Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Stormin Ronda

Storms takes her campaign to radio

By Times staff writers

In continuing unorthodox manner, Hillsborough County commissioner Ronda Storms has again announced her candidacy for the District 10 state Senate seat being vacated by Senate President Tom Lee. Storms made this announcement on WTBN-AM 570, which bills itself as Tampa Bay's Christian talk radio station, making a joke of how she's not doing a big-deal grand entry into the race. She previously announced her intentions Friday night on WTVT-Ch. 13.
"I'm running for his seat, yeaah!" Storms said Tuesday on the radio broadcast.
She has not held a news conference with all the local media to announce her decision. She did confirm it to the Times Tuesday night after participating in a debate over a proposed change in the structure of county government.
In the radio broadcast, Storms spoke for about 45 minutes, repeatedly saying her religious views guide her public service.
"God calls whom he calls. ... I've always been the person that I've been," she said at one point, in the context of her conservative Christian activities.
"The enemy is ever vigilant," Storms said. "He's out there seeking whom he may desire. There have to be more of us."
Now that she has a 6-year-old daughter, she emphasized that four generations of Stormses have been raised in the district. That's an obvious dig at Sandy Murman, the former state representative who is running for the seat, and will have to move into the district.
Storms said her husband's family roots run deep throughout the district. "It feels kind of like old home week for my husband's family."
Now potential candidates to replace Storms on the commission can start jockeying to fill out her term, which runs through 2008.
Storms will have to submit her resignation at least 10 days before the start of qualifying, which runs from July 17-21. The letter would be irrevocable, but she can make it effective the day she would take office as senator, which is Election Day.
Under past opinions from the Division of Elections, and as shown when former Commissioner Pat Frank ran for Hillsborough clerk of the circuit court in 2004, this would trigger an election to replace Storms.
Aspirants can file now as candidates for the 2008 election and begin raising money. When Storms' Senate candidacy becomes official with her resignation letter, the replacement candidates would simply switch the year to 2006.
Potential candidate names getting tossed around include Hillsborough Republican Party boss Al Higginbotham, who has said he's waiting to see what Storms does; Southwest Florida Water Management District governing board member Janet Kovach, who says she would consider it; Ron Pierce, who works for Lee; state Rep. Rich Glorioso; current District 10 Senate candidate Ray Young; and Plant City Mayor John Dicks. MURMAN HAS WIDE LEAD IN MONEY: While Storms was playing coy about entering the state Senate race, the official candidates were racing for campaign cash.
Murman is dominating the money race. She raised more than $65,500 from the start of October through year's end, bringing her total to more than $317,000. "I obviously have been the front-runner in the race, and we are working very hard to stay in that position," said Murman, a former state representative, noting that she's focused on raising money within the district, concentrated in east Hillsborough County.
GOP rival Ray Young points out that Murman's coffers overflow with checks from outside interest groups. The health care industry and trial lawyers are especially sweet on her.
Young could be tasting sour grapes. The Plant City businessman, a political newcomer, raised about $21,000 during the fall quarter. His campaign total stands at nearly $130,150, but that includes a personal check he wrote his campaign for $75,000. "It was a challenging fundraising quarter for us," Young said.
Anything still can happen. The GOP winner will face Democrat Stephen Gorham, who has made significant personal contributions to his $17,500 campaign stash.

Staff writers Bill Varian and Letitia Stein contributed to this report.

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