PREVIEW: Special election to replace Clemens’ Senate seat is Tuesday

Two women are in a special election Tuesday for the vacant Senate District 31 seat left vacant since late October when Jeff Clemens of Atlantis resigned after admitting to having an affair with a lobbyist.

Florida Rep. Lori Berman of Lantana, who handily beat first-time candidate Arthur Morrison on in a Jan. 30 primary, will face Lake Worth’s Tami Donnally, Palm Beach County’s vice chairwoman for the Republican party.

Donnally ran unchallenged.

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The district includes most of the area east of Florida’s Turnpike between Lake Worth and Delray Beach.

Florida Democrats filed a lawsuit aiming to get an earlier special election date so a new senator would be in place for at least part of the 2018 Legislative session, but their attempts were unsuccessful.

Democrats have a 46.6 to 24.1 percent registration advantage in the district and the GOP did not field a candidate there against Clemens in 2016.

READ: Sex scandal snuffed out Jeff Clemens’ political career

Berman, 59, a member on the powerful House Rules and Policy Committee, said she’s running because she’s been a state representative the past eight years.

“I totally understand the legislative process and I’m ready to jump right in,” she said. “I think I’m immediately prepared to be a great legislator without having any learning curves.”

Berman said she was happy to discuss gun control at the Florida Legislature for the first time after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland where 17 people were killed.

“One of the bills that I sponsored was included in the Parkland legislation and it’s a law that allows a law enforcement officer t go to the court to petition to have a gun removed from someone who is a danger to themselves or others,” Berman said. “I’m really happy to see that this is being implemented.”

READ: Tacos al Carbon’s new Lake Worth location is doing great, owner says

Berman added she plans to file a provision that says family and household members can go to court to have a gun removed from a dangerous person as well. “I intend to file that part of the bill next year,” she said.

She said her priorities are more education funding, expansion of Medicaid in Florida and equality for women.

Donnally, 57, is no stranger to Florida politics. She’s run twice for Florida’s state House District 85 seat, losing both times. “I never say that I lost because for me, it was a winning experience all the way around,” she said. “It made me appreciate elected officials so much more and what candidates have to go through.”

Donnally works as the executive director of Legacy Church Ministries in Greenacres, where she has been since 1980 and which runs Greenacres Christian Academy. She is also vice chair of the Girl Scouts and is married to her high school sweetheart since 1978.

“I’m a very well rounded person because of (my time) with the school,” she said. “I understand people. I’ve had to negotiate compromises with families and I’ve worked in a religious community.”

Although the district is heavily Democratic, Donnally said that doesn’t bother her. “Palm Beach County Democrats are well represented in Tallahassee,” she said. “But I believe there’s a percentage of people in this county who feel differently because of the presidential race.”

Donnally said she supports school choice because of the school’s she’s been running for decades. “People come to our school as an alternative school when their school wasn’t working for them,” she said. “I’ll never talk bad about public education… but not every style of learning fits everybody.”

Both Berman and Donnally admit they’re different.

“We have very different political viewpoints,” Berman said.”She’s a strong conservative and I’m a progressive Democrat. As a result of our party affiliations, we have difference on things, like separation of church and state and women’s reproductive rights.”

Donnally agrees.

“We agree on more things than we disagree on,” she said. “But there are philosophical differences we disagree on.”

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