Quick Look at Some of the Scrappiest Florida House Races You Seldom Hear About
Around the State
Every district has a Florida House of Representatives race, but not every one is competitive and not every one involves a household name among a state of just over 19 million citizens.
It's true, you can expect little overall change in the makeup of the House after Tuesday, with the Republican Party firmly in place as the majority. But the Florida Democratic Party does have a primary goal: to move above one-third of the House membership.
Wedged in among the presidential, U.S. Senate, congressional and even a few high-profile state Senate contests, there's plenty of intrigue afoot among state-representative candidates in Election 2012, despite GOP domination.
Here are a few of the more interesting match-ups -- some that might surprise and interest you.
House District 21
Already part of the party leadership while still completing his first term, Rep. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, is being contested by Andrew Morey, an attorney from Gainesville who has worked in the state attorney’s office and is also from Gainesville.
Morey may not be attracting as much money as Perry, but he’s already defeated a better funded opponent in the primary.
Also, Perry is coming in to many of the voters as a first timer.
When Perry won in 2010, the district covered parts of Alachua, Levy and Marion counties.
After the 2012 redistricting, the lines shifted to the west, making 21 cover all of Dixie and Gilchrist counties along with parts of Alachua County.
House District 29
This is a race to watch simply because the tag "future House speaker" is already applied to incumbent Chris Dorworth, R-Lake Mary.
Dorworth, who should win the Republican-leaning district, had to fend off two primary challengers and has been the target of local media reports on his personal finances.
His opponent, Mike Clelland, a firefighter from Longwood, was once looked upon so favorably by the Florida Democratic Party that Chairman Rod Smith reportedly tried to talk Clelland into running in the District 30 contest -- below -- against Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood.
But Dorworth, who should expect to see his seat challenged again in 2014 before he can become speaker, has shown an exceptional ability to draw cash to his campaign, raising $457,222 to his opponent's $61,132.
House District 30
One of the more conservative members of the Republican-dominated Legislature, Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, moved to District 30 after redistricting put him into a potential primary battle with future House Speaker Chris Dorworth, R-Lake Mary.
His reward: a political contest with Karen Castor Dentel in a battle many see as one of the continuing skirmishes between the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the Florida Education Association.
Dentel, a public elementary school teacher from Maitland, is the sister of U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, and the daughter of former Florida Education Commissioner Betty Castor.
Dentel’s pedigree has helped her draw $157,409 to the campaign as of Oct. 12. Plakon’s connections have brought him $366,301.
House District 42
This is only a contest because of the scandalous nature of the backstory.
State Rep. Mike Horner, R-Kissimmee, soon to be the former president of the Osceola Chamber of Commerce, was in prime position to retain his seat and advance in the House, where he was a former deputy whip, and chair the appropriations subcommittee for transportation and economic development.
Instead, Horner’s name surfaced on a brothel client list and his campaign quickly ended.
Now Democrat Eileen Game, a business executive from Frostproof, with little money -- that hasn’t changed other than she has now received assistance from the Florida Democratic Party -- gets to face off against Mike La Rosa, part of the family-operated La Rosa Development Corp. in Celebration and Kissimmee.
Besides in-kind help, the Republican Party of Florida has kicked in $45,000 in cash to La Rosa, who has also put up $25,000 of his own money. The handicap -- and it's a biggee -- is that Horner’s name remains on the ballot.
House District 47
Former state Rep. Bob Brooks faces an uphill climb against former Democratic Orange County Commissioner Linda Stewart, probably one of the most known politicians in Orlando for her proclivity to run off quotes for the local media.
As with other races, the progressive Stewart, once a vocal community activist, is backed by organizations including the Orange County Classroom Teachers Association and Sierra Club. Brooks, a physician who once ran Florida’s Health Department, has the backing of the state business community, including the Florida Chamber of Commerce, for the seat that includes portions of central Orlando, College Park and Winter Park.
That business support has given Brooks a decisive financial edge, $268,043 to $70,854. But again, it’s the outside forces on both sides that dwarfed the individual spending for attacking TV ads and mailers.
House District 49
Based upon demographics, this should be a Democratic win.
However, the Republican Party of Florida believes it has an opening and appears to have made this district one of its key battlegrounds for the House and state as a whole.
The district is young, with the University of Central Florida within its boundary, and nearly one-third Hispanic, predominately Puerto Rican, both of which would make this area vital to the re-election efforts of President Obama.
Thus if Republican Marco Pena, a former UCF student government president who now works as a development officer for Florida Hospital, can shave some votes from the Democrats, it spells better for GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. All the better than Pena is a Catholic with Puerto Rican roots.
Saunders, who could become the second openly gay person elected to the state House, calls himself a community organizer who has worked with Equality Florida and Planned Parenthood and the Osceola Arts for a Complete Education Coalition.
House District 89
Two experienced politicians are pitted for the Palm Beach County coastal district that shows a near even split -- 37 percent Republican, 36 percent Democrat, and 27 percent independent.
Dwarfed by the Senate Bogdanoff-Sachs races and Murphy-West, Frankel-Hasner congressional contests, Republican Bill Hager, a former Boca Raton City Council member who has served one term in the House, is going up against former House Speaker Tom Gustafson, who served in the 1970s and ‘80s, representing Broward County, before the GOP took control of the Legislature,
Gustafson was drawn into the contest to replace Pamela Goodman, a former vice president of the Florida League of Women Voters who withdrew in July because of her husband’s health problems.
Gustafson, who is considered by some as the grandfather of Tri-Rail, has mustered $62,613 as of Oct. 12, with the Florida Democratic Party kicking in $32,000 through in-kind assistance.
Hager has attracted $213,916, with the RPOF adding more than $40,000 through in-kind aid.
House District 112
Flamboyant former legislator Alex Diaz de la Portilla, part of one of Miami’s most prominent political families, is seeking a return to Tallahassee against attorney Jose Javier Rodriguez.
Rodriguez has been able to draw more funding than Diaz de la Portilla: $147,293 to $107,675, per Oct. 12 reports. Rodriguez has also picked up nearly $30,000 in in-kind support and attack mailers from the state party.
But while the Florida Democratic Party considers the race in play, Diaz de la Portilla is a name that is frequently before district voters.
House District 120
The GOP is looking to pick up the state’s southernmost seat as House Minority Leader Ron Saunders, D-Key West, is now running for the state Senate.
The race features Republican Holly Merrill Raschein, a former aide to Saunders and the late Rep. Ken Sorensen, R-Key Largo, and Democrat Ian Whitney, executive director of the Key West Innkeepers Association.
As in many other state contests, Raschein has the backing of powerful state business groups including the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Florida, while Whitney sees support from groups including the Florida Education Association and the Service Employees International Union.
Reach Jim Turner at email@example.com or at (772) 215-9889.