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GOP trio tussle over state House seat

By Staff | Jul 20, 2012

The three Republicans working to fill the District 76 opening in the Florida House of Representatives include two savvy veterans and one relative newcomer.

No Democrats qualified for the Aug. 14 primary. The winner of the GOP primary clinches the seat.

The financial frontrunner is Michael Grant of Bonita Springs. Grant has amassed the stoutest war chest of the three GOP candidates running in District 76, which includes Boca Grande, in the Florida House of Representatives.

Grant raised more than $70,000 compared with roughly $30,000 for rival Ray Rodrigues of Estero and none for newcomer Chauncey Solinger of Fort Myers, according to the Florida Department of State Division of Elections.

Grant, 63, also has the most statewide experience coming off two consecutive terms in the House.

He is known as a politician who can pass a bill with five of his six proposals enacted.

Grant spearheaded the state legislation that abolished expiration dates on gift cards, which spurred a national movement.

“Frankly it was just wrong and I think (retailers) knew it,” Grant said.

He also helped pass a hurricane recovery bill over the objections of then-Gov. Jeb Bush, which gave added homeowner protection when residences sustained severe damage.

He said his top priority would be to secure a re-appointment to the Economic Development Committee, where he served four years previously, and the Judiciary Committee to help small business owners.

Grant said his experience in the Legislature and savvy in Tallahassee is as important as his private sector experience where he founded an ambulance service that has run for more than two decades.

“I’ve signed the front of a paycheck for 24 years, and not just the back of it,” he said.

Grant said unemployment and government spending is still too high.

“When you have less revenue, hard choices have to be made, including decreased spending on health care and public safety,” he said. “My message of job creation and ability to get things done in Tallahassee gives me the experience and capability to work with others to accomplish things.”

Rodrigues, 42, is a skilled politician, too, though, with an emphasis on hometown service rather than statewide.

He is budget manager for Florida Gulf Coast University and also serves as a deacon in the Gulf Coast Church of Christ.

He’s been a force on the Lee County political scene holding powerful posts such as vice chairman of the Lee County Republican Party and Lee County Housing Authority commissioner.

“I have a record of advocating on issues according to the values of this district,” Rodrigues said. “I want smaller and more limited government. I’m committed to the community as only a man who has lived here 18 years can be.”

His platform includes efforts to improve private sector job creation, diversify the local economy and keep local government transparent and accountable.

He believes his hometown service sets him apart from his rivals.

“If you look at former state Rep. Michael Grant we both share political experiences. The difference is he served in Tallahassee and I served locally,” Rodrigues said. “I understand our community and the challenges our community is facing because I’ve been here dealing with them. As for the third candidate, I have political experience and (Chauncey Solinger) doesn’t.”

Other Rodrigues concerns include out-of-control government spending and cutting red tape.

“Studies show most jobs are from small businesses,” Rodrigues said. “If we can create an environment that encourages entrepreneurs, the job creation would take care of itself. It’s amazing the hoops our government makes business owners jump through. I heard one owner say the only government handout he wants is for the government to get its hand out of his pocket.”

Upstart Solinger, 28, is a self-made businessman whose humble beginnings range from teenage adoption by a minister’s family to standing in line for food assistance,

As the only candidate born and raised in Lee County, Solinger said he’s more in touch with the plight of the common Lee County resident than his rivals.

His platform: Cut taxes, reduce government spending, balance budgets and eliminate job-killing regulations to get Southwest Floridians working again.

“I’ve been in business for almost five years now,” Solinger said. “I see a lot of people out of work. I’d like to change that.”

Solinger said he identifies with small-business owner concerns because he is one.

“There are too many regulations,” Solinger said. “It is easier to go on unemployment – literally – than to start a business. I almost went broke. It took me four months to get all my licenses. Someone needs to say you’re forgetting about the little guys. It has got to be made easier to create jobs and put people back to work.”

Solinger’s top-of-mind issues also include teacher merit pay. He would fight against it, he said.

“Merit pay doesn’t work,” he said. “They are teaching for testing only for the (Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test). It’s killing morale.”

Solinger said he has enough experience to lead Lee County.

“I have three decades of living in Lee County,” Solinger said. “I know what it’s like. My feet have been in everyone’s shoes here in town. I have my fingers on the pulse of community. My motivation, energy and what it takes to move us forward will be greater than the others. “




Michael Grant at a glance

Birth date: July 15, 1949

Occupation: Ambitrans president. Started 24 years ago with seven employees; now have 125

Family: married 35 years with one daughter and two sons

Residences: Port Charlotte, Palm Island

Hometown: Quincy, Mass.

Legislative: Elected to the House in 2004, re-elected 2008

Education: bachelor’s degree in political science from University of Massachusetts, Amherst; master’s degree from Suffolk University, Boston

Religious affiliation: Catholic

Financing: $39,214 plus a $30,0851 in loans and $1,000 in-kind

Spent: $26,482

Qualified: June 4 by petition

Contact: (941) 661-0723

SOURCE: Florida Department of State Division of Elections


Birth date: April 17, 1970

Occupation: budget manager, Florida Gulf Coast University

Family: married 20 years with one son

Residence: Estero

Hometown: Pensacola

Education: Berry College in Rome, Ga.

Deacon: Gulf Coast Church of Christ

Financing: $17,524 plus a $5,000 loan and $7,890 in-kind

Spent: $9,567

Qualified: June 7 by petition

Contact: (239) 222-8521

SOURCE: Florida Department of State Division of Elections


Birth date: June 9, 1984

Occupation: salesman for Cutco and a Mazda dealership during college. Opened a scooter dealership offering sales and service, including motorcycle training and temporary license plate services.

Family: Became a father in December 2011 when his fianc gave birth to twin girls.

Residence: Fort Myers

Hometown: Fort Myers

Education: Riverside Baptist Church, Estero High School and University of Central Florida. Graduated with a degree in business marketing and a minor in psychology.

Financing: None

Spent: None

Qualified: June 5 by qualifying fee

Contact: (239) 850-5060

SOURCE: Florida Department of State Division of Elections