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Palm Beach County Senate races pit outsiders, established politicians

Pollution in the St Lucie River, gun control, education reform and funding for mental health are among the candidates’ issues facing voters in two northern Palm Beach County Senate districts on Nov. 8.

In District 25, incoming Republican Senate President Joe Negron, a lawyer at the Gunster law firm, is being challenged by Democrat Bruno Moore, a public relations specialist. The district encompasses northwest Palm Beach County as wells as Martin and St. Lucie counties.

In District 30, Republican Ron Berman, a lawyer who lives in Palm Beach Gardens, is running against Bobby Powell, a Democrat and West Palm Beach urban planner who is trying to make the step up from the Florida House. The district is comprised of northeast Palm Beach County between Jupiter and West Palm Beach.

But the District 30 election may have to be redone, depending on an upcoming judge’s decision in Tallahassee. Rubin Anderson, a Democrat who announced for the seat early this year but whose disqualification is in dispute, has sued the state to have the District 30 Democratic primary done over, this time with him as a candidate in addition to Powell and personal injury attorney Michael Steinger.

A hearing date has not yet been set in Leon County Circuit Court, Anderson’s attorney, Mark Herron, said Wednesday. Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher has said she plans to keep the race on the ballot and would schedule a new primary and general election for the seat only if a judge orders.

In the meantime, Powell says his victory in the Aug. 30 Democrat primary over an opponent who far outspent him shows that voters value commitment more than money.

“I’ve not only served in the Legislature. I’m out there working with the Salvation Army, food banks, coaching sports and being a mentor,” said Powell, 34, a project manager at Urban Design Kilday Studios in West Palm Beach. A resident of West Palm Beach, he has served in the Florida House since he was first elected in 2012.

Powell wants improvements to education, tighter gun controls and more state investment in the district.

Berman wants more vocational training in high schools, increased funding for mental health issues and more assistance to senior citizens.

The district leans Democratic. While there are about 10 percent more registered Democrats than Republicans, about 29 percent of registered District 30 voters are independent, said Berman.

“Those independent voters will decide the race,” said Berman.

Powell has raised about $270,000 in campaign contributions, compared to about $220,000 for Berman, according to campaign reports. But most of Berman’s war chest has come from his own pocket.

“That shows I am not beholden to special interests,” said Berman.

Powell countered that Berman is trying to buy his way into the Senate.

“When people contribute to your campaign, that shows they believe you will deliver for your district,” said Powell.

In the District 25 race, Moore acknowledges that defeating Negron, who as incoming Senate President would be one of the three most powerful politicians in Tallahassee next year, is a longshot. After all, Moore tried the same thing in 2014 and lost to Negron then.

But Moore said voter distrust of veteran politicians will bring him victory this year.

“People are weary and wary of established politicians,” said Moore, 45, a resident of Port St. Lucie.

Negron, 55, served in the Florida House from 2000-2006 and has been a state senator since 2010. He was the GOP’s last-minute congressional replacement candidate for the Treasure Coast district in 2006 when U.S. Rep. Mark Foley abruptly resigned, but lost to Democrat Tim Mahoney. Mahoney then survived only one term before losing to Republican Tom Rooney.

Both Moore and Negron want to repair the region’s water issues, including the Lake Okeechobee discharges that result in the damaging algal blooms in the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries, as well as potential damage to the Indian River Lagoon.

Both also oppose Florida All-Aboard Brightline’s plans to run 32 trains a day between Miami and Orlando with stops in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.

As Senate president, Negron wants to focus heavily on higher education and wants to see more of the state’s universities achieve “national elite” status.

Moore’s priorities include reducing gang violence, especially in and around Fort Pierce, and increasing assistance to veterans. A former radio and television traffic reporter, Moore was arrested in 2006 on charges of trying to solicit sex from a 13-year-old girl he met online, but a jury acquitted him.

Negron has raised more that $500,000 for his campaign. Moore has raised about $3,000.

Also on the ballot is incumbent state Sen. Jeff Clemens, a Democrat, in Senate District 31. He is facing only a blank slot for a write-in because Jason Swaby qualified as a write-in candidate. Write-in’s names are not printed on the ballot in Florida.

The annual salary for a state senator is $29,697. Florida’s Legislature is a part-time legislature, meeting for a two-month session each spring.

Staff writer John Kennedy contributed to this story.

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