Backroom Briefing: Replacing Jeff Miller

March 20, 2016

Washington may have lost its appeal for U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, but the siren call of the city on the hill is luring a raft of other Panhandle officials poised to take his place.

State Sen. Greg Evers, state Rep. Matt Gaetz and Escambia County Supervisor of Elections David Stafford all confirmed that they’re contemplating bids to succeed Miller, who announced a week ago that he won’t seek re-election after serving 15 years in Congress. Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward’s name is also among those bandied about by local insiders.

Evers is considered one of the Senate’s more-moderate Republicans, despite his predilection for sponsoring National Rifle Association-friendly legislation. He got that reputation, at least in part, because of anti-prison privatization votes and his alliance with Sen. Jack Latvala, a Clearwater Republican who’s consistently been a thorn in the side to Senate GOP leaders.

“I’m praying about it. I’m talking about it to my constituents and I’m definitely looking at it,” Evers, a Republican strawberry farmer from Baker, said.

Gaetz, currently running to replace his father in the state Senate, was equally coy in a telephone interview, saying he’s “considering it strongly” but hasn’t yet decided. Gaetz’s father, state Sen. Don Gaetz, earlier this week nixed the notion that the elder statesman would run for the seat, which stretches to the Alabama border.

“I’ve gotten a lot of encouragement from people all over Congressional District 1 and I’ll make an announcement very soon regarding my intentions,” Matt Gaetz, a lawyer who lives in Fort Walton Beach, said.

Stafford, who at one point served as chief of staff to Joe Scarborough during the MSNBC talk show host’s stint in Congress, was even more circumspect.

Stafford said numerous folks in the Panhandle have urged him to run for the seat, and, while he’s been “humbled by their encouragement,” he’s regrouping, at least for now.

“As you know, I’ve been focusing on the presidential primary and now that Election Day is behind us, Kim and I will take some time to discuss how best we can serve,” Stafford said in an email, referring to his wife.

When asked about running, Hayward said in a phone interview he “hasn’t ruled it out.”

Meanwhile, Gaetz and Evers poured on the Panhandle rhetoric, even before entering the race.

“The decision that I am working through is all about where the biggest challenges are that need solving. I’m happy with where we are in Tallahassee. We’ve balanced budgets. We’ve cut taxes. We’ve repealed or replaced over 4,000 regulations. I look at Washington and it’s a mess. I think that many of the solutions we’ve come up with in Florida are transferrable, to create more problem-solving at the federal level,” Gaetz said.

When a reporter noted that his remarks sounded like something a congressional candidate might say, Gaetz acknowledged, “It does.”

Evers said his constituents “need someone to pick up the same torch” Miller wielded for the military and veterans and to “be that lifeline through Washington to cut through the red tape.”

“To bring it down to a local level, that’s the vision that I feel like I’m the best one to represent in the Panhandle,” Evers said.

Miller’s exit could rearrange the deck chairs on the Panhandle political scene, creating opportunities for not just one but two Senate seats — Evers’ seat and the open seat now being sought by the younger Gaetz. At least three House members — Reps. Doug Broxson, Mike Hill and Clay Ingram — could be in the running for Evers’ Senate post, fueling even more speculation about their possible successors.

The congressional campaign will likely boil down to Evers, Gaetz and Stafford, if he chooses to enter the fray, according to Collier Merrill, a prominent Pensacola businessman and GOP donor.

“It’s going to create a tough race, but at the end of the day we’ll be well-represented,” Merrill said.

by Dara Kam and Jim Turner, The News Service of Florida

Pictured: Congressman Jeff Miller speaks in Century. file photo, click to enlarge.


6 Responses to “Backroom Briefing: Replacing Jeff Miller”

  1. BentStraight on March 21st, 2016 1:39 pm

    Poorly worded first sentence in this story. Other than that, very sad to Jeff Miller step down, we have been very happy with his voting record and representation of our conservative values here in northwest Florida.
    If what “Edwin Howard” says is true regarding Cris Dosev, we will look forward to hearing more from him!

  2. BT on March 21st, 2016 12:41 pm

    Career politicians who would be willing to “serve”…if only a prominent businessman and donor would select them.

    The first vote hasn’t been cast by an actual voter, and I can tell those candidates who have already registered don’t stand a chance.

  3. Edwin Howard on March 20th, 2016 11:36 pm

    I was born and raised in Cantonment and have known Cris Dosev for five years. I am proud of my friend and am to proud support him. Cris is a former Marine who flew A-6 bombers during combat operations in Desert Shield and Desert Storm. He is also a very successful businessman, a devout Christian and devoted husband and father. Cris is a true Conservative. He is in this race because he is a battle-tested patriot who is sick of what he sees the political class doing to our country and is ready to do something about it.

  4. Bob's Brother on March 20th, 2016 11:27 am

    It’s my hope that whomever is elected doesn’t go to Washinton DC and turn their backs upon those that elected him or her. There are too many there that are owned by the same establishment now engaged in defeating Trump.

  5. jj on March 20th, 2016 10:09 am

    Sue, that is interesting that 4 people have already filed but the news media doesn’t mention them, at all. It’s as if no other candidates matter but the ones they talk about.

    We do not need Matt Gaetz, or any other “family legacies”. We do Not need Collier Merrill telling us who to vote for. He’s a whole other story, in his self.

    Too many career politicians.

    Vote for somebody who is nobody!

  6. sue on March 20th, 2016 7:21 am

    According to the Florida Department of State Division of Elections web-site, these candidates have already filed to run for this office:

    Dosev, Cris (REP)
    Frazier, Brian Wayne (REP)
    Kondrat’yev, Amanda Leigh (DEM)
    Wichern, Mark (REP)

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