TAMPA — Nine months before the party primaries, the race for two Hillsborough County Commission seats is getting more competitive.
In District 4, covering east and south Hillsborough, Janet Lee Dougherty led other Republican candidates in raising more than $20,000 in October. The impressive haul vaulted Dougherty, a Wimauma businesswoman who didn’t enter the race until Aug. 30, near the top fundraisers in the race: Stacy White and Rick Cochran.
White, a county school board member, has raised a total of $34,381, and Cochran, a retired Tampa police detective, has collected $26,240 in contributions. Both men filed to run for the seat in early April.
The strong competition on the GOP side practically guarantees a runoff election for the seat, which Commissioner Al Higginbotham is vacating because of term limits. Higginbotham is running instead for the countywide District 7 seat and has raised $142,541.
Dougherty, 51, has a long history of serving on government boards, including the Southwest Florida Water Management District, the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council and the Hillsborough County Citizens Environmental Advisory Committee.
She now runs her own environmental consulting company, Sage Eco Solutions, in Riverview.
Dougherty said her years of volunteering for boards and councils have paid off in business connections who donate to her campaign. For instance, she collected $4,000 last month from maritime repair companies, a factor of her time as president of the Propeller Club/Port of Tampa, an organization that supports the maritime industry.
She said she also spent nearly a decade working for fertilizer producer CF Industries Holdings Inc.
“I’m a businessperson, and I think I can hit the ground running,” Dougherty said. “My strong expertise will come to bear with the county.”
The winner of the Republican primary will face the lone Democrat in the race, Donna Lee Fore, who has raised $1,064. Fore owns a mobile auto glass company in Riverview.
Another businessperson who recently entered a county commission race is Tampa venture capital entrepreneur Robin Lester. She filed on Oct. 2 to challenge Higginbotham in the Republican primary for the countywide District 7 seat and has raised $2,970.
Lester, 51, is managing partner of Florida Growth Partners, a consulting firm that links emerging growth companies to sources of money around the world. Before forming the company, she was executive director of Florida Venture Forum, where she helped raise more than $1.2 billion in venture capital to fund Florida companies. During her tenure, she grew the company by 88 percent.
“I know how to run a business, how to balance books and make the hard choices,” Lester said. “I think that expertise would be valuable on the commission.”
She will need her expertise in raising money to catch Higginbotham, who reported raising $8,100 in October alone.
Also in the District 7 race on the Republican side is businessman Don Kruse, who has not reported any campaign contributions. The only Democrat remaining in the contest is Tampa City Council member Mary Mulhern, who has raised $39,130.
School board Chairwoman April Griffin, a Democrat, filed to run for District 7 but later announced she was pulling out after raising $19,860 in campaign contributions. Griffin has not formally withdrawn from the commission contest, however, because she may want to use her contributions toward another school board race.
“The minute I formally withdraw from the commission race, I have to return that money,” Griffin said. “I can ask my contributors to support me for the school board.”
This was the first time local candidates had to file a monthly report under a campaign finance law passed by the Florida Legislature in the spring. Before, they filed quarterly.
Local candidates will continue to file monthly until 60 days before the primary on Aug. 26, when they have to start filling out reports every two weeks, with additional reports due on the 25th and 11th days before each election.