House seats to be filled after DeSantis appointments

After getting elected in November, Gov. Ron DeSantis looked to the Florida House as he picked new leaders for state agencies.

DeSantis tapped Rep. Halsey Beshears, R-Monticello, to lead the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, Rep. Danny Burgess, R-Zephyrhills, to head the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and Rep. Jared Moskowitz, D-Coral Springs, to direct the Division of Emergency Management.

But in doing so, DeSantis left all or parts of 12 counties without a state House member for the past five months, including throughout this year’s legislative session.

That will change Tuesday night. Voters in a sprawling North Florida district and in a Pasco County district will choose replacements in special elections to replace Beshears and Burgess, while Coral Springs Democrat Dan Daley will be able to take office after running unopposed to replace Moskowitz.

Port St. Joe Republican Jason Shoaf and Tallahassee Democrat Ryan Terrell are running to replace Beshears in the largely rural House District 7, which is made up of Calhoun, Franklin, Gulf, Jefferson, Lafayette, Liberty, Madison, Taylor, Wakulla and part of Leon counties.

Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in the district by about 9,000 voters, but such registration numbers can be deceiving in rural parts of the state where many conservative voters have traditionally registered as Democrats --- and cast ballots for Republicans in state and national races. Beshears, for example, won the seat by 21 percentage points in 2012 and was unopposed in his 2014, 2016 and 2018 re-election campaigns.

Shoaf, who defeated three other Republicans in an April primary, has dominated fundraising in the race. He raised $265,136, including pulling in money from lobbying firms, business groups and companies that are major players in the Capitol, according to a finance report filed Friday. Terrell raised $6,146.

Parts of District 7, such as Calhoun, Franklin, Gulf and Liberty counties, sustained heavy damage in October’s Hurricane Michael, and both candidates have made hurricane recovery an issue during the campaign.

Burgess had represented Pasco’s House District 38 since 2014, succeeding former House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, in the seat.

Tuesday’s special election pits Dade City Republican Randy Maggard, who won an April primary, against Wesley Chapel Democrat Kelly Smith.

Registered Republicans outnumber Democrats by nearly 7,000 voters in District 38, while unaffiliated voters make up nearly 28.2 percent of the district. Burgess won by 20 percentage points in 2014, was unopposed in 2016 and defeated an unaffiliated candidate by more than 32 percentage points in 2018.

Maggard raised $163,501 and loaned $50,000 to his campaign, with money coming recently from groups such as the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Florida Realtors and the National Federation of Independent Business. Smith raised $44,657, with most of the money coming in small-dollar donations.

While Daley was unopposed in Broward County’s House District 97, Speaker Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, declined to seat him until after the special election. Daley has already opened a campaign account to seek a full term in the 2020 election.

The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.