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Backroom Briefing: Thrasher District Already in Play

May 28, 2014 - 6:00pm

Sen. John Thrasher hasn't been named president of Florida State University. At least, not yet.

But in Tallahassee circles, it's widely assumed Thrasher will get the top job at his alma mater, and that means behind-the-scenes discussions and digging have already started about who might run for Thrasher's solidly Republican Northeast Florida Senate seat.

A large part of the talk focuses on two House members -- Ronald "Doc" Renuart and Travis Hutson -- whose districts overlap Senate District 6, which stretches from Ponte Vedra Beach to Daytona Beach and includes communities such as St. Augustine, Palm Coast and Palatka.

Renuart, a Ponte Vedra Beach Republican and physician, said he intends to run for the Senate seat if it becomes open and pointed to his health-care background.

"As a physician, my knowledge and experiences have me prepared to add my voice to the discussion,'' Renuart said in an email. "Its been about 12 years since a practicing physician has held a seat in the Florida Senate."

Hutson, R-Elkton, was not as committal when reached by phone, but he said he will consider running for the Senate seat if the opportunity arises.

It's clear Tallahassee lobbyists and groups are preparing for a race in the district. St. Johns County Sheriff David Shoar said his name was included in a poll that tried to gauge the popularity of possible candidates. Shoar said he has no plans to run for the Senate.

"I'm a cop, really, so I'm not sure that would be the life for me, running back and forth to Tallahassee,'' Shoar said.

The race could have implications outside the district, as Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, and Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, wage a battle to become Senate president in 2016. Both are trying to line up support among Senate Republicans, and Thrasher, a savvy insider, has been a key supporter of Negron.

$10,000 A MONTH AND A 'BAG BOY':

In the latest dispatch from Judge Terry Lewis' Tallahassee courtroom, veteran GOP operative Rich Heffley on Thursday displayed some major braggadocio under grilling by plaintiffs' lawyer David King.

Heffley is one of a string of high-profile witnesses in a lawsuit brought by a coalition of voting rights groups that argue the Legislature did not follow constitutional requirements when drawing congressional districts in 2012. His testimony offered a little insight into how one of Tallahassee's top political strategists works.

Heffley said that in the summer of 2011, he entered into two $10,000-a-month, 24-month contracts with the Republican Party of Florida, one dealing with Senate redistricting and the other with Senate campaigns. Heffley never filed invoices or reports for the work he performed because "I probably know more than most people" so his RPOF point person Joel Springer "probably assumed I knew what I was doing," he said.

"They seemed happy. They paid the checks," Heffley said.

The Senate campaign guru said he was keenly interested in the congressional maps because, unlike in other election cycles, qualifying for all offices takes place during the same week in a redistricting year. Heffley also offered a campaign rule-of-thumb: two congressional seats equal three Senate seats, and three House seats are a Senate seat. An open congressional seat creates a domino effect on Senate and House races, he explained.

"You had to be ready at a moment's notice. You have a week to have candidates for all these races. It's like military planning. You had to plan every eventuality," he said. "Having that understanding is how we win elections. It's having a superior knowledge of knowing what's going to happen maybe before it happens by trying to do analysis and narrowing things down."

Heffley also talked a little Capitol smack, saying Senate President Don Gaetz "has a nice habit of just deciding what he's going to do and then announcing it," which created angst for Kirk Pepper, former House Speaker Dean Cannon's chief of staff.

Pepper had a habit of "taking shots" at Gaetz regularly, Heffley recalled. Acting as mediator, Heffley said he would let Gaetz's chief of staff Chris Clark "know that Pepper was bitching about something."

Heffley said he had known Clark "since he worked for Jeb as his bag boy."


Opponents of proposed constitutional Amendment 2, which would allow doctors to order medical marijuana for patients, are gearing up for what is expected to be a hot and heavy battle.

"Vote No on 2" last week hired public relations doyenne Sarah Bascom, whose specialties include GOP campaigns, and Bascom has hit the ground running. The effort is being bankrolled by Drug Free Florida, a political committee that started up last month with a $100,000 contribution from St. Petersburg Republican Mel Sembler.

TWEET OF THE WEEK: GOP strategist J.M. "Mac" Stipanovich (@MacStipanovich) on Thursday: "@MaryEllenKlas Rich should look around. Governor bag boy/travel aide/body man is a noble calling that not infrequently leads to prosperity."

Weekly political notes from The News Service of Florida.

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