Pasco's Legg to challenge Norman

Article Courtesy of The Tampa Tribune

By Laura Kinsler

Published May 30, 2012


A well-known Pasco lawmaker is jumping districts to run against incumbent Sen. Jim Norman.

Rep. John Legg, a Port Richey Republican, has been campaigning since the fall for the Pasco Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Mike Fasano. On Wednesday, he abruptly switched gears, opting to challenge the Hillsborough County Republican in District 17.

Legg said the switch was a family decision he and his wife live in District 17. "We decided we didn't want to move our kids," he said. But he said it also makes political sense.

"Half of the Republican primary voters live in Pasco County," Legg said. "The effectiveness and quality of representation by Mr. Norman in Pasco County has been lacking."

USF political scientist Susan MacManus said the announcement shouldn't come as a huge surprise to Tampa's political establishment. "Hillsborough Republicans expected that Jim Norman would not go unchallenged," she said.

Both candidates have more than $100,000 in the bank, according to their latest campaign finance reports. And both already have qualified by petition.

"It will be a hard-fought campaign," MacManus said. "John Legg is one of the candidates Norman would least like to have run against."

The newly redrawn District 17 takes in most of Central and Southern Pasco County as well as the northern Hillsborough areas of Carrollwood, Lutz and parts of New Tampa.

That's not necessarily an advantage for Norman, who is plagued by a spate of ethics complaints.

Norman signed a consent order Feb. 9 with the state Ethics Commission, six days after the panel found probable cause he had broken the law.

Norman admitted to four counts, including not disclosing a gift and not disclosing his interest in an Arkansas home and two boats. The late Ralph Hughes, a millionaire conservative activist, loaned $500,000 to Norman's wife, Mearline, which she used to buy the lakefront home in 2006.

If Norman wins re-election, he likely will be censured by the Senate. He could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

"The Senate will have to decide what to do with him," Legg said. "That's for him to focus on. I have a long record of fighting for consumers and fighting pill mills. I want to run on those issues."

MacManus said Legg is "very well known" in central Pasco, but he will have to "do a lot of grass-roots politicking" in Hillsborough County. The same is true for Norman in Pasco County. He has represented Pasco in the Senate for two years after a long career as a Hillsborough County commissioner.

"Each of them is running in an area where they're not as well-known," she said.

The move clears the way for Republican Wilton Simpson to virtually waltz into the Senate District 18 seat as the only qualified candidate. Simpson, a Trilby egg farmer and businessman, has raised more than $220,000 in contributions.

Both Legg and Fasano, who is running in Legg's old House seat, have endorsed Simpson.

"There's going to be a unified effort here in Pasco to elect both Wilton Simpson and John Legg to the Senate," Fasano said.

Simpson said he appreciates Legg's decision. "I look forward to supporting him in his run for District 17," he said.

Republican John Korsak of Tampa, a security consultant and Marine Corps and Secret Service veteran, also has filed for Norman's Senate seat. Democrat Wes Johnson, a retired nuclear and biomechanical engineer, is unopposed for nomination.