By Jim Bleyer
When incumbent State Representative Jamie Grant resigned Aug. 11 to accept a position as Florida’s chief information officer, local Republican leaders in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties scrambled to identify a replacement candidate to defend the District 64 seat against a familiar and formidable Democratic challenger, Jessica Harrington.
Their preferred choice: Karen Jaroch, a grounded conservative activist with a history of public service.
State Republican leaders had other ideas.
Because no other candidate filed to run against Grant in the Republican primary, state law vests the power to fill that void with the executive committee members of the Republican Party in the counties that straddle District 64 — Pinellas and Hillsborough.
According to sources in the state capitol, incoming House Speaker Chris Sprowls with approval from the office of Gov. Ron DeSantis, used his superior political clout to override the local party and select Traci Koster, a Tampa attorney.
Longtime Republican activists in the District were not pleased. With Koster, Republicans have anything but a Karen Jaroch. Koster’s only claim to activism has been as a cash bundler for the party at the state level, those same sources assert,
The House seat is now considered a likely flip to the hard-charging, battle-tested Harrington.
The resentment over Koster’s Aug. 17 qualifying still roils Republicans despite the patina of faux unity.
But slowly the GOP organization—and more importantly the voters in District 64 —are learning more about Koster. The emerging picture is a dark, selfish, sinister one.
At a recent Tiger Bay forum, Koster declared she wouldn’t support Medicaid expansion because giving too many people access to healthcare would erode quality care.
“We need to focus on not just affordable care but quality care,” she said. “If we open up the healthcare to everybody we have a quality problem. We’re gonna have a shortage of doctors to handle the volume and it’s going to lower the quality of our healthcare.”
Harrington, a teacher and proponent of Medicaid expansion, said everyone deserves access.
“Yes, I would expand Medicaid for 800,000 Floridians,” she said. “No person should die or go bankrupt because they can’t afford their healthcare.”
Koster’s “I’ve got mine, tough darts for you” attitude smacks as the highest form of hypocrisy.
In order to help lawyers like Koster cope with the pandemic, the Florida Bar instituted a 24/7 Florida Lawyers Helpline to provide a continuum of services — everything from crisis intervention and referral for free mental-health counseling to providing a case manager to help find long-term care facilities for family members.
Even District 64 voters who can afford health insurance don’t have access to what amounts to boutique-type medical care.
Koster told the Florida Bar News that, in the interest of her own mental health, she called the helpline soon after it was launched.
“Pretty much everybody who knows me knows I’m a social butterfly,” said Koster. “I like to be at every event chatting with everybody and hanging out. So, for me, the isolation has certainly been the hardest part . . . and compounded with the practice of law in and of itself and having my kids around all the time and all of those things compounded.”
So Koster, in her own words, encounters difficulty with the twin responsibilities of attorney and motherhood. Actually, that work/life balance in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic is a common problem for women, especially those on the front lines (teachers, nurses, cashiers) in lower socio-economic situations than attorney.
“Everything was very smooth and everybody was very professional and helpful,” Koster went on, adding the service provided her names of three counselors in her area, one of whom she has been meeting with periodically via telehealth.
She recommended the Lawyers Hotline to anyone “teetering on the edge.”
Koster, unlike the economically challenged segment of society that she disdains, marginalizes, and would deny health benefits, had access to a professional safety net in order to cope with her own mental health issues.
Her vainglorious elitism cannot play well with voters regardless of party affiliation.
District 64 is one of 710 state legislative districts that intersects with one or more Pivot Counties. These 206 Pivot Counties voted for Donald Trump (R) in 2016 after voting for Barack Obama (D) in 2008 and 2012. Pinellas County gave Trump a wafer-thin 1.1 percent margin four years ago.