The Republican primary to decide who will run for Florida House District 2 against Democrat Jeremy Lau is Tuesday, May 14. The Independent News tries to answer six key questions about the race.
1. What areas are included in House District 2
The district was redrawn in 2012. Gone is Pensacola Christian College, replaced by Southwest Escambia County. The entire cities of Pensacola and Gulf Breeze are District 2, plus Pensacola Beach, Warrington, Perdido Key, NAS Pensacola and the Grand Pointe and Oriole Beach areas of South Santa Rosa County.
2. What is the expected turnout for the Republican primary?
The late Clay Ford won the seat in 2007 when it was District 3 thanks to a huge support from Pensacola Christian College and the city of Gulf Breeze where he had served as a councilman for 17 years. Ford beat George Scarborough by 402 votes in the GOP primary to fill the seat vacated by Holly Benson. There were two other candidates that split the vote. Ford won with only 2,323 votes. The 2013 GOP nomination could be won with as little as 2,000 votes.
3. Why is this Republican primary important?
Assuming that the Republican Party retains control of the Florida House of Representatives and District 2 elects a Republican, then the winner of this primary will be in line to become Speaker of the House in 2020-22. He will be given a 16-month head start on the rest of the class to organize a campaign for the Speakership.
4. Who are the candidates?
Ed Gray III is the head of Capital Trust Agency and Gulf Breeze Financial Services. He has served as mayor of Gulf Breeze, as well as on its city council and the Santa Rosa County School Board.
Mike Hill is a State Farm Insurance agent and the president of the Northwest Florida Tea Party. A graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, Hill served 10 years in the Air Force before entering the private sector.
Scott Miller has advised several political campaigns. He has worked as a computer consultant, in the construction-debris trade and now in the medical industry with his father-in-law.
Jack Nobles was a former Pensacola City Councilman for 14 years. His family has lived in Pensacola for six generations. His professional career was spent with his family’s Horizon Bank, which later merged with what is now Coastal Bank & Trust.
David Radcliffe is an agent Underwood Anderson & Associates and owns Breeze Mini Storage. He has been active in youth sports programs, particularly in Gulf Breeze and at Tiger Point.
Mark Taylor owns Pensacola Insurance Inspectors, Mark Taylor Construction and Pensacola Hair Design. He is the youngest of the candidates, age 32, and was recently appointed to the Community Maritime Park Associates Board of Trustees.
5. What role will geography play in the race?
City of Gulf Breeze, Grand Pointe and Oriole Beach precincts in Santa Rosa County traditionally have heavy turnouts for every election. Gray’s name recognition is the strongest with these voters, but Radcliffe and Miller also live in South Santa Rosa County.
Nobles and Taylor live inside the city of Pensacola, and Nobles has a lead in name recognition. The district was drawn so that Pensacola would have a legitimate chance of having its own seat in the Florida House.
Southwest Escambia County is the toss-up area. Hill’s State Farm agency is in Warrington, even though he doesn’t actually live in the district. Escambia County Commissioner Gene Valentino represents that area and he has endorsed Miller. Sheriff David Morgan has endorsed Hill. Our guess is Morgan trumps Valentino with the voters. It’s no coincidence that Republicans in this part of the county are receiving telephone polls almost daily.
6. How conservative is District 2?
The most right-wing of the candidates are Hill and Miller, but really all the candidates are conservative Republicans. That being said, South Santa Rosa County isn’t a Tea Party stronghold. In the 2010 Republican primary, Rick Scott only out polled Bill McCollum in the three precincts by 10 votes. Name recognition means more to these super voters than political dogma. In 2010, Pensacola native Holly Benson crushed Pam Bondi, who won the statewide race for Florida Attorney General.
ENDORSEMENT: Ed Gray III
Gray is a proven leader with a track record for getting things done. As Gulf Breeze mayor, he set the city on sound financial footing with the creation of the Gulf Breeze Loan Pool, which has kept the city’s property taxes the lowest in Northwest Florida. While serving on the Santa Rosa School Board, Gray played a key role in making that system one of the finest in the state. His leadership is needed in Tallahassee and would serve him well as a future Speaker of the House.
Plus we also like that Gray has a history of developing practical solutions to problems. He cares more about people than politics or some political ideology. He will listen to his constituents and address their needs before worrying about re-election.