Pinellas News

GOP contenders vie to unseat Dem Zimmermann

— Two Republicans vying for the GOP nod in a north Pinellas race for the state House of Representatives have a lot in common, at least on the surface. Both are young, both are lawyers, and both have been active members of their party. But the similarities seem to end there.

House District 65 encompasses Palm Harbor, Tarpon Springs, Clearwater and Dunedin.

Democrat Carl Zimmermann, won the seat in 2012.

Republicans think they have a shot at taking it back given that party voter turnout is expected to be somewhat high. First, though, they have to get through the primary, where the district’s Republican voters will choose between Debbie Faulkner, 28, and Chris Sprowls, 30.

Sprowls’ campaign has gleaned support — and fundraising muscle — from the likes of State Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, and State House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel. Faulkner, by contrast, is less concerned with fundraising than in turning out grass-roots support. Their different approaches are apparent in their fundraising numbers. Sprowls has raised $160,451, and Faulkner, a tax attorney, has pulled in $11,320.

She said her numbers are low because fundraising hasn’t been her focus; issues have.

“I’m not seeking any political endorsements,” she said. “I’ve not asked for any political endorsements. I’ve not had a fundraiser. I really believe that local races such as this one should be about the people who matter, which are the voters.”

Faulkner, who earned a law degree from Cornell University at 23, jumped into the race nearly two years after Sprowls did because she wants to challenge what she sees as the political establishment. She said she would rather discuss issues like transit, Florida’s “highly litigious” culture — which she said is bad for business — water resources and campaign finance reform.

“We have a significant influence of big money here and I think that needs to come to a halt,” she said.“The reason that political races cost so much money is because politicians decide to pay their friends, in the form of consultant fees, exorbitant amounts of money.”

Such dislike of the political status quo puts her in a bit of a bind, said Darryl Paulson, political science professor emeritus at the University of South Florida.

“It’s a much tougher road, politically, to be successful as a grassroots candidate,” Paulson said.

Sprowls, who did not respond to requests for an interview, showed an interest in politics early on. By age 17, he had worked as a congressional page for Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Bilirakis. He is former president of the Pasco County Young Republicans. A graduate of University of South Florida and Stetson University College of Law, Sprowls serves as a prosecutor in the gang unit in Florida’s Sixth Judicial Circuit, which comprises Pinellas and Pasco counties.

A cancer survivor, he believes health care policy should be placed largely in the hands of the state, according to his campaign website. Other issues he listed as important include veterans’ services and beach renourishment.

The primary election is Aug. 26. Early voting goes from Aug. 16-24. Mail ballots already have been sent to voters.

The winner of the primary will face Zimmermann, the incumbent Democrat, in the Nov. 4 general election.

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