5 in GOP vie for new District 15

5 in GOP vie for new District 15

Ledger 8-11-22
Sara-Megan Walsh
Lakeland Ledger USA TODAY NETWORK
Florida’s new Congressional District 15 has attracted interested from five Republican candidates spanning across Central Florida.
Two veterans, Demetries Grimes and Kevin “Mac” McGovern, look to offer voters an alternative to longtime politicians. Three other candidates – former Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee, state Sen. Kelli Stargel and state Rep. Jackie Toledo – are hoping to step up into a national office from Tallahassee.
The redrawn district has no incumbent and is considered one the state’s more politically balanced districts. U.S. Rep. Scott Franklin, R-Lakeland, represents the current 15th district but after redistricting this year decided to run in the newly drawn 18th district instead. The new 18th district takes a larger chunk of Lakeland and the vast majority of Polk County.
District 15’s newly drawn boundaries stretch from South Florida Avenue in Lakeland west to the Suncoast Parkway near Lutz, and from north of Zephyrhills south to State Road 60. It includes portions of Kathleen, Southwest Lakeland, Dover, Lutz, Plant City, Temple Terrace, Thonotosassa and Zephyrhills.
The Aug. 23 primary will be open to registered voters affiliated with the Republican Party. The winner of the primary will face one of five Democrats in the Nov. 8 general election. The candidates competing the Democratic nomination are Alan Cohn, Gavin Brown, Eddie Geller, Cesar Ramirez and Bill VanHorn.
Here’s an introduction to the five Republican candidates in alphabetical order:
Demetries Grimes
Grimes is not a newcomer to political campaigning, but this August will be his first time on a ballot as a Republican. Grimes, 56, of Lakeland, is a life-long Central Floridian and a second-generation U.S. Navy veteran. He has served on seven deployments and flown more than 100 combat missions from aircraft carriers. Grimes said he was deployed to Afghanistan after the 9/11 terror attacks. His role was as a military prosecutor and judge overseeing trials of al-Qaida and Taliban members. Grimes said he also held leadership positions at the Pentagon and served as a White House adviser for international relationships with non-NATO members.
“There’s nobody else in our race who has taken that oath, who has been in the sights of our enemies. There’s no one who has seen and felt, up close and personal, the consequences of bad decisions made in Washington,” he said.
In 2018, Grimes made his first foray into running for political office as a Democrat in South Florida’s 26th Congressional District, which includes the Everglades. The veteran said he was “never a Democrat” but was recruited as a conservative to run “on opposition turf ” in an area believed to lean Democratic.
“I learned from that experience. I’m no longer a McCain Republican. That experience has made me an even bolder conservative,” he said.
Grimes said he believes he’s the best suited to represent Florida’s 15th District given his military experience, but he will also serve as a representative for people all across America.
“The No. 1 thing people are suffering from are the consequences of bad decisions in Washington related to their pocketbook,” he said.
A cornerstone of his campaign platform is to restore the nation’s energy independence and stability. Grimes said policy decisions made under President Biden’s administration have left the country dependent on foreign countries’ oil. He said he believes this could have long-term negative consequences for national security issues.
“We are getting ourselves into a position, just like Europe, dependent on our current or future adversaries for our energy needs,” he said.
This has also affected local residents’ pocketbooks with the cost of gasoline at the pumps. It’s a major concern, Grimes said, where voters feel they aren’t being heard.
Grimes’ campaign has raised nearly $400,000, according to his June filings with the Federal Election Commission. Of that, the candidate had about $280,000 in cash on hand.
Laurel Lee
Lee, 48, a former prosecutor, judge and Gov. Ron DeSantis’ former secretary of state, is focusing her attention on a larger scale. She lives in New Tampa with her husband, Tom, a former state senator. The couple have three children. Lee said her personal connection to the area is why she’s decided to run for office.
“I have lived, worked and raised a family in eastern Hillsborough County, I know this community, its values and its priorities,” she said.
