By BILL VARIAN, Times Staff Writer
Ronda Storms is relinquishing her District 4 county commission seat to run for the District 10 Senate seat in the fall.
TAMPA — Hillsborough County commissioner Ronda Storms formally submitted her resignation so she can run for the state Senate Thursday, ending months of speculation over whether she really would.
The resignation is irrevocable under state law.
This was billed as a “major announcement’’ in an e-mail from the county public information office, and Storms drew some criticism from a former commissioner and a political foe about her use of county workers to send out a press release tangentially involving her political campaign.
Storms was unruffled by the criticism.
She made the resignation effective after the November election. She’s running in state Senate District 10 , which covers much of her current east and south county commission territory, along with parts of Pasco and Polk counties.
That means she will remain on the board for the next five months, enjoying the inherent publicity a current office holder enjoys when seeking another post.
Also Thursday, Storms announced that she was the only candidate in the Republican primary to qualify to run by collecting the 2,617 petition signatures needed to avoid paying a fee to run. As of now, Storms would face former state Rep. Sandra Murman and east-county businessman Ray Young. The winner would face Democrat Stephen Gorham.
Storms said Thursday she was leaving her county commissioner seat mid-term so that she can represent her constituents on a bigger stage. She said, if elected, she would continue to fight for lower taxes, child protection and the interests of residents in her district.
“I’m very proud of my service to the residents of my district,’’ Storms said. “I have loved them and been loyal to them.’’
Storms enjoys considerable name recognition throughout the Tampa Bay area, in part due to her colorful speaking style and combative manner. She is known for her ongoing campaigns against the sex-entertainment industry, for improving child welfare and for leading the commission in voting against government recognition of gay pride.
As she has in previous campaigns, Storms said people may not like her style, but she fights for what she believes and is consistent in those beliefs.
“My greatest accomplishment is being who I said I would be,’’ she said.
Reporters were alerted to Thursday’s news conference by e-mail from the County Communications Director Lori Hudson, who wrote that Storms would make a “major announcement ... concerning her future as the District 4 representative” on the commission. Asked why the county staff was publicizing the event, and not her campaign, Storms said, “It’s a resignation from my county commission seat.’’
When it was observed that the announcement felt like a campaign event, Storms said, “Sorry about that. I can’t help how you feel. There’s therapy for that.’’
Others shared the observation after being told of the question-and-answer session with reporters.
Hillsborough Clerk of the Circuit Court Pat Frank, a Democrat who left her commission seat mid-term two years ago to run for her current office, noted that no county employees took part in alerting reporters to her planned resignation.
“I very strongly believe that you’ve got to be careful to separate politics from your service in government, that you don’t take advantage of things you shouldn’t be able to take advantage of,’’ Frank said.
Clif Curry, a Republican lawyer who played a top role on the central Florida Bush-Cheney legal team in 2000 and 2004, said Thursday’s announcement was clearly a political event and should not have been publicized by the county. Curry acknowledged he has assisted each of Storms’ primary opponents.
“I don’t believe under the letter of the law or appropriate ethical standards, that you have county staff preparing press releases for your senate campaign,’’ Curry said. “It’s an indication of a lack of good judgment that any public official should show.’’
County Attorney Renee Lee said she reviewed the text of the e-mail Hudson sent to reporters Thursday morning and didn’t see a problem with the county publicizing the event.
“Nowhere in there is anything about her campaign or running for office,’’ Lee said. “It’s solely related to her commission seat. So I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it.
Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Buddy Johnson, reached out of town while returning from a conference, was not able to immediately answer whether Storms’ resignation would mean there would be an election to replace her in November, or whether Gov. Jeb Bush would name someone to fill the post.
When Frank resigned from her commission seat on the same day in June two years ago, it triggered an election for someone to complete her term.