passed after a shooting in Parkland that included $400 million in funding for campus security and mental health.

Gregory says his history as a corporate attorney lends him all the needed understanding of the need for less taxes and regulation burdens on business. And he wants to help raise wages. “There’s more work to be done; 15 percent of the population still lives in poverty in Florida,” he says. He also holds law enforcement issues as a priority. “Voters want to return to a society that enforces our laws, starting with illegal immigration and continuing on to the full spectrum of law enforcement,” he says, noting support from sheriffs in Manatee and Sarasota and from 20 law enforcement organizations.

But Howard says his support from trial lawyers should also give pause. She says a lack of tort reform costs the state $1.5 billion each year, about $3,400 per household. That mostly comes from workman’s comp costs. “The trial lawyers are coming to get me,” she says. “I say come on. They threw the first punch but I will punch back.”

The Republican primary in District 73, which includes parts of east Manatee and Sarasota, is scheduled for Aug. 28. The winner will face Democrat Liv Coleman on Nov. 6.

Pictured: Melissa Howard, Tommy Gregory

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