JUST IN: Central Florida lawmaker dies

Central Florida Republican Don Hahnfeldt, a former Navy officer and a staunch supporter of President Donald Trump, has died.

“The entire Florida House mourns the loss of our colleague and friend, Rep. Don Hahnfeldt,” House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, said Monday on Twitter. “We honor and remember his service to our country and our state.”

Hahnfeldt, 73, died of cancer, according to a report in his hometown paper, The Villages Daily Sun. Hahnfeldt was a freshman lawmaker elected to the state House in 2016. His Navy career included command of two nuclear submarines.

Hahnfeldt, who lived in The Villages retirement community, represented House District 33, which includes Sumter County and parts of Lake and Marion counties. Hahnfeldt had opened a campaign account to run for re-election in 2018, The News Service of Florida reported.

Hahnfeldt said on his campaign website that he spent 32 years in the Navy, serving as commander of the Pacific Fleet’s Strategic Submarine Squadron and working to clean up radioactive waste after Russia’s Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

After moving to The Villages, Hahnfeldt won a seat on the Sumter County Commission in 2012, where he served until he won a House seat.

Hahnfeldt drew praise after his death.

“We will always remember Rep. Hahnfeldt’s commitment to The Villages and our nation,” Gov. Rick Scott said on Twitter.

Rep. Chris Sprowls, a Palm Harbor Republican slated to become House speaker in 2020, tweeted: “Our whole Florida House family is saddened by the passing of our colleague Rep. Don Hahnfeldt. Our hearts go out to his wife, his children and his grandchildren.”

After he left the Navy and before he was elected to the Sumter County Commission, Hahnfeldt ran a company that had business dealings with Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chief who’s under indictment.

In the early 2000s, according to a November report by Politico, Hahnfeldt ran a company that hired Manafort to sell Russian-developed nuclear containment foam to the U.S. Energy Department. At one point, a Manafort-directed company bought more than 2 million shares of company stock.

Hahnfeldt said he was hired by EuroTech to help get the company’s most promising product, a Russia-developed nuclear containment foam tested at the Chernobyl nuclear disaster site, to market. Hahnfeldt, who was with the company from 1999 to 2003, said that never happened, but he stood behind the product’s effectiveness.

A big part of the company’s strategy was lobbying for federal contracts with former President George W. Bush’s Energy Department. And that’s where Manafort, a longtime political operative and lobbyist, came in.

“He knew a lot of people,” Hahnfeldt told Politico. “We used him as a contact with the administration to try to promote the product, and get us access to the administration.”

Hahnfeldt’s death comes two weeks before the Jan. 9 start of the 2018 legislative session. He served on six legislative panels, holding the vice chairmanship of the House Local, Federal & Veterans Affairs Subcommittee.

Last week, Hahnfeldt and Rep. Lori Berman, D-Lantana, filed a bill (HB 1029) that would raise the legal age for smoking from 18 to 21. In a news release issued with Berman and Senate sponsor David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, Hahnfeldt said raising the legal age “will save a projected early loss of life of 270,000 young lives and $8.6 billion in health care costs, as well as $8.3 billion in productivity losses.”

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