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Hart won't run for House

The South Tampa Republican's decision revives Democrats' hopes for a seat in GOP hands since 1994.

By DAVID KARP, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 14, 2002

TAMPA -- State Rep. Chris Hart IV walked away from a safe seat in the Florida House on Monday, saying he won't seek re-election to a third term representing South Tampa.

Hart, the son of County Commissioner Chris Hart, told colleagues he wants to spend more time at home with his wife, Amy, and two children, Maddie, 6, and Charlie, 3.

"It's been a great four-year run," Hart said in a news release. "But my family is my center, and I'm coming home to my family and to Tampa to stay."

His decision gives Democrats a chance to recapture a seat the Republicans have held since 1994.

"That's great," said Mike Scionti, chairman of the Hillsborough Democratic Party. "That gives us a chance at an open seat."

Democrat Scott Farrell, a 35-year-old lawyer and political newcomer, has already filed for the seat, and Scionti expects more Democrats to join him. One possibility might be former County Commissioner Ben Wacksman, who was defeated at the polls in 2000.

On the Republican side, Faye Culp, who held the seat between 1994 and 1998, said she will run. Another possible contender is former congressional candidate Mark Sharpe.

"I think a Republican will take it," Hillsborough GOP Chairwoman Margie Kincaid said.

Hart made his announcement Monday from the floor of the House, which adjourned after finishing a two-week special session, the second one since March.

State Rep. Bob Henriquez, a Democrat from West Tampa who was elected the same year as Hart, praised him for working across political lines.

"Chris, thank you for your friendship and for showing me the process is about more than partisanship and gamesmanship," Henriquez said.

"I'm really seriously touched by that," Hart said after his colleagues gave him a standing ovation.

Hart, 33, a Republican from Virginia Park, had once hoped to move up the ranks of the Republican leadership in the House.

Elected in 1998 in his first bid for office, Hart came to Tallahassee as a wide-eyed former legislative aide. He looked so young that visitors in the Capitol once mistook him for a college student.

Even so, he offered the party promise: good looks, legislative experience and a household name.

But the long hours, low pay and demands of party loyalty apparently got to Hart. Originally, he campaigned in 1998 against school vouchers, but then voted for vouchers in his first term, under pressure from the Republican leadership.

Financial disclosure forms show Hart made $56,803 last year, while supporting two young children and living in South Tampa. His wife, Amy, a schoolteacher, gave birth to their second child while Hart was in office. Earlier this year, his father announced a campaign to run for mayor of Tampa.

Hart also said he wants to spend more time on a new business, Classified Technologies, which operates out of the office of the Flyer, a mailer owned by GOP contributor Dick Mandt.

Earlier this year, Hart's aides and father denied rumors that he would not seek re-election. Monday, Hart denied another rumor: that he will make a run for the Hillsborough County Commission.

-- Times Staff Writers Anita Kumar, Alisa Ulferts and Ernest Hooper contributed to this report. David Karp can be reached at (813) 226-3376 or

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