Lee was appointed secretary of state by DeSantis in January 2019, serving for a little more than three years. Before that, she was appointed as a circuit court judge by then-Gov. Rick Scott in 2013. She was re-elected to the position in 2014.
Previously, Lee served as a federal prosecutor for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Middle District of Florida. She investigated and litigated a wide range of criminal offenses including white-collar and violent crimes, and cases involving sexual exploitation of children.
“Taken together, these experiences have given me the skills to tackle tough challenges,” she said.
If elected, Lee said her main focus will be on the nation’s economic issues, citing high gas prices at the pump, skyrocketing inflation and the rising cost of basic goods like groceries for American families.
“Congress needs to immediately address economic issues and take action to address spending by bringing down the national deficit and help families address the challenges they are facing,” she said.
Lee said her experience as a prosecutor leads her to have a strong position supporting law enforcement officers and calling for greater border security and immigration policies.
“I’ve seen firsthand the effects of illegal immigration that’s been allowed to occur and types of harm those individuals who come across our borders can bring to our communities in human trafficking, drug trafficking and other criminal conduct,” she said.
The candidate said she firmly believes the Supreme Court was correct in overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision establishing a nationwide right to abortion. She supports returning the power of policy making decisions back to state legislatures, she said, particularly when it comes to abortion.
Lee has reported raising more than $510,000 for her campaign, according to FEC filings. She had nearly $400,000 in cash left on hand.
The candidate has also gained support of a Super PAC, Conservative Action Fund, which has reported raising more than $1 million. The Super PAC has roots that trace to the Wingman PAC, which raised more than $452,000 in support of U.S. Rep. Scott Franklin’s campaign in 2020.
Kevin ‘Mac’ McGovern
Kevin ‘Mac’ McGovern enters the field for Congressional District 15 as a political newcomer. He’s never been appointed to a position or campaigned for office until now. “There’s five of us. By pure mathematics, everyone has a 20% chance,” he said. McGovern is a retired U.S. Navy veteran of 41 years and an electrical engineer. He lives in Celebration with his wife, Maggie. The city is east of District 15’s new boundaries after redistricting, but the couple plan to purchase a home in the district regardless of the primary election’s outcome.
McGovern said he’s long considered going into politics,but has held back until now.
“I’ve gotten to the point where I looked around at the people we are sending up to Congress. We are doing the same thing over and over, we are not sending the right people,” he said. “With my leadership and experience, it was time to get into the ring.”
McGovern said he believes he’s the only GOP candidate with experience working in Washington D.C. While in the Navy, McGovern said he held the position of deputy director of production for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. In this role, McGovern said he oversaw a $5.1 billion budget for national defense purposes.
It’s this background McGovern said he thinks will help in addressing the country’s current economic issues. He has spent time at the table in Washington D.C. learning how to negotiate, learning to understand the needs of foreign partners and international allies, he said. And he was able to build a military defense without breaking the budget.
McGovern said he also plans to bring this experience to the table to address natural issues with health care — Medicare, Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare — and Social Security programs.
One cornerstone of McGovern’s campaign lies in addressing the country’s energy polices and record-breaking inflation. He said he feels Biden’s polices are troubling.
“There are other ways to get to the same point without turning off the tap on oil overnight,” he said.
McGovern said he supports the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, saying he believes abortion should be a state’s issue.
“A big part of our issue is we have forgotten federalism, we have forgotten the 10th Amendment,” he said.
McGovern reports raising nearly $500,0000, according to his June FEC filings, of which he has nearly $400,000 in cash on hand. The vast majority of the candidate’s funds come from a $475,000 self-loan with only about $15,000 received in campaign donations.
“I got into this race late, and I didn’t want to take help from some big corporations,” he told The Ledger. “I don’t want to be beholden to anyone other than the people of CD 15.”
Kelli Stargel
State Sen. Stargel, 56, has set her sights on Congress as she faces being term limited from Florida Legislature. She served in the state House of Representatives starting in 2008, moving to the state Senate in 2012. “I want to use my skillset to help turn the tide of what’s happening in Washington D.C.,” she said.
Stargel lives in Lakeland with her husband, John Stargel, a judge on the 2nd District Court of Appeal, based in Lakeland. Their home is a block or two outside of the district’s new boundaries. The couple have five children and seven grandchildren.
Stargel said she’s lived in the district for the majority of her life. She was born in Tampa, married in Temple Terrace, and has lived in Forest Hills, Lutz and Land O’ Lakes before settling down in Lakeland.
While some may view Stargel as a party insider, the candidate said voters can look at her voting record and consistency.
“One of my very first public speeches was for Sarah Palin about 14 years ago, go back and look at that speech. I’m still saying the same things,” she said. “I’m not an unknown commodity.”
In the past two years, Stargel said she’s worked to protect life in Florida. She filed the Senate bill that bans abortions after 15 weeks. The candidate said she was supporter of balanced budgeting and worked to ensure the state’s economy stayed stable through COVID.
Stargel said she supports the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, calling it ‘incorrect years ago’ as abortion should be determined by states, not the federal government.
On a national level, Stargel said she’s concerned about the economy, gas prices and high inflation. She said she wants to look for ways to rein in federal spending and called for a balanced national budget.
“We need to balance our budget. It can be done,” she said. “It’s not always easy, but it’s necessary.”
Stargel reported raising about $250,000 as of June, according to FEC filings, with the vast majority available as cash on hand. This appears to put her dead last among the Republican primary candidates in campaign funds. But there’s more to it.
Stargel is being supported by the Conservative Warriors PAC. The Super PAC has reported more than $1 million on hand. Stargel said she believes the majority of this money comes from funds raised during her 14 years in Florida Legislature. Under federal law, she had to dissolve her state Super PAC, Limited Government for Stronger Florida, and the money was sent to the Conservative Warriors PAC. She is not allowed to have any relationship or communication with the Super PAC on how the funds are spent.
Jackie Toledo
Toledo has been representing District 60 in Florida’s House of Representatives since 2016. With six years of experience under her belt, she’s looking to move to the national stage.
Toledo, 46, is a single mother to five children who has lived in Tampa for 35 years. What sets her apart from the other candidates is her unique personal and professional backgrounds, she said.
Toledo said she was born in Lima, Peru, and legally immigrated to the U.S. when she was five years old. She attended the University of South Florida, where she earned a degree in civil engineering. Her area of specialty is transportation and she became a licensed professional engineer.
“I worked hard and I’m living the American Dream, but it’s being stripped away,” she said.
Toledo said she is an immigrant who is passionate about securing the nation’s borders and providing safety and security. The candidate said the issue is tied to the flow of fentanyl and other opioids and human trafficking.
“We are seeing a fentanyl crisis that is out of control and it will get worse if we don’t do something about it,” she said.
Toledo has also placed a strong emphasis on energy independence in her campaign. She said she would like the nation become an exporter of fossil fuels, rather than an importer, while working on modern innovative solutions.
“It has to be a combination of those two,” she said. “As an engineer, if there’s a technology we can use to make it cleaner, we need to utilize the resources we have to meet the needs we have today.”
The Republican candidate called President Biden’s mandates “ridiculous” and said there isn’t infrastructure in place to support electric vehicles or a transition to more solar power.
Toledo said she supports encouraging and pushing the transition forward, not mandated changes. Focusing on energy solutions will have a positive impact on the economy, gas prices and lowering inflation, Toledo said. She said gas prices drive transportation costs, which impact the pricing of basic goods.
Toledo called for a balanced national budget and said she’s in favor of the overturning of Roe v. Wade. She said she would like to see more educational choices and programs entrusted to the state, not the federal level.
To date, Toledo has reported more than $520,000 in campaign funds, according to FEC filings, with nearly $400,000 left in cash on hand at the end of June. This put her as the apparent financial frontrunner among the five candidates before the spending of Super PACs is considered